Meditation

Visiting: Big Buddha Phuket, Thailand

It was our first morning on the island when we noticed Big Buddha serenely overlooking the landscape. Gazing out our hotel window sipping instant coffee and taking in the palm covered hillside decorated with villas, restaurants, shops and a turquoise slice of Kata Beach’s half moon cove, we looked up at the behemoth Buddha while listening to the morning breeze that carried sounds of chirping birds, vehicles cruising the active roadside, and the mix of languages being spoken in the hotel lounge.

When looking into the area, Big Buddha hadn’t appeared in our research. Intrigued, we wanted to know more, and agreed to make an adventure out of hiking to the monument and scenic viewpoint.

Big Buddha's silhouette.

The bells to the right each dangle a heart inscribed with prayers in many tongues left by visitors.

A quick visit to the website offered some basic information and a brief history.

Entry is free and the site is open everyday from 6AM – 7PM.

Though construction began as early as 2006 the project was still in the finishing stages (as of our visit in 2017). Despite visible construction materials, the site offers outstanding panorama views from every angle, featuring, of course, a stunning 45-meter marble and jade Buddha seated atop the peak of Mount Nagakerd.

The back entrance to Big Buddha's interior.

A smaller 12-meter high glimmering gold Buddha serves as a replica for the larger statue and can be found beside its big brother. A path through the bottom of Big Buddha allows visitors to walk through and take a look inside.

At the base of the site is a traditional temple where monks can be found partaking in daily rituals and interacting with visitors. Being an active religious site, it’s good to know that guests, especially ladies, are expected to cover up shoulders and legs.

We had scarves that served this purpose, but shawls are provided and available for sale on site if needed at one of the plethora of shops offering souvenirs to take home with you.

Have a look at our video below for a walk through of Big Buddha.

If you'd like to know where we stayed in Phuket, learn about our adventurous hike, and peruse our gallery of snapshots (at the end of this article), please read on.

 

GETTING THERE

Relaxing on Kata Beach.

The drive from Phuket International Airport in a shared van with 15 other travelers to our hotel took about two hours stopping intermittently at each passenger’s accommodations. While this isn’t the fastest or most luxurious way to travel, it only cost about $6 per person, which makes it all worth it when you’re on a budget.

 

WHERE WE STAYED

While planning our trip to Asia we had always envisioned visiting Phuket, Thailand’s famed tropical resort laden island, a bridge away from the mainland, and a jump off to the country’s myriad of dreamy emerald islands, each with their own charm.

This was the second stop on our six-month journey overseas following a month in Bali, Indonesia. After pouring over reviews of Phuket’s beaches and hotels, we decided on Kata Beach on the southwest side of the Island. We arrived in February during the dry season and enjoyed remarkably flat teal waters. Generally speaking, Thailand doesn't have a lot of surf. Despite that, Kata Beach does have some of the surf culture we were looking for in a place to stay.

On a backpacker’s budget, we admittedly struggled to find a hotel with the amenities we wanted within our price range. That is, until we found Boondaree Home Resort through AirBNB, tucked away from the tourist center offering both ocean and mountain views.

For about $20 a night we enjoyed a private room with en suite bathroom, a pleasant view, free and reliable Wi-Fi, free coffee, a fridge, a tiny pool, and a quiet place to get work done within walking distance to town. While the hotel is on a very busy street, it's less than a thirty minute walk through sleepy back roads to the beach, and 10 minutes walking distance to nearby restaurants. The staff at Boondaree was super friendly and helpful, too. (A note of reference: all the hotels we looked at with similar amenities near any beach were at least double the price per night.)

 

OUR TREK

Let's Go!

While it seems most drive to Big Buddha we decided to hike for adventure and exercise.

We didn't have cell service at the time, and identified our route using Google Maps (the screenshots below were the road maps that guided us). Others who’d made the journey recommended leaving early to avoid walking during the hottest part of the day, but not being the earliest of risers we left at about 10AM. Hindsight is 20/20 and we can see now we would have been more comfortable if we heeded the advice.

It's important to know that Phuket is a developed city experiencing increasing growth, more so than we expected. Our hotel was on a steep and busy road not well suited for pedestrians. No sidewalks, just a little slice of asphalt on either side of the street littered with trash and broken glass.

Sunscreened, donning sun hats, sun glasses, sneakers, and carrying back packs filled with water and scarves, we started out on our hike. Motorists honked as they passed, some hoping we'd hire them for a ride, others simply alerting us to their presence. But once set out on our pilgrimage, we were determined to complete it.

The day grew hot fast as we walked the twisting highway that crossed the island from east to west. In a particularly narrow section passing a cliff side, we walked along a cement guardrail, enjoying the view of the other side of Phuket

The view from Mount Nagakerd.

After about forty minutes of trekking when the road started to dip downhill we began to wonder whether we were lost, and turned into a hotel restaurant to use the Internet and take a break from the heat. While sitting at the covered outdoor café, we watched a cat try to catch a stork (the stork prevailed), and consulted our map over watermelon juice and spring rolls.

At the end of the hotel’s driveway was a security shack that guarded a small road leading up the mountain. All signs pointed that we were to go that way. So we did.

The quiet street lined with fancy villas felt like a scenic road compared to the bustling highway, and soon, the asphalt met with a dirt path heading straight into the jungle. Now, this was the “hike to Big Buddha” we had in mind!

We forged ahead through a narrow trail along a steep cliff overlooking the east side of Phuket and Phang Nga Bay peaked with forested islands. Built into the hills, we passed both small shelters made of tin and boards, and abandoned half-built luxury homes. Orange and purple butterflies danced around us avoiding florescent black and yellow orb spiders perched in intricate webs.

We anticipated passing an elephant camp along the way, but were nonetheless arrested by the sight of a beautiful Asian Elephant walking toward us on the path, her mahout (trainer) on her head and tourist on her back. This was our first encounter with an elephant in our travels, and we found ourselves taken aback by both her majesty and plight. We stopped and waited, watching the elephant suck water from a small puddle on the side of the road and spray it under her belly to cool off. We continued on, passing two more elephants on a tourist trek, one with all of her four legs bound in chains.

Exiting the short and quiet forested segment of our walk, we came to an intersection with a winding road going straight up and down the mountain. To either side were outposts featuring young elephants. One juvenile that was harnessed to the ground by a chain on the side of the road paced and pulled at its fastened leg, only ceasing when tourists gave him a banana. In the opposite direction heading toward Big Buddha a baby elephant paced in a pen. We were offered to feed the baby, but declined.

*The cruelty inflicted on endangered Asian Elephant’s by the elephant tourism industry is well documented, and as such we do not condone elephant riding whatsoever. This is a complex issue, and in many cases both elephants and people are forced into bad situations that cause pain for both parties. If you want to interact with elephants in Phuket, please consider giving the power of your dollar to an elephant sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park's project, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the first ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket.

 

ARRIVING AT BIG BUDDHA

Up and up the mountain we climbed for at least an hour more passing restaurants and viewpoints, until finally we came upon the entrance. Once inside, we took our time exploring the complex and catching some gorgeous views before making our way up the imposing set of steps to greet Big Buddha himself.

When finished exploring the main attraction we visited the temple, and finally found a cozy bench to sip some cold coconuts before heading back to Kata Beach, stopping along the way for a late lunch overlooking the sea.

Nearing the top of the massive set of steps leading to Big Buddha.

The walk was easier on the way back thanks to knowing the way and what to expect (going downhill helped, too!), along with our self-made agreement to finish the journey without any griping. Inspired by Big Buddha, we made an effort to simply be in the now, to accept what is – whether pleasant or unpleasant – and enjoy these little moments.

By the time we reached Boondaree after 5 hours of walking through the heat we were exhausted and slightly dehydrated, but also gratified. We had overcome a physical exercise, an exercise in faith when we doubted our way, and an exercise in patience. And back at the hotel, after a fun and memorable day of exploration, the tiny swimming pool awaited us.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Canggu, Bali – Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay

Indonesia

Canggu is home to one of the premiere surf beaches in Bali, a vibrant but laid back community with much more of a small town feel than its populated neighbors, Seminyak and Kuta. Only 45 minutes from the airport, here, you’ll find temples, rice fields between city blocks, cows grazing on the sides of the road and the white egrets that follow them, pass roosters, hens and chicks, and meet many dogs. The community is quite international, reflected in the many restaurants and shops around town, and artists abound. Enjoy a walk through the streets or down the beach and you’ll discover a burgeoning graffiti scene of beautiful and thought provoking murals. We loved Canggu so much we visited twice, for a total stay of over a month. Below is a list of our favorite places.

 

Old Man's

Old Man's Entrance Canggu Bali

At Old Man’s on Batu Balong Beach you’ll find a happening bar and restaurant open from 7 am til late offering a varied menu from breakfast to dinner including western and Indonesian dishes. The food is great, but the atmosphere is the real draw. The bar is open air, colorfully decorated with cheeky murals to catch your eye from every angle, and the staff changes the seating arrangements daily, keeping it fresh. There’s always entertainment at night, too, from live music to ping-pong and even organized drinking games, if you’re into that. Happy hour is the jam. You’ll see almost everyone carrying two drinks each, and it can get pretty crowded once the sun goes down, so if you want to ensure yourself a table snag one early. You can rent surfboards in the parking lot during the day, too, and shower off at the restaurant when you’re done at the beach.

 

Betelnut Cafe

Betelnut Cafe Facade

Betelnut is a health conscious café offering delicious bites and superfoods. The smoothies are particularly tasty. We loved the dragon fruit betelnut smoothie and the chunky monkey with cacao. This is the kind of place where you can get apple cider vinegar and wheatgrass shots. The smoothie bowls and salads are some of their signature dishes, along with their divine array of cheesecakes. You can hole up here to work from your laptop, too. There’s two floors, an air conditioned space downstairs, and a covered open-air deck with more seating upstairs. For dreamy, drool-worthy food pics, check out their Instagram.

 

Roti Canai

Roti Roti Canggu Bali

Roti Canai is a cafe styled around the roti or chapati, an Indian street food that is similar to nan bread. The café creates sweet and savory crepe style sandwiches, serves a great curry, and has Teh Tarik, a traditional Indian tea that uses condensed milk as a sweetener. The original, hot or iced, is quite tasty. You can get alcohol here, too, if you like. This is the most affordable restaurant we found outside of the local warungs, which we highly recommend, too. The dishes are only a couple of dollars each. To review the menu, click here.

 

Love Anchor

Love Anchor Canggu Bali

We found Love Anchor after wandering into their weekly Sunday Market selling jewelry, clothing, sunglasses, and more at bargain prices. The namesake bar and restaurant offers happy hour everyday and serves up the best margaritas we had in Bali (no ice!). The bartender who goes by Johnny Cash is a character, too. This reggae bar has a pool table, foosball, and an upstairs terrace with hammocks and pillows sprawled out on the floor. The food is Italian, offering mainly super yummy pizza and sandwiches. After happy hour, the prices on the drinks get steep, so mind your watch.

Something to be aware of: Months after we returned to the States, a hack on our bank accounts was traced to an ATM at the plaza, which we used during the Sunday Market. Bank detectives said it was likely a memory film had been placed on the keypad, allowing hackers to gain access to both our pin numbers (and likely those of hundreds of other shoppers). We were fully refunded, and don’t think this had anything to do with Love Anchor or its employees, but urge travelers to use caution whenever using random ATM’s. A good tip is to use ATM's at bank locations during business hours whenever possible.

 

Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga

Serenity Eco Guesthouse_Buddha and Bayan Tree

Serenity is the perfect all in one place to stay in Canggu. Here, you’ll have a dozen yoga classes a day, and the Indian Ocean at your fingertips. The guesthouse is located at the end of a quiet street five minutes from the beach. The onsite health conscious all organic Alkaline Café offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the guesthouse has dorm rooms and privates at reasonable rates. Perfect for surfers, yogis, and anyone else looking to detox, eat well and chill out. You’ll meet lots of awesome people, too. The staff and guests are truly great.

Read our full article on Serenity, and watch our video for an inside view of the guesthouse.

 

Batu Balong

Strolling on Batu Balong Beach Canggu Bali

The Indian Ocean is a force! We visited during the rainy season and the surf was very strong. Eight-foot waves greeted beach goers at the shore, making being knowledgeable about what to do if you get caught in a rip tide an important skill. For surfers, the beaches are laid out from beginner to advanced. Beginners should surf at Batu Balong, intermediate surfers at Old Man’s, and for the advanced, Echo Beach. 

A few things to be aware of: The strong tide can also churn up trash from nearby islands, along with whatever garbage gets washed downstream (especially during the rainy season). Beach bums should also be ready to fend off vendors if you choose to lay out on the sand between Batu Balong and Old Man’s (a popular place to rent boards, relax, and buy food and drinks from the warungs). Locals selling jewelry will approach you one after another to buy their wares. Some of the ladies will even wake you from a nap to try and sell you something! You can avoid this if you choose to sunbathe on the southern side of Batu Balong, where abandoned concrete huts covered in graffiti line the beach. This stretch was typically secluded. Despite these tiniest of drawbacks, we absolutely loved this beach and have the fondest memories of our daily sunset strolls, and actually befriended some of the ladies most often seen slinging bracelets (we also bought some).

 

Surf & Swim Wear

Surf Boards Old Man's Canggu Bali

If you’re looking for swim wear you’ll find many options in Canggu, but if you’re searching for something sporty you’ll probably want to check the surf shops. For ladies, most swimsuits are pretty skimpy and the waves are quite strong. I wanted something I could trust would stay on my body. We got our swimsuits at Good Hood, and a surf shirt at Board Riders, which had a large selection of surf and skate wear, far more options than any of the other shops we checked in the area.

 

More Local Jams

The salt and peppered stones of Pura Batu Bolong overlook the wild surf of the Indian Ocean in Canggu.

The salt and peppered stones of Pura Batu Bolong overlook the wild surf of the Indian Ocean in Canggu.

Last but not least, here are a few other recommendations from around the neighborhood, some key phrases in the mother tongue, and details on local cuisine you might want to know before your trip.

Around the Block:

  • Yogi Cha – Our favorite yoga teacher in Bali! We highly recommend taking classes with Charlotte if you have the opportunity. Follow her on Instagram for an up to date class schedule. If you’re not visiting Bali soon, you can still practice with her on YouTube.
  • Dojo – A co-working space with a café and classes for entrepreneurs at Echo Beach.
  • Baba Yaga Tattoo Studio – They specialize in black and white ink in many styles.
  • Pretty Poison – A skate bar boasting movie nights, live music and art shows.
  • Gimme Shelter – A smoky rock and roll bar near Serenity Eco Guesthouse.

Speak the Language:

In Bali, two languages are primarily spoken, the traditional Balinese and Indonesian, also called Bahasa Indonesia. Most locals know both (many people also speak English), but it's always nice to make the effort to speak Balinese when in Bali! Here's some phrases you'll use often.

Balinese

  • Hello = Om Suastiastu or just Suastiastu (pronounced phonetically -- Om SwASti AStu)
  • Thank You = Matur Suksma or just Suksma
  • You’re Welcome = Suksma Mewali
  • Good Morning = Rahajeng Semeng
  • Good Afternoon = Rahajeng Sanja
  • Good Evening = Rahajeng pPeteng
  • Good Night = Rahajeng Wengi
  • I’m Sorry = Ampura
  • If you’d like to learn a few more key phrases in Balinese, click here.

Bahasa Indonesia

  • Hello = Halo or Hi
  • Good Morning = Selamat Pagi
  • Good Afternoon = Selamat Siang
  • Good Evening = Selamat Sore
  • Goodnight = Selamat Malam
  • Thank You = Terima Kasih
  • You’re Welcome = Sama Sama 
  • Good or Great (can be used when describing food or other objects) = Bagus!
  • I’m Sorry = Maaf
  • This video will teach you how to say hello and goodbye in Indonesia with proper pronunciations.

Local Flavors You’ll Find Almost Anywhere

  • Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng = Fried Rice (Nasi) and Fried Noodles (Mie, pronounced ME) with egg, chicken or shrimp (or all of the above). You can find these delicious meals for as low as $2 at the local warungs.
  • Gado Gado = A salad of slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, boiled potato, fried tofu or tempeh (tempeh originates from Indonesia), and rice crackers with a peanut sauce dressing.

 

Enjoy Your Visit!

Canggu Bali Ornate Door

With its surf culture and backpacker vibe combined with a strong yoga and wellness scene, Canggu is a truly special place to soak up the waves, smiles and sunrays Bali has to offer.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga - Canggu, Bali

INDONESIA

Located in Canggu, home to some of Bali’s premiere surf, international restaurants, co-working spaces, temples, tattoo studios, shopping and nightlife, Serenity Eco Guesthouse focuses on just that: Serenity. Only a five-minute walk to Batu Balong Beach, quietly tucked away from the noisy beaches in Kuta, while still being 45-minutes from the airport and an hour to Ubud, Serenity is a sanctuary for travelers looking for an affordable, quiet, nourishing and soulful space to rest their heads.

While planning our trip to Asia we scoured the web for insight on where to stay in Bali, poring over reviews of beaches, neighborhoods and accommodations until we found Serenity, which promised to provide the perfect mix of location, activities and health food we sought. Though we had only planned to stay five days at the guesthouse, it didn’t take long for us to extend our stay. In total, we spent about five weeks here in five different room types on two occasions, bookending our trip with plenty of yoga, clean food, relaxation and beach time. We recommend staying at least five days to truly soak up all Serenity has to offer. For a closer look at the guesthouse watch our video tour.

 

AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION IN A BEAUTIFUL SETTING

Founded by owners Daniel & Yatna on their personal property in 2009, this family run business now has dozens of employees and three additional branches of guest rooms in short walking distance from the main complex.

Despite increased demand for rooms, the guesthouse never feels crowded. The yoga studios are spacious, guests are always willing to share a table in the health conscious Alkaline Restaurant, and the gorgeous pool is surrounded by plenty of seating. Every room is equipped with a safety box, and comes either with full or discounted breakfast. Guests are invited to store food in shared refrigerators, and a shuttle service is provided between the main house and branches for added convenience.

While eco resorts may feel out of reach for many budget travelers, Serenity instills the feeling that sustainability is achievable for everyone, and at a reasonable price. Presently, Serenity’s dorms cost about $10 a night, and private rooms range from $15 - $30 per night. Check out their website for the most up to date prices.

 

YOGA & WELLNESS

The guesthouse pays careful attention to wellness for the body, mind, spirit, and environment. A dozen yoga and meditation classes are scheduled daily. Taught by Balinese, Indonesian and international teachers, classes range from ashtanga, mysore, hatha, yin, and various vinyasas, to yoga for surfers, chakra flows, aerial yoga, life coaching workshops, gong meditation, acroyoga and more. A meditation room, massage, surf lessons, bicycle and motorbike rentals are also available.

A variety of 100% organic, natural and mindful oriented products are sold on-site, including: virgin coconut oil, mosquito repellent, activated bamboo charcoal (a detoxing purifier), reusable straws, sunscreen, and books on consciousness.

Serenity’s Alkaline Restaurant offers an organic menu filled with raw, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free items. Meat options, are available, too. Super foods abound, from electrolyte packed coconuts, to iron-rich moringa (a native plant grown on-site), to wheatgrass shots, turmeric juice, a variety of homemade detox juices, multiple brands of locally made kombucha in many flavors (including Serenity’s very own), alkaline water, and divine cacao bars made in Ubud, to name a few. Daily and weekly specials add even more variety. But best of all, it’s obvious the food is made with love.

 

SUSTAINABILITY – ADDRESSING BALI’S DESPERATE NEED

Sustainability is another of Serenity’s core values, and this is seen throughout the property, from the banyan tree that stands at the entrance, to the composting and recycling bins placed throughout the common areas, the cleaning products used, the array of eco-friendly goods sold on-site, and the reminders in every space to reduce energy use.

The growing movement toward eco-tourism is of international importance, and especially in rapidly developing areas like Bali where there is little pre-existing infrastructure to handle the intense growth and resulting waste generated by the industry. A shortage of waste management systems coupled with a lack of community awareness on how to properly dispose of mass quantities of garbage – 20,000 cubic meters of trash is discarded daily – is a huge problem in Bali, and notably so in the beach communities. It’s estimated that seventy-five percent of trash is not collected by official services, meaning it’s likely burned, washed into waterways, or otherwise illegally dumped. This problem is only exacerbated by the large quantities of non-biodegradable trash produced by the booming tourism sector.

In 2016, Bali hosted close to 5 million foreign tourists, a number that surpassed the island’s total population in 2014. While the industry has a positive impact on Bali’s economy, mass tourism takes a serious toll on the paradisiacal environment, which is one of the very reasons travelers make the trip to the ‘island of the gods' in the first place. Offering over 6,000 hotels on 2,175 square miles, the tourist industry absorbs approximately 65% of Bali’s total water supply, with four- and five-star hotels requiring at least 50,000 liters of clean water every day, according to the Bali Hotel Association. Despite the stresses tourism puts on the island, the Balinese remain welcoming of tourists, and an increasing number of organizations are cropping up to combat the problem.

While the hotel business, in particular, is in desperate need of improvement, this is an area where Serenity truly shines. The Eco Guesthouse offers conscious travelers the ability to be good stewards in their host country by making a positive impact on the local environment, while still having fun, eating well, and staying in budget.

Serenity boasts a number of sustainable practices focused on reducing, reusing and recycling. Rather than burning trash and grass, they compost organic waste, and recycle used plastic bottles and paper at Eco Bali. Many other items are reused, too, including glass, scrap wood and plastic bags. Local building materials, bamboo, and plastic bottles are used in the infrastructure, and gorgeous works of art are created from broken materials that would be otherwise trashed. Inorganic waste is further reduced by the restaurant, which provides biodegradable takeaway boxes.

At Serenity, water is saved by staggering linen washes in guest rooms. Drying linens in the sun further reduces energy. Low energy light bulbs and natural septic tanks are also used.

The charming grounds incorporate permaculture gardens, an organic nursery, a wastewater garden, and organic worm farm. The gardens provide a variety of fresh fruit and medicinal herbs, and incorporate homemade organic fertilizers. They are kept mosquito and pest free by growing neem, lemongrass and zodiac, and by using garlic spray and neem oil instead of toxic chemicals.

In addition to all this, the staff makes a point of using eco-friendly products for their dish and linen washing, and to keep their beautiful swimming pool clean and pristine. Guests are asked to do their part by washing off inorganic sunscreen and bug sprays before entering the pool, hanging their towels out to dry, composting, recycling, and reducing energy by turning off lights, AC and fans when not in use.

At Serenity, you know sustainability is a team effort in which we all play a part. As a guest, patron at the Alkaline Café, or a student in a yoga class, you know that you are part of a movement to make a positive impact on the world while minimizing your global footprint.

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

When you stay at Serenity you know you're helping to care for the world while taking care of yourself. The feeling you get throughout your visit is one of mindfulness and intention. The thoughtful, friendly staff, artful attention to detail – from the yin-yangs, murals, and mirror mosaics, to the labeling of plants and information on super foods placed around the restaurant – and intuitive sense of sustainability and well-being that permeates the guesthouse all contribute to the peaceful atmosphere, making it a wonderful place to reflect, relax and grow.

 

SNAPSHOTS