Phuket Butterfly Release

On Saturday (10th July 2010) I went along to the 4th annual Phuket butterfly release - I had not been to (or even heard about) the previous 3! Yes, this is another very local event which is not promoted to tourists, something that only those "in the know" will know of. Might change a bit next year. During the event which is organised by the Phuket Butterfly Garden, I talked to the director Mr Jaipet Hatthakham - he'd like to make the event bigger.. well, if you are in Phuket next July keep your eyes open!

I heard about it from Tim who works at the Cape Panwa Hotel and is also keen on local events, and also does a blog. He mentioned it to me a couple of weeks ago when we met in Kathu Village at the local festival there. The butterfly release was also mentioned in the Phuket Gazette a few days ahead of the event. I did not think there would be many foreigners there (and I was right, aside from me and Tim I counted half a dozen more), but also I did not realise that this was such a big local event. There were hundreds of people there, lots of school kids, the regional TAT director and other important local folks attended too.

It took place in the Khao Phra Taew forest area of Phuket in the northeast of the island. I drove up, turn right at Thalang on the road to Tonsai waterfall - infact I thought it was taking place at the waterfall, but fortunately a left turn was signposted and the narrow winding road through the rubber plantations had signs every few hundred meters.

Butterfly release this way

Rubber plantation and worker on the road near Thalang in Phuket

(above) I stopped to snap a quick photo of a worker in a rubber plantation - the north of Phuket is full of rubber trees, one of the main industries in Phuket before tourism started becoming important... and rubber is still big business here.

Save the World!

When I found the site of the release I was surprised by the number of cars parked, a bigger event than I had anticipated. The trees were adorned with "Save The ..." banners, there were displays showing caterpillars and cocoons and butterflies, an A/V presentation about the lifecycle of the butterfly, a stage where girls with cute butterfly wings on their backs were making announcements, and a line of covered cages containing the butterflies to be released. School kids everywhere.

Lots of local schoolchildren at the butterfly release

Kid watching a movie about butterflies

Caterpillars

Tim's daughter (he told me) is a big butterfly fan, and she could not resist a look under the covers at the cages full of butterflies that would soon be released into the forest. I reckon maybe I should have dragged my kids out of bed, but the event started at 8:30am, on a Saturday.. and after a long week at school, Saturday is a day for a lie in!

Having a sneaky look at the butterflies

The butterfly cages were moved into the trees and hung up on hooks. It seemed each cage had a sponsor and as the release approached it seemed the thing-to-do was have your photo taken with the butterflies...

A big smile for the soon-to-be-released butterflies

The actual release... I had in my mind a picture of thousands of myriad coloured butterflies pouring into the sky, a vortex of wings, a fountain of fluttering (excuse my bad poetry)... I had seen somewhere some mention of the word "thousand" but seemed like there were maybe a dozen cages with maybe 20 butterflies per cage, and I think that makes quite a lot of butterflies, but not a thousand. Anyway, as the director said - next year will be bigger. Bufferflies flew out of their cages as they were opened after a countdown (ha, sii, sam, song, neung) and some were helped out.. Tims video (see links at the end of the page) shows his daughter helping some butterflies to freedom.

Freedom!

And with the butterflies flying freely, I snapped a few photos...

A butterfly

Another butterfly

And there was the usual young kid, not sure quite what to make of the very big farang, while mum tried to persuade her to give me a smile!

Come on dear, smile at the nice man!

The butterfly release had environmental messages, not only the 'Save The World' banners on the trees. Along with the release was a tree planting ceremony with the kids taking a leading role and very proud they seemed of their saplings.

Kids planting a tree at the butterfly release 10th July

We planted a tree!

And then these girls dressed in butterfly wings, the "emcees" for the event wanted their photo taken with me. I obliged. Thais are becoming like the Japanese with their snapshots. Wherever you go.. and don't forget the V sign.

Girls at the butterfly release

Yes, it was a very local event. But with a message. Phuket should listen to the message. The island has had huge development in the 10 years since I arrived. I think it has peaked now, and while many seaview plots are overfilled with villas and appartments, an area like Thalang is still very rural - it's all farms, rubber trees, palm trees and pineapple groves around here. I hope Phuket can retain it's huge green spaces. I mean, Patong is already gone of course, but.. I'm rambling. Hope to attend next years butterfly release too. I love these kind of events and sure I miss them sometimes, as the promotion is minimal. Gotta keep your ears to the ground!

Video of the butterfly release by Tim
Phuket Butterfly Garden website (note : closed down in 2015)
Video of the butterfly release by Phuket Gazette

How I See My Role ...

It seems that a fair number of my readers are at, or are rapidly approaching, retirement age.  As I often paint a pastoral and somewhat idyllic picture of my life here in the Rai, on occasion I am asked for advice on how to make the move to Thailand.  Questions vary from quite general in nature to sometimes piercingly personal.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy correspondence related to my blog.  My quandary arises from the notion that I would be the person to ask about such things.

My words are expressly designed to be vague, with regard to detail.  I strive to paint a picture with words or encourage others to be courageous and forge ahead down an unknown path, toward an unknown end.  Self-belief, a spirit of adventure and the desire to engage in a life of self-discovery are what I would wish for others.  I am not a fan of self-help books or guides.  Forge your own path, I say.

By relating my own story, I am in no way attempting a ‘how to’ account but rather a ‘can do’ motivation to counter all the naysayers who say it can’t be done.  I would not be so bold, however, as to tell you how to do it.  Besides, my time of transition to a life in Thailand is buried so far in my past, my recollections are no longer clear and my personal experiences are no longer relevant or current.

No doubt you have noticed, a majority of Thailand Bloggers are relative newcomers, still deeply emersed in the transitional phase of adjusting to a new and different culture.  For them everything is strange, exotic and different from what they encountered previously.  Village Farang is someone you are more apt to meet with at the far end of that long tunnel.  Emerging into the light at the other end, there is no longer a clearly delineated line between past and present, no point of origin to be recalled.

All my revelations are backwards.  Life here is my norm and things seem odd or different when we visit my country of origin.  Even my transition from living in Bangkok for thirty years to living in Chiang Rai for the last three, is a Thailand to Thailand, urban to rural transition, quite different from moving to a foreign country.

So, as much as I might like to easy your burden and smooth your transition, I clearly don’t feel qualified to be that kind of mentor.  My message is merely that things will most likely workout for the best.  You will enjoy the good stuff and learn from the bad.  The challenges will make you stronger and reveal the stuff of which you are made.  Don’t over think things in an effort to make no mistakes.  Mistakes are how we learn.

Vang Vieng

An unpleasant morning dosing up on Imodium then fingers crossed for a 5 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng. It was a successful journey and I checked in to my own very nice and very cheap room.

Vang Vieng is famous among travellers as the home of tubing - floating down the river on a rubber ring being pulled in to bars by people tossing you a rope. If you like the bar you stay, if you've had enough float down to the next bar. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say this is quite possibly one of the greatest ideas anyone has ever had ever. Most bars also have a USP, some examples are: zip wires into the water, trapezes in to the water, a slide in to the water, mud volleyball, mud pit tug of war and so on. Fairly obviously the combination of alcohol, water and opportunities to fall from height mean that there are deaths every year and the town resembles a doctor's waiting room, few people come out unscathed. Other than that slight downer it is a great place and the atmosphere is fantastic as with most places where there is an excuse to drink in the day time.

I met up with detectives Garlick and Digweed for the third time in my travels and had a great couple of days but I'm glad it was only two days. Many people had got stuck there because they were enjoying themselves so much, some wasting months of their trips... or maybe not wasting but certainly not making the most of them.

I left Vang Vieng with the detectives for the world heritage town of Luang Prabang, all of us having caught conjunctivitis. Through my gunky eyes I noticed just how spectacularly beautiful the terrain of Northern Laos is. Will (Garlick) summed it up rather well by saying:

"It's quite lumpy Laos isn't it".

I'm back on the net

IT SEEMED LIKE A LIFETIME


I don't know what happened or how but, I have been off the internet for the past week , the home phone worked then did'nt work but net would never come up , I go upset and tired of waiting for help and started to push and click and found a form that said I had to re-figure my user name and password , now I did't know how I lost it in the first place ,unless It happened during the huge thunder and lighting storm we had last week , anyway I call the CALL CENTER for TOT and got a very sweet and kind lady on the help line, and she walked me thru every thing to remotely correct the problem and within 5 minute she had me back up and running , now you don't get any better service than that . thank you Miss TOT for all your help . And now I think I'll stop being an old-fart around the house as soon as I get my net fix . ha ha . Do you go bananas when you lose the net for a while ? I have come to the conclusion that I am addicted , BUT I LIKE IT . Malcolm

2010 Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Full Schedule

(Updated 2016), the 2015 festival is September 30 - October 10 the date is based on the Chinese lunar calendar so is different every year.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2016 Schedule


Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2010. Reports and photos on this blog:

Photos at Kathu Shrine 15th October 2010Bang Neow Shrine Street Procession 13th October
Vegetarian Festival Part 1 (photos from 7th, 10th, 11th Octber)
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Intro Page

-------------------

-------------------

(this was the 2010 schedule)

Dates and schedule now available for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2010 - it will be held from 7th - 17th October. The what? Oh, come on... you must have heard of the vegetarian festival by now? I think I talk about the Phuket Vegetarian festival quite often... it's my favourite event in Phuket, my favourite time of year, and a photographers dream. I never really took much notice until about 2005, but since 2006 have been blogging the festival and taking lots of photos. Here's some photos and comments from last year:

Jamie's Phuket - Vegetarian Festival Photos 2009
Flickr Slideshow - 50 Photos of the Festival

Ma Song cutting his tongue

(above) entranced Ma Song cuts himself with a sword - street procession in Phuket Town, vegetarian festival 2009.

The festival mostly takes place around Phuket Town and the many Chinese Shrines in Phuket that reflect the Chinese ancestry of many of the people here. Most of the shrines are in or near the town (Jui Tui, Bang Neow, Kathu, Sam Kong), with a few around other parts of the island. The amazing street processions take place early morning around the town - if you want to see one, it's a good idea to get a hotel in town, as processions start around 7am. If your hotel is in Patong, please note it takes around 30 minutes into town and traffic will be diverted around the procession routes. There are "Jae" food stalls all over the island, but not much around the beach areas. Phuket Town is the place to be.

Google Maps - Chinese Shrines in Phuket

Street procession in Kathu, Phuket during the vegetarian festival

(above) Street procession in Kathu village - they walk from here 10km to the end of the walk at Sapan Hin in Phuket Town

For more general info and links to many of my blog posts about the festival, the shrines and the food, have a look here:

The Amazing Phuket Vegetarian Festival

It all kicks off on Thursday 7th October in the late afternoon when the "lantern pole" is raised at each temple down which the 9 Emperor Gods are said to descend in the night. I will aim to be at Kathu shrine for this event, as I was last year : Pole Raising at Kathu Shrine. Not much happens for the next couple of days, but the shrines are interesting to visit any evening. The first street procession will be on the 10th October. All processions pass through the old town, all start early (around 7am), all finish at Sapan Hin, right in the south of town.

Vegetarian Festival 2010 - Schedule

Thursday October 7th

At all participating Chinese shrines, starting around 5pm - raising of the lantern pole. Events at the shrines will go on all evening. The lanterns are hung from the pole at midnight, signifying the start of the festival. There will be plenty of firecrackers and fireworks too. Well worth a visit on Thursday evening. I was at Kathu shrine for the pole raising ceremony last year.

Prayers at Kathu Chinese shrine on the first day of the Phuket vegetarian festival 2009

(above) prayers at Kathu shrine on the first night of the vegetarian festival 2009

8th - 9th October - there are no big events on the first 2 days of the festival, but you can visit any shrine at any time, and the Jae food is to be found all over the island but mostly around the shrines and especially in Phuket Town.

Sunday October 10th

Street procession starting 7am for Sapam Shrine - this shrine is a few km north of Phuket Town (about a 10km walk from the shrine to Sapan Hin). You will always find the TV news and lots of photographers at the first procession, as everyone wants to get the first photos for the paper, and local TV always covers the festival. Since it's a Sunday, I might try to get to this one.

Monday October 11th

Street procession from Sam Kong Shrine - it's not far from my house - see more here: Sam Kong Shrine. They will walk from the shrine in the north of town not far from Tesco Lotus, past the Bangkok-Phuket Hospital and through old Phuket town. It's not far from my house but the road there is narrow and parking a nightmare.. I might just maybe go early that day and try to see something. (I say this every year, and end up going to see the processions just a couple of times :))

Tuesday October 12th

Street procession - Ban Tha Rue shrine which is in the Thalang area of Phuket in the center of the island - this used to be the main town in Phuket a few hundred years ago and there are several historic temples in the area and an annual festival celebrating the history of Phuket.

Wednesday October 13th

Lots of things going on today... In the morning, a street procession in Phuket Town for the Bang Neow Shrine, which is in the south of the town on Phuket Road, one of the biggest and most important shrines participating in the festival. Bang Neow is only a mile from Sapan Hin, so they walk first north around the old town and then back south to Sapan Hin and back to the shrine. Expect big crowds on this day. There is also a procession for Cherng Talay Shrine which takes place in Thalang district. Maybe a good one to see if your hotel is in Kamala, Surin or Bang Tao.

Later in the day - Fire Walking at several locations including Sapam Shrine, Sapan Hin (participants from Jui Tui shrine) and Sui Boon Tong shrine (just west of the market and not far from Jui Tui shrine in Phuket Town). Fire walking kicks off around 8pm. I have yet to see this, must make an effort!

Man with pierced face at Kathu shrine, Phuket

(above) Pierced and ready to go, Kathu shrine, October 25th 2009

Thursday October 14th

Street procession starting at Jui Tui shrine, which is the biggest shrine in town - you find it just west of the main market in Phuket Town. I went last year - it was crowded but I got lots of photos! Hard to get into the shrine, better to find a spot just outside or along the procession route - the route easy to find - just follow the people!

Later in the day, there are lots of events on the schedule at various shrines including bladed ladder climbing at Sam Kong and Bang Neow shrines and "nail bridge crossing" at Sapam Shrine. Not sure what that is!

Friday October 15th

Street procession from Kathu shrine to Phuket Town. It's a fair walk this one, about 10km from Kathu Shrine all the way to town, around the old town and ending at Sapan Hin. Kathu is my "local" shrine. Only a mile from my house. I have been there early the last 2 years to watch piercing rituals. Want to get there even earlier this year. Things happen early in the morning that are mysterious. I want to be there.

Later in the evening on the 15th - fire walking at Bang Neow, Cherng Talay and Sam Kong shrines.

Man getting his cheek pierced at the Phuket Vegetarian festival

(above) Getting pierced at Kathu Shrine. If you have a sensitive stomach, don't be there!

Saturday October 16th

The last day of the festival. There is a procession for Sui Boon Tong shrine, then events such as firewalking at Kathu shrine at 3pm - since Saturday is my normal day off, I really must try to see this! And then in the evening/night there is a huge procession around Phuket Town, with people carrying statues of the gods to Sapan Hin. Millions of firecrackers and fireworks. And this year I will be there. It looks mad. I have seen it on TV. I don't think I will take a camera, there will be so much smoke and dust and so many firecrackers, and I hear it's advisable to wear something more than flip flops or you'll get burnt toes!

Sunday October 17th

Around 5pm the lantern poles are lowered at the shrines marking the very end of the festival.

I would LOVE to see all processions and events every night at various shrines, but of course have to work and have a family too.. If you are in Phuket during the vegetarian festival, make an effort. This is unmissable. If you are not sure when to come to Phuket and want to see something different - October 7th - 17th! This is a very special time of year. And don't be afraid of the food! I am (almost) looking forward to a week of tofu and beansprouts.. Joking.. you can get any food you want, but in some areas there are loads of Jae food stalls, so if you are a vegetarian, worth a visit for the food alone.

Lots more information about the festival and lots of photos on this blog. Start at the link below for an introduction and links to various pages on this blog about the processions, shrines and food. October 7th - 17th... see you in Phuket!

Oh, I will just end with my favourite photo from last year, taken just outside Jui Tui shrine in Phuket Town last year, October 24th. I do like a close up portrait.

Swords in the cheeks, Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

FUN DAY AT THE ELEPHANT CAMP

TIME TO CHOW DOWN
BATH TIME

CIEJAY AND A TWO YEAR OLD BABY


SISTER SUE AND SON ALEX

ALEX TRYING TO DO LIKE THE BABY ELEPHANT

THEY HAD A GREAT RIDE

ALL SMILES AS THE ELEPHANT TAKES THEM FOR A WALK AND SWIM IN THE RIVER KWAI

IS IT OVER ALREADY???


WE'RE OFF


HOLD ON TIGHT!!!!!!

Ciejay and me have had family from the USA here for a week or two and we have had lots of fun taking them around the country . They have also had a lot of Sister-Hood time and during these times and I chose to stay Home _Alone , for my sanity, can for a minute you imagine being in the van with five sisters and a brother and all of them trying to talk at the same time (Thai custom ) and all in Thai and noone worried wheither or not you can understand what they are saying , pointing to , are laughing at , I can let my thoughts and imangination run wild and quickly decided to stay home-alone and not complain at all.
They have had a great time and I have really enjoyed the time I did spend with them , I really got to eat some great Thai food with all the sisters cooking ,gained 3 kilo.
Well their last day with us, I thought it would be a good idea to take them to see and take a ride on the elephants , my nephew ,Alex was really excited and kinda scared a little , we got there and took a few snap shots with the baby elephants and then they went for a ride , they loved it and I'm sure that Alex will remember this day and the elephant ride till the day he dies. A fun time was had by all. Took a few pictures and , hope you enjoy them
I sooooo love the elephants and love to visit them every chance I get , especially when I get to go out in the jungle camp and see my favorite elephant girl Moll- Lee . I'll do a post soon about her , I guess thats another reason why I'm sooo happy here in the LOS and to be Retired in Thailand and Loving It. Malcolm

The Second Kathu Village Culture Festival

Last weekend from the 25th - 27th June our local village had it's second cultural street festival (first one was last August - see here). Using the word "village" in Phuket may sound odd, but there are many small communities in Phuket and remember that Phuket was not always so built up - go back only 20 years and things were much quieter. The villages like Kathu retain a very local way of life with modern attributes like internet, new cars and 4 lane roads (often the 4 lane roads are totally unnecessary). Kathu is one of the 3 districts of Phuket (along with Muang and Thalang) and is then subdivided into subdistricts called Tambon and further into villages (Tesaban and Muban) - it's all rather confusing actually - this website helps with all the terminology.

So the event in Kathu celebrates the culture and history of this part of Phuket, which became the main town in Phuket in the early 19th century thanks to the tin mining boom. Kathu (aka Ket-Ho) was the center of the mining industry and due to the influx of many Chinese at the time, a lot of the people are of Thai-Chinese descent. Same goes for Phuket Town which became the main town after Kathu. There is a lot of history here, and this little festival shows how proud the locals are of their heritage. It's not a tourist show but at least this year I was not the only foreigner there! Must have counted at least 4 others! Well, up to you. I love these local events.

local girls dressed in old style Chinese costumes

On Friday 25th I took my camera along to watch the opening of the event and a street procession through the village. Traffic was diverted up a dirt back road behind the Chinese temple so the whole village was for pedestrians only. The procession was due to start at 5:30pm so I had time to snap a few photos before they started walking. The feeling I had was that everyone was very happy and enjoying either taking part or watching. OK, maybe a few of the teenagers dressed up in costumes were a bit embarrassed but it was a real fun event for the village. Maybe next year a few more foreigners might turn up and have a look, I promise to promote the dates if I hear about it!

Chinese opera costume

Costumes ranged from elaborate Chinese opera with lots of make up to simpler old style clothes for the ladies of the village and youngsters dressed as miners.

Dressed up as tin miners

Amazing Chinese opera costume

At the head of the procession (after a picture of the King) were important local dignitaries like the mayor and local government representatives and a swathe of older village ladies. Those watching were giving out a lot of wais and Sawadees!

Sawadee Ka!

Ladies dressed in old Chinese style

By the way, there are more photos of this festival on Flickr: Kathu Village Festival 2010 and I will probably get around to adding more to that page. I always feel a picture is worth more than words. Colours, faces, smiles, hell you can almost hear the music and smell the food being cooked at the street stalls. The village was full of stalls selling food, clothes, art and more. There were several small stages in the village with music being played and a large stage outside the health center where they had some performances in the evenings that I did not see - will try to see some next year.

Street procession in Kathu village

Went along on Saturday too, this time with the family. No street procession - this was only on Friday, but there were plenty of people around. Food stalls were selling chicken, rice dishes, noodles, salads... I had a plate of wing-bean salad (Yam Tua Pu), found some chicken and fries for the kids (ah yes, not absolutely 100% everything has to be "traditional"!), then we took a long walk through the village and back.

Yam Tua Pu - Wing Bean Salad

Down a side street we found a great little demonstration of old tin mining techniques. A raised wooden sluice box was carrying water to a pool where ladies were working with pans. Must have taken a while to build. I reckon this guy might be old enough to have worked as a tin miner in the past...

Old tin miner in Kathu village

He was on the sluice box which was meant to trap heavy particles of tin ore while washing water and other lighter material along. Looked like he knew what he was doing. There was a fair crowd of locals watching. They did not have this last year so I think people were keen to see it and learn something about the history of their home town. To find out more you can visit the Phuket Tin Mining Museum.

Old tin miner in action

Meanwhile the ladies were panning for tin in the water, looking for smaller residue not caught by the sluice... of course this was a show, a demonstration, but they did seem to be taking it quite seriously!

Ladies panning for tin

I took the opportunity to snap a few portraits of local people as well as the festival. Everyone was happy. This is our local area.. we live about a mile from the street where the procession took place. Sometimes I wonder if the local people are happy to keep these events quiet, don't want too many tourists! The publicity is minimal.. it was mentioned on one Phuket news website, I did mention it a couple of times on Facebook and Twitter... and I did see one sign up at the entrance to Kathu village for a few weeks prior to the event, but it's small wonder I only saw a few other foreigners there. You have to keep your ears to the ground to find out about these things.

Kathu Cowboy

Map of Kathu Area:


View Kathu Village Phuket in a larger map

More photos from the Kathu village festival here on Flickr (slideshow). Kathu, by the way was also where the Phuket Vegetarian festival started - some photos here of the Chinese Shrine and the village at festival time, and here of the main processions.

Laos - Vientiane

On the flight to Laos I was sat next to a Malay man who asked me where I was going. This seems a strange question to ask when you're sat next to someone on the same plane. I replied 'Laos I hope, why where's the plane going?'. I think it was all a bit that film with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson because he just smiled and nodded, we both tried doing conversation but the smiling and nodding was our only common ground.

Landing in Vientiane I grouped up with some other Westerners to share a taxi in to town and we all stayed in the same guest house. I was sharing with a friendly but slow English man who has been travelling for 2 years. I later found out that the reason he's slow is because he has taken quite a lot of drugs. Next door were an American girl and an interesting English man called Gavin who had had an impressive life. Gavin left school without qualifications having felt unchallenged. By 18 he was manager of the bakery he worked in having impressed when his boss was off ill and soon after he was head hunted to manage another place. At 20 he realised he was quite good at management and took the audacious step of setting up his own management consultancy firm. His philosophy: Find out what the customer wants you to do then do it. Makes sense to me and though he had some failures I can guess that he has plenty in the bank - because he never mentioned how much he makes. Anyone else I've met who has started businesses or worked with big companies has slipped some big numbers for deals made in to conversations. I took Gavin's details for facebook so that if I decide to start my 'I do like a t-shirt' business I can get some advice, oh and also because I like him.

The four of us took the Lonely Planet's advice and went to the bowling alley. 90p a beer and 90p a game. Good way to spend a night.

Disclaimer: Now that I'm home it has been said that my blog makes me out to be a drunk. I do drink quite a lot but there have also been lots of days whilst travelling when I haven't. Problem is, those days are spent on buses, beaches and in guest houses, reading or watching films. I don't write about that stuff because it's boring. Actually some of the books and films have been good so maybe I should relate the plots to you and pick out their highlights and that way it will dilute the amount of drunken blog content.

To sum up, if this blog makes it sound like I drank 90% of the time I only really drank 60% of the time.

So after the bowling we played some pool and then avoided the 12 o'clock curfew applied to the centre of town by going with a gay local to a club. It was full of gays, cross dressers and prostitutes, or if they weren't prostitutes I was looking seriously hot that night. At around 4am a Nigerian man claiming to be a DJ persuaded us to join him for a party. Had I been on my own my racial stereotyping against the one black in the village would mean there's no way I'd have gone with this man but with 4 of us I figured we'd be okay. When he answered his phone and said there was no party any more I got a bit worried but he dropped us back at our hostel and I felt bad for spending the whole trip on edge. In bed I battled to work out if I was just being rightly cautious or if that was racism. I think it's a question for cleverer people than me.

Full day in Vientiane.
Plan: See the sights, walk to the main temple a couple of hours out of town.
Half an hour in to the day, new plan: Stay within running distance of a toilet.
I managed to visit a couple of centrally located temples one housing over 2000 little buddhas but the day was not much fun. Imodium helped, only having one small beer at these prices proves just how cack I felt.

Next city VangVieng.

Radar Hill - Highest Road in Phuket

Until a few years ago, I thought Radar Hill was the highest point in Phuket - the highest hill. Everyone who comes to Phuket will see Radar Hill (real name Khao Mai Tao Sip Song) - it's the big hill behind Patong Beach with the radar dome on top and can be seen from much of south Phuket. BUT it's not actually the highest hill. Another hill a little to the North above Kathu Waterfall tops out around 30m higher (543m) - and I hiked up there in September 2009 - see Hiking to the Roof of Phuket.

But even if Radar Hill is the second highest hill, it certainly boasts the highest road. You can drive all the way to the top.. almost. You cannot quite hit the summit since the radar is a military installation, so when you are 95% of the way up you reach a gate and armed soldiers. The road by the gate is just about half a kilometer above sea level. We've been up here plenty of times and I first blogged about it back in 2006, but one day in 2010, we thought "we've not driven up this hill for a while" and we had an hour to waste while our son was at school football practice. The weather was a bit wet, but I figured we'd still get some great views on the way up before entering the cloud line. Actually, it turned out to be great, our daughter loved being "in the clouds" and our son was quite upset to hear that we'd done such an exciting thing without him! A bit of rain does not stop a good time!

The road up is in good condition, but steep in places. The start of the road is off Chao Fa West Road about 1km north of Chalong Temple. Follow the sign that says "Villa Zolitude". You go past a small golf course and then pass Villa Zolitude as the road starts to climb. Keep going... you wind up into the hills, it's very green, and views start to appear through the trees.

The road to the top of Radar Hill

View east looking at Bang Wad Reservoir

(above) this is Bang Wad Reservoir and beyond is part of Kathu. In fact we could see our house from here.. if we had a very good telescope!

As we climbed higher, we entered the clouds. Unsurprisingly, we were the only people up here looking at views. Indeed any time we come up here we are the only people... everyone else goes up to the Big Buddha or Rang Hill (in Phuket Town).

Cloudy near the top of Radar Hill

We stopped right by the gate where there is space to turn around easily. From just below the gate you get a view over Patong. There are signs to remind you that this is a restricted area and just past that sign you see the southern part of Patong through the trees, and in this case, through the clouds...

Restricted Area

View over Patong

A little black cat came to say hello to us. What the hell are you doing up a 500m high hill, cat? We thought about taking him home.. but he wandered off into the trees... and about 1 minute later we heard the sounds of a cat fighting. And then silence. We reckon he might have got ambushed by a big snake. We saw a snake one time as we drove up this hill, a rather nasty pit viper. Oh well, RIP cat, I think.

From the road near the gate, the top of the Buddha hill is visible. Well, it should be.. On this particular morning it was in the clouds, but there were fleeting glimpses of the 45m high white marble Buddha through gaps in the clouds...

Big Buddha in the Clouds

A little below the top, around 370m above sea level, there is a small parking spot on the left side as you come up and just as the road does a series of sharp curves. It's pretty steep here, but you can park by the side of the road where you can get some views over Patong; and in the other direction you see hills and can see over to Chalong Bay too. We stopped on the way down.

Road up Radar Hill, Phuket

First thing I saw was not the view, but this huge monster:

Monster found at Radar Hill

A most impressive beast for a macro lens! Oh yes, and a view over Patong, better from here, less trees and no clouds in the way...

Patong View from Radar Hill

Road here is very steep - I think the photo below shows that. A Honda Wave 125cc would be straining up this one! And if you come up in a car make sure the brakes work! And on a bicycle? Well, be sure to take some special Lance Armstrong tea before trying that ;)

Road up Radar Hill, Phuket

And this view from the same stop, looking away from Patong towards Phuket Town with heavy clouds threatening. A bit of rain and cloud does not stop us! Don't be stuck in your hotel room moaning if the sky looks dark. Yes, it rains here sometimes! How do you think everything gets so green? Get out and about. Hiring a car is a good idea in Phuket, it's a big island, go and explore. Even on a rainy day, it's not going to be wet all day, and it's not going to be wet everywhere on the island.

Stormy Weather

Over the years I have enjoyed many days when we just drive around and follow back roads. Phuket is full of surprises, and it's on these back roads that you find the real Phuket rather than the Phuket-by-the-sea of the tourist brochures. There's more to Phuket. Always more.

Radar Hill - Location Map


View Radar Hill, Phuket in a larger map