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Did you realise that the nearest part of the airport runway is only a few hundred metres away from Chaweng? Or that, as the crow flies, the temple and famous statue of the Big Buddha is only just a couple of kilometres more? You’d never guess it when you go there by road. It takes ages. That’s because the road follows the coast all the way round, and there’s lots of slow narrow twisty bits. It’s the same with the airport. You can’t see it from Chaweng, but you’ll get a clue when you see how low the planes are when they’re flying in and out. And getting there or back on the road takes a long time, too, and for the same reason – there’s no direct route.

        Fascinating, isn’t it? But if you’re wondering what this has to do with the price of fish then you’re denying your island education! Your perception of the island (mine too) is mostly based on what you see from ground level. You’ll spend a week or so driving around, or getting taxis from here to there, and form an image of Samui that is actually quite distorted, believe me. Even if you clue yourself into Google maps it’s all still an abstract thing. What you need is a short, easy shot of reality. Nothing that will cause you days of indecision and planning, just a quick excursion out of Chaweng – no maps needed!

        And while you’re at it you can also tap into a vein of otherworldly spiritualism, take a load of totally stunning photos to whack on Facebook, plus get a sudden jolt of insight into the lay of the land. If you like culture and temples, this will be for you. If temples leave you unmoved, this will be for you too. Because what I’m talking about is the highest part of Chaweng. It shows you, god-like, just where you are and just how close all the things already mentioned are. And it additionally gives you an objective perspective that you can feel (unlike maps). It’s five minutes away from the middle of Chaweng – and it’s free too.

         It’s called ‘ Wat Kao Hua Jook’. And if you stand anywhere in the region of Chaweng and spend a moment or two gazing around and upwards, you’ll see it. It the big golden spire on top of the hill that overlooks Chaweng. Plus all of the surrounding area, too. And to get to it you simply head out of Chaweng, whichever way the one-way system allows, and make your way to the ‘Lake Road’ which runs from the only ‘roundabout’ on the island, on theroad that hits the ring-road near Tesco-Lotus.

          But you don’t go anywhere like that far. Somewhere close to ‘Ice Bar’ (big signs), you’ll see signs for ‘Q Bar’. Head uphill towards this. And it is a hill! It’s a first-gear ascent, bikes and cars alike. Keep going up and round to the right as you follow the road (no other choice, it’s a circle) and then you’ll finally hit the peak and find yourself outside this little temple.

          Culture vultures who stay on Samui usually head directly for the well-known but very commercialised ‘Big Buddha’ (Wat Phra Yai) at the end of Bangrak Beach. They then take in the lovely white many-armed statue just next to this at Wat Plai Laem. They do the Mummified Monk (Wat Khunaram) in the south, hunt for ‘Buddha’s Footprint’ in the same area, then check out all the other TripAdvisor spots. But very few of them ever go to Kao Hua Jook in Chaweng. It’s just not publicised.

          In fact, as a temple, it’s no big deal. But the first thing you’ll notice as you ascend the steps is that all the buzz and hum of the ambient road noise simply evaporates. Make a deliberate stop halfway to the top. Take a few breaths, gaze around, and listen. It’s gone all quiet. A few crickets. A chicken rustling in the bushes. Keep climbing and keep looking around. There are a dozen little cameos off the path as you go – small sculptures – although how the ‘Three Wise Monkeys’ entered into Buddhist legend beats me. Perhaps they were there first.

          You’ll end up on a platform, in the middle of which is a huge room – on top of which is another level with the giant golden ‘chedi’; within which is a small temple-within-a-temple. Spiritual devotions aside, it will be impossible not to spend time walking around the whole 360 degrees and being entranced by the vista. Somewhere online I read that this hill was just 400 metres high. Numbers and facts have nothing to do with the experience. This is stunning. It’s just like being in the lap of the gods. You can look down on all of Chaweng and instantly realise how small it actually is. You can get a new perspective on Chaweng Lake and see how it fits in. And then there’s the airport.

          From up here it looks like you could spit on the runway. It’s right next to you! It’s disorientating. You’ll need to cross the platform to check on where Chaweng actually is. Then go back again. And just follow your eyes to the end of the runway – it’s that big golden Buddha in Bangrak, right on the edge of the sea on the north coast. And, somewhere in the middle of all this peace and quiet, way up high, as your perspectives tumble and shift, as your sense of scale and distance changes, you might just hear one of the resident monks tuning in the satellite TV to an American cartoon channel!

          There is also a relic here, one of the many thousand ‘footprints of the Buddha’ around the world. The notice outside says it’s made of bone and came from India. But there’s no sign of it – just a gold-painted plaster cast in the top pagoda room with a box to put money in. I imagine that all the temples and monks (with all reverence) are dependent on the tourist dollar. But, either way, and Cartoon TV notwithstanding, up here, at Wat Kao Hua Jook, there’s a little bit of Samui that’s been shoved sideways away from the rest of the world outside. It’s your loss if you don’t go and seek it out!


 Rob De Wet


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