Wats - or Buddhist temples - are among the most important symbols of Thailand, partly because the majority of Thais are Buddhist and partly because they are so beautiful. In Phuket alone, there are 29 Buddhist temples spread around the island. In fact, this small island is also home to many other religions. There are Hindu and Sikh temples, Christian churches, mosques and Chinese shrines.
Phuket Temples, Wats and Shrines
Wats - or Buddhist temples - are among the most important symbols of Thailand, partly because the majority of Thais are Buddhist and partly because they are so beautiful. In Phuket alone, there are 29 Buddhist temples spread around the island. In fact, this small island is also home to many other religions. There are Hindu and Sikh temples, Christian churches, mosques and Chinese shrines. Outside the wats there are also many more Buddhist shrines.
Outside the wats there are also many more Buddhist shrines. Temples are much larger than shrines, with many structures in one compound. Monks and nuns usually live in temples, but not in or around shrines. This month we will take you to Phuket's most famous Buddhist temple.
What to See at Wat Chalong
Wat Chalong has been extending a warm welcome to visitors for over a century. Locals come to pray and Westerners come to learn something about Buddhism. The temple is open from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon. Let's go on a tour of it.
Poh Than Jao Wat is one of the more important Buddhist statues in Wat Chalong. It is located in the westerly old hall of the temple, with two statues of an elderly gentleman called Ta Khee-lek (grandpa Khee-lek), a famous local who won many lotteries after consulting the Poh Than Jao Wat statue. Another statue in this hall is called Nonsi.
One of the temple's halls features a gilt-covered statue of Luang Poh Cham and this busy hall also contains statues of Luang Poh Chuang and Luang Poh Gleum, all ex-abbots of the temple.
The Grand Pagoda dominating the temple contains a splinter of Lord Buddha's bone and is officially named Phramahathatchedi-Jomthaibarameepragat. The pagoda is decorated with wall paintings depicting the Buddha's life story and also features various Buddha images. Take your time in the pagoda; it is a breezy, cool location and one which is very popular with visitors to the temple.
There is also an air-conditioned 'exhibition home' of Luang Poh Cham which features lifelike human-sized wax models of Luang Poh Cham, Luang Poh Chuang, Luang Poh Gleum, and Luang Pu Thuad along with antique Thai furniture, and Benjarong (Thai porcelain designed in five colours), while the famous 'magic' walking-stick of Luang Poh Cham is kept at the current Abbot's dwelling.
Loudly Showing Gratitude
When you visit Wat Chalong, you may be startled by the sound of firecrackers. You will see people hanging strings of Chinese firecrackers in beehive-shaped "ovens" near the wat's sermon hall, then igniting them. Although this is unusual in other wats around Thailand, it is a common occurrence in Wat Chalong.
People do this to show gratitude for prayers that have been answered. For example, if a woman is having trouble conceiving a child, she may request help from Luang Pho Chaem. If she subsequently becomes pregnant, she will light firecrackers to show her gratitude.
Or perhaps a man suffering from a debilitating illness may go to the wat to pray for a return to good health. When he recovers, he will give thanks by lighting firecrackers.
Do's and Don'ts
Wats in general are sacred places for local people, so it is wise for the visitor to watch and emulate the way Thais behave inside temples. For example, you will see that people are careful not to stand over, or otherwise position themselves higher than any Buddha images except when pasting gold leaf to them - which in any case happens only in some wats, not in most.
Even through Thailand can sometimes be very warm, it is inappropriate to go into a wat - a place of worship - wearing clothes that reveal one's shoulders, chest, belly or legs.
You will be asked to take your shoes off when entering some of the buildings, including the sermon hall and the chedi. It's best not to wear your most expensive shoes when visiting wats in case someone else mistaken walks away with them - literally! If that happens, and they are not your favorite shoes, then you won't be too upset.
How to Get to Wat Chalong
Wat Chalong is about 8 km south of Phuket City. Travel along Chao Fah Nok Rd (Chao Fa West Rd) from the Central Festival mall, and you will see the temple on the left side of the road. If you are coming from Chalong Circle, take the same road heading towards town, and you will see the temple on your right.