After almost two weeks on the island, I finally found an island tour I was happy with. There are tons of tours around the island and they all pretty much have the same itineraries, but I was not interested in the jungle safari, or in anything involving riding the elephants (I have read much about how cruel this is to the elephants), so the tour by Happy Transport was perfect – it was a basic six hour tour in an air conditioned “VIP” vehicle, with a max of 10 people, and it covered the tourist highlights – the Big Buddha, the mummified monk, grandfather and grandmother rocks, a waterfall, a lookout, and a monkey show – with a few bonuses of shopping here and there, and the final stop was at Nathon Town where most of the locals do their shopping.
Wat Phra Yai, known in English as the Big Buddha Temple/Shrine is probably Samui’s most well known landmark. It’s in a lot of the tourist info, plus I remember seeing it from the plane when we flew into Samui. It’s very lovely and golden and shiny, and the view of the island from the top was beautiful – even on a cloudy and overcast day. The Big Buddha sits in the Mara posture, with the left hand’s palm up resting on the lap and the right hand facing down, the fingers hanging over the knee and grazing the ground. It depicts a time during Buddha’s journey to enlightenment where he successfully subdued the temptations and dangers thrust at him by the devil-figure Mara by meditating and remaining calm. The pose is a symbol of steadfastness, purity and enlightenment.
The monk Luong Pordaeng died in 1973 in a seated meditative position, and ever since his body has been on display in an upright glass case at the temple. Far from being frightened by death, most Buddhist Thais are highly accepting of the end of life as the natural order of things and they view death as an opportunity to be reborn into a better place, one step closer to nirvana. The body is amazingly well preserved and it was fascinating to see. However, the highlight of the visit for me was having a good luck blessing for Steve and I from a monk. He was sitting at a table off to the side and I heard him ask me if I wanted a good luck blessing. I excitedly called Steve over so we could both accept the luck.
It was by donation, and the monk had us sit in front of him across a little table and he tied white cotton bracelets on each of our left wrists, then as we held hands, he chanted some things, and used a little broom-like stick to bless us with holy water touching each of our shoulders and on our heads. Near the end he said a few words in English about good luck, and afterwards he said we would have safe travels by car, etc. and be safe getting back to and when we were in Canada. It was absolutely lovely, and I was so excited that I forgot all about what I had read regarding etiquette with monks. I asked him politely if it would be okay to take his photo and he accepted, but then Steve told me to get in the picture too. I walked over and wasn’t sure if I should go behind the little table/desk, but the monk grabbed a chair and had me sit to the side of the desk. I completely forgot that I read somewhere it is forbidden for a monk to touch a woman, or to have a woman present a monk with anything. Ooops, bad foreigner! Anyhow, I don’t think I dishonoured myself too badly.
Hin Ta and Hin Yai when translated into English, means Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks. However, upon visiting the rocks you will clearly see that Hin Ta and Hin Yai pose a striking resemblance to the male and female genitalia.
Wat Plai Laem is a Buddhist temple compound featuring a striking white 18-arm image of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. Guanyin is believed to be a source of unconditional love and a protector of all beings. Her multitude of arms is seen as an illustration of her ability to reach out and provide help across the world. Other standout features at Wat Plai Laem include a large white laughing Buddha statue, beautifully carved teak entry doors, and an elaborate ubosot (ceremonial hall) set on an island in the lake.
Namtok Na Muang, or ‘Purple Waterfalls’, are so named because of the striking purple shade of their rock faces – or so I read. It was super slippery getting down to the rocks, and I’m not sure they looked purple, but it was beautiful to see, even swarming with people going for a swim in them.
At the waterfall stop we had an opportunity to ride the elephants if we wanted. This was my first up close experience so far seeing the elephants and witnessing what I had read about how they are treated. I admit I cried a little seeing them chained up and hit with hooks to make them move.
The stop at the view point between Lamai and Chaweng was another great spot to get views of the various beaches on the island. We walked down some pretty steep stairs to get up on the rocks near the edge of the cliff. The rock face reminded me a bit of Ontario granite, and brought back some fond memories of childhood camping trips. What more can I say about how beautiful this island is? The beaches, and even the rocky cliffs, are spectacular with million dollar views. I even spotted a couple having wedding photos taken on the cliff.
The stop to see the ‘monkey show/monkey work’ was interesting and a bit sad for me. They had these adorable little monkeys tied up with ropes/chains, and I guess they train them to get the coconuts from the trees. The monkeys are absolutely amazing little climbers (duh), and they responded very well to the commands to release the coconuts one by one from the tree tops. After the show, we had an opportunity to pose with the baby monkey on our shoulder if we wanted. I opted out because it made me feel sad seeing them chained up. The baby just kept jumping on each tourist shoulder, then down, then up again, then down. At one point someone tried to pet him and he slapped at their hand and immediately turned away – that kinda made me laugh.
After the show we got to enjoy trying the coconuts. They handed out chunks of coconut meat, then we each got our own fresh young coconut drink. They also came around letting us try the coconut oil, which was for sale and I couldn’t pass up. I mean come on, freshly pressed pure coconut oil for 80 baht, less that $3 CAD!? Awesome!! I tried to inquire about how they get the coconut oil out but the best I could tell, there was this little wood plank grinder thing they use by hand to make the mash! Crazy I tell you!
Our last and longest stop was at Nathon Town, which is a huge market/shopping area. There were tons of fresh food vendors selling fruits, veggies, fish, you name it, as well as stores selling clothing and trinkets, and food carts with stuff I didn’t recognize. Since it was our lunch stop too, we stopped for a beer 🙂 I was so full of coconut meat, coconut ice cream, coconut caramels, and coconut water, that I was so not hungry for lunch.
Anyhow, it was a pretty full day, we saw and did a lot, and it cost about $20 each! Amazing deal and fantastic fun! For more photos check out our Flickr account. Steve takes awesome shots, and will have them uploaded there.
Also, I do try to post to Instagram almost every day (which also pushes to flickr). I’m kinda addicted to it really, and since I can usually find free wifi, I find it easiest to tell some stories there too!
I have a lot more to say, but I’m finding the heat is sapping my brain, but I will try to keep posting weekly. Thank you so much for reading!
Shameless Plug – ONE MONTH TILL MY BIRTHDAY!!! 🙂 no idea where we will be yet!?! Gack!