March 8: Phuket, Thailand.
We docked this morning at the Phuket Deep Sea Port, which is located near Phuket Town, in the island and province of Phuket, in the country of Thailand. This is another non-commercial port, with nothing there but our cruise ship, a few fishing boats, and a number of vendor stalls which had already been set up by the time we docked. Our excursion today was a bus tour around the island, featuring temples, beaches, rubber trees, and a cashew nut factory. One notable characteristic of this island is the ubiquitous “spirit house,” which is a small temple in the shape of a very ornate house which is placed on top of a pole. These little structures appear outside most homes and even many business properties. Evidently, the faithful say prayers or make offerings before them in order to assure happiness or something for the inhabitants.
After we left the traffic in Phuket Town, we drove to the Chalong Temple, Phuket’s most sacred place of worship (the majority of the populace is Buddhist). This temple complex contained several buildings, in addition to the main temple. They were all extremely ornately decorated, with open sides and tiled steps leading up to places where worshipers could leave their shoes before entering. Statues of elephants were in prominent places, and there were little kiosks where incense sticks could be obtained. In addition to the tourists, many local people and even a wedding party were present in the complex.
As our drive around the island continued, we traversed a hilly and winding coastal road which often gave us great views of the ocean and nearby islands. We drove through a number of beach towns, each with its own take on recreation and consumerism. Karon Beach and Patong Beach were resort areas with lots of hotels, restaurants with outside seating, and shops selling every possible type of doodad for going to the beach. We also passed through the communities of Kalim Beach and Kamala Beach. In the middle of a roundabout, we saw the Two Heroines Monument, a statue which commemorates two Thai women who saved Phuket from a Burmese invasion in the 18th century. In Bangtao Village, we stopped briefly in front of the biggest mosque in Phuket, which featured green tiled domes topped with gold crescent ornaments. Further along our route, the guide pointed out the plantations of rubber trees which have been planted in rows and which provide a significant source of income for Thailand. Our final stop was at a cashew nut factory, where we were able to sample all different flavors of cashew nuts and dried fruits and also to shop for souvenirs, of course. Before returning to the ship, we drove through some of the neighborhood areas of Phuket Town, a Chinese section in particular, where we saw older homes and businesses and a Chinese temple. After we left town, we also left the traffic for the short ride back to the ship. We made a pass through the vendor stalls at the dock to see if anything appealed to us, but the heat of the afternoon was so intense that we could only think of getting back to the air-conditioned ship.