We arrived in Phuket this morning around 7 AM and noticed right away that it was very hazy. While we were at breakfast, Leslie, our cruise director, made an announcement that the haze was smoke due to a volcano eruption and fire in Indonesia and that we would likely experience it all day.
Many people chose to go to Phuket’s beautiful beaches, we decided that we will have many chances to go to beautiful beaches and opted for another excursion.
We left early for our excursion – our first stop was the Kinnaree elephant camp where we had our first ride on an elephant! We loved it. We are big elephant lovers and contribute to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, so we were pleased to find out that this is a family owned operation and they treat the elephants well. One highlight was watching the 5 year old elephant do her dance and twirl a hula hoop around her trunk.
Elephants are an important part of Thai history and culture and are regularly featured in Buddhist art and architecture. Wild elephants used to roam Phuket Island but as rubber plantations and mining changed the natural environment, the elephants slowly disappeared. Elephants were used in Thailand’s logging industry hauling heavy logs our of the remote forest to roads not accessible by truck. In 1989 most elephants and their mahouts (handlers) were forced out of work when the Thai government banned virtually all logging of its quickly dwindling teak forests. Families took care of them and treat them almost like we treat our pets.
Satit, our guide, told us that elephants are like dogs and if they wander off or get lost, they will show up in front of the owner’s door in a day or two. They are loved in Thailand, and when they die, the local people bury them like they do people.
At this same camp Satit, showed us how the rubber is harvested from the rubber tree. by rubber tapping. Bark is cut off on alternating sides of the tree, only one side at a time, and the resin only flows during the night, so people are out there from 1 AM till daybreak. It takes a lot of the resin to make the rubber products.
We then visited the Chalong Temple. The Thai word for temple is “Wat” so this sight is referred to locally as Wat Chalong. It is the most famous temple on the island of Phuket and the most ornamented of Phuket’s 29 monasteries. It enshrines a gilt statue of Luang Por Cham, the monk who became a hero when he helped the people of Phuket put down the Chinese Coolie Rebellion in 1876. He is said to have formidable healing powers and to this day, Thais from all over the country flock to Wat Chalong to pay homage to the monk and regain their physical and spiritual powers.
There are 4 very different structures on the grounds, one made of wood with wax figures of monks inside, one that is 3 stories and full of gold Buddha statues and beautiful paintings, and one that is more like the other temples we have seen. Outside of the temples there are beautiful plantings, and a brick structure in which someone sets fireworks to ward off the evil spirits. I jumped every time they went off! Satit also explained that Thai people do not marry in the temples, they marry at home.
We often see what looks like a small temple, these are called spirit houses.
After leaving the Chalong Temple, we went to a cashew nut factory, curiously named Sri Bhurapa Orchid Company. We saw the trees, the workers who prepare the cashews for sale, and had a chance to sample (and buy) delicious cashew products. We enjoyed the plain ones and the sour cream and onion flavored ones the most and bought them along with a cashew and sesame brittle that was fantastic.
Last, we stopped at the largest jewelry store in the world, Gem Gallery. They have a tram ride, much like one you would find in Disney World, that demonstrates how gems are formed, harvested and made into stunning jewelry. Then you get to walk through the workshop and see the artisans at work. Once you go into the showroom, which is huge, there are aquariums with all kinds of fish, including small sharks. I took a picture before I knew that it wasn’t allowed.
I bought a gold and pearl necklace and bracelet. You cannot believe the number of pieces of jewelry they have on display. Very impressive.
There was a p0rtable market set up at the port and there is a Royal Caribbean ship also here. They need to anchor and send people by tender to the shore, our ship can pull right up to the dock. An advantage to a smaller ship.