Big Buddha is Phuket’s top Buddhist attraction, making a good half-day trip

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Phuket's Big Buddha is both one of the island’s major attractions and one of its most visible. The 45 metre, white marble statue sitting on a peak in the mountain range behind Chalong is visible from many parts of the island. The image of sitting Buddha gazes east over Chalong Bay and the islands to the east, and towers over both Kata and Karon beaches, which are behind. The huge Buddha statue makes a fascinating and worthwhile outing, however, we suggest that there is more on this mountain than meets the eye, and the combination of Buddha plus other attractions make it a worthwhile half-day trip for families, groups or couples.
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transport This trip is easiest for those with their own transport. Anyone renting a tuk-tuk or taxi for the trip up the mountain will need a very clear understanding with the driver if you wish to stop for anything more than the Buddha itself. Tuk-tuk drivers on Phuket are famed for being both unreasonable and greedy, so self driving is the hassle-free way. The road up the mountain leaves Chao Fah Road West a few kilometres from the Chalong 5-way circle. There are many signs and one can hardly miss the turn. Large numbers of people visit the statue each day, and most group tours to Phuket also include a visit here. Going early or late to miss the crowds, and the heat of the day, is advisable.
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dress code As with most Buddhist monasteries, visitors are expected to dress politely. Men need a shirt, and while short pants are acceptable for men, they are not for women, who should cover their legs to the knees. Ladies or girls who turn up in beach attire will be offered a sarong at the entry.
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donations The Big Buddha is built entirely from donations, and the work has been on-going for about 10 years and is not yet complete (2015). Visitors are asked to help by buying and donating a marble tile. Most write their name or a message on the back and hope their tile will end up in an auspicious location. While the inner constructions is reinforced concrete and brick, the outer layer is entirely white marble which enhances its visibility from afar.
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Below the main terrace supporting the Buddha is a building with photos showing the history of the project, plus donation boxes.
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elephant rides on steep mountains sides = fun

The constant flow of traffic up the mountain to the Big Buddha has attracted a number of elephant camps to set up here. In 2012 there were at least four elephant camps. One can thus put two activities into one trip, stopping for an elephant ride, or a chance to meet and feed elephants, on the way up or down the mountain.
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This mountain has rubber plantations running high up its sides, leaving only patches of real forest. However, the elephant trekking paths run through a mix of plantation and forest and over some rough terrain, making it challenging for the elephants and interesting for the riders who get to see just how agile these huge beasts are on a steep mountain trail.
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Some camps have baby elephants, perennial favourites for children.

See why you can help an elephant in Phuket by riding it.

ATVs – All Terrain Vehicels really can go places – rough places

Big Buddha mountain teems with ATVs – All Terrain Vehicles. There are two obvious reasons; there is a steady stream of foreign visitors up the mountain each day, and the rugged territory creates some exciting trails for these rough-'em-up four wheelers.
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ATVs vehicles are not for everyone, but those looking for a little off-road adventure may find this mountain to be a great place for it. In addition to the steep, rugged tracks, Big Buddha mountain gives great views out across the beaches and islands. Chalong harbour with its hundreds of boats at anchor is clearly visible below many of the ATV tracks.
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The four elephant camps (2012) double as ATV stations also, while there are a couple more ATV depots without the elephants. You will see them all the way up the mountain, and also right at the peak beside Big Buddha. Choose any that suits your fancy, for the prices are the basically the same at all, and you are taking luck on the excitement of their trails. After rain the tracks are significantly more exciting with lots of greasy mud. But do wear old clothes after wet weather. This is an excellent rainy season activity, which more slipping, sliding and excitement.
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a few mountain-side restaurants with great views

In Thailand any place with road access and great views soon has restaurants popping up – and here on Big Buddha mountain, which affords the most spectacular vistas on Phuket, three had opened by 2012. As the photos show, the views from all three are fabulous, and we suggest trying one of these as part of an overall tour of the mountain.
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On the way down the mountain we checked the menus of all, finding both the contents and prices quite similar. All three offered a full range of Thai cuisine, with some Western food added in. Prices were as one would expect for a Thai tourism destination – meaning a destination for Thais, not foreign tourists. That puts prices about 20 – 30% above that which locals might pay in Phuket town – considered quite reasonable, and still below prices on the West coast tourist beaches. Thais, too, expect to pay more in restaurants in beautiful locations away from the mass markets.
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Lunch, an early dinner or just drinks in one of these three viewpoints might round off a pleasant trip to Big Buddha's beautiful big mountain.
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have a paintball war on Big Buddha mountain

The highest of the three restaurants on Big Buddha Mountain, View Point, also offers both ATVs and paintball. For a paintball war you only need two people, for when couples arrive the hosts send two extras to join the fight. Presumably those guys are well practiced and are sure to cover the visitors in lots of paint.
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But don't worry about the paint destroying clothing, because, as is standard, a full set of fighting gear is provided for the game. All equipment includes clothing, boots, helmet and goggles. Here the battle ground is in forest just a short walk down the mountainside.
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The standard game comes with 100 balls at a price of 1,200 Baht per person. They will drop to a minimum of 50 balls for 900 Baht. They are definitely ready to haggle over the price when there are more people.
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by John Everingham