A few years ago, if you traveled anywhere south of Phuket City and looked up at the ridge of hills running down the centre of the island you would see a towering monument under construction right at the top.
This is the Giant Buddha, as it is known locally, destined to become a local landmark and a place for both tourists and devout Buddhists to visit.
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The Giant Buddha
About 10 years ago a group of friends were walking through the forest in the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata when they stumbled upon a place with stunning vistas of both sides of the island – Chalong Bay lay in one direction while on the other they looked down over Kata and the Andaman Sea. It would, they thought, make a perfect place for a viewpoint – something that could become as well known as Phuket’s favourite sunset viewpoint, at Laem Phromthep.
As time went on, and as the friends discussed it again and again, the idea evolved. The place in the hills, they soon agreed, would be perfect not just as a viewpoint, but as the site for something much more ambitious and, to Buddhists at least, much more significant: a giant image of the Lord Buddha.
The project had its hiccups, not least of which was battling through a mountain of red tape required to get permits to build in virgin forest at a height above the usual building limit.
Funds for the massive structure came and still come entirely from donations. “This project is huge and requires a lot of money. But so far we are managing just fine. I’m amazed at the amount of help we have received from everyone who knows about this project. It seems they all want to be a part of it,” explained Suporn Wanichkul, president of the Mingmongkol Faith 45 foundation, which was formed to build the Giant Buddha.
There are, in fact, two Buddha images. A smaller one, 12 metres high, is made of 22 tons of brass and cost eight million baht.
It is dwarfed by the giant Buddha image facing eastward toward Chalong Bay and Phang Nga Bay beyond. The Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha – to give it its official name – is 45 metres high and 25 metres across at the base.
It cost about 30 million baht to complete the giant image. Khun Suporn says “The money has come from everywhere, from locals, from Thais in other provinces and from foreign tourists. With our website and the help we have had from the press, we have even received donations from overseas.”
Peace and Pilgrims
The smaller Buddha image, Khun Suporn explained, is devoted to HM Queen Sirikit, while the big one is devoted to HM King Bhumibol. The site attracts the devout and the curious, with sometimes as many as 1,000 people a day visiting it. Its most celebrated visitor so far was HRH Princess Ubol Ratana Rajakanya, who attended a prayer ceremony there.
The 49-rai (7.8-hectare) site is surrounded by beautiful tropical rain forest.