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Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok. Often referred to as the pearl of the Andaman, or the pearl of the south, Phuket is an island of limestone cliffs, white beaches, tranquil broad bays and tropical in-land forests, which make it one of Thailand’s most popular islands and provinces.

Phuket is easy to get to as there are frequent flights to and from Bangkok airport as well as direct flights to many other Asia and European airports. There are also regular buses and trains from around the country and Phuket can be reached by boat from many of the surrounding islands.

As well an the enormous main island, Phuket Province contains 39 other small islands, all perfect for exploring, whether via a snorkelling or scuba diving trip or a boat tour. Located just 25 kilometres from Phuket City, Ko Nakha Noi is a popular destination for a boat trip, as are Ko Si-re, Ko Lon, Ko Bon, Ko He and Ko Mai Thon, which is famous for its unique and very beautiful colourful coral.

Also known as Coral Island, Kho Hae is located to the Southeast of Phuket Island. Reachable in just 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, this beautiful island is a great destination for a day trip, or visitors can choose to stay overnight at the resort.

Another popular day trip is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which is located near the beautiful Bang Pae waterfall. This is an amazing opportunity to meet the Gibbons in their natural environment and there is a visitor centre manned by Western volunteers and English speaking Thai staff who will tell you all about the project.

If you are interested in the island’s wildlife, elephant trekking is a good way to support the remaining domesticated elephants of Thailand and offers a new way to explore the jungle. The Phuket Zoo has an interesting collection of animals, whilst Phuket Submarine takes visitors on daily tours of the underwater world.

Both Khao Rang (Phuket Hill) and Laem Promthep are great places to see the sunset and get an idea of the island’s size and beauty. Whilst in Phuket, pay a visit to the Khao Phra Thaew Forest Reserve, which protects a stunning area of lush rainforest.

Many visitors to Phuket like to plan their trip to coincide with one of the area’s vibrant festivals. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is held for 10 days during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which usually occurs in October. This is the time when local residents, especially those of Chinese ancestry, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet in order to cleanse their spirit and make merit. The festival features self-mortification rituals such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs, as well as much singing and dancing and of course delicious vegetarian food.Another long awaited festival is the Phuket Gay Pride Festival, which takes place in February and the Siam World Cup Windsurfing Championships on Ao Bang Thao are held in January.

If you are in the area between November and February, head to the pretty beach of Hat Mai Khao on the northwest coast. Here you will discover sea turtles laying their eggs, but be careful not to disturb them as the turtles are now quite rare.

Lopburi Monkey Festival

Lopburi Monkey Festival
Lopburi Monkey Festival
Lopburi Monkey Festival

Located in the Lopburi province in Central Thailand, the city of Lopburi is best known for its population of 600+ urban-adapted monkeys. During the last weekend of November, Thais and tourists alike flock to the shrine of San Pra Kan, cameras in hand, to witness the events of the annual Monkey Festival, where the local macaques feast on a buffet of fruits, boiled eggs, soft drinks, cucumbers and (yes, the cartoons were right) gluttonous amounts of bananas.

Last year’s festival supplied an offering of 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of fruit for the monkeys’ feastings, traditionally presented on a single table. It is believed in local culture that providing food for the monkeys brings about good luck, while causing harm to them will bring misfortune.

If you can’t make it to Lopburi during festival season, the city is well worth the 3-hour train ride from Bangkok (through Ayutthaya). Prang Sam Yot, a Khmer temple located just north of the train station, is the centre of activity. It also operates as monkey headquarters, though the temple’s windows and doors are gated to ensure a monkey-free exploration of one of the oldest ruins in Lopburi. Still, the monkeys congregate on the temple’s lawns, climbing Buddha statues or fighting playfully, unfazed by the humans around them.

A 30 baht entrance fee includes the loan of a long bamboo stick for self-defense against aggresively curious primates. This allows tourists to play Indiana Jones for an afternoon, exploring the solemn stone temple and it’s crumbling Buddhas. All the while, the fearless creatures won’t hesitate to climb onto their unsuspecting spectators.

These monkeys are said to have been a gift to the town centuries ago, when Hanuman the Monkey King was granted rule of the area by the mythic Hindu figure Rama. Centuries later, their presence in the town still works as a gift of sorts. While drivers and cyclists need to stay alert at all times for the roaming primates swinging about the city centre, these monkeys also draw tourists year-round, putting Lopburi on the map with this truly unique attraction. 

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.