Phuket, the largest island in Thailand, features 29 Buddhist temples – or Wats. The largest of these is Wat Chalong. Devout Buddhists and curious tourists alike flock to this sacred place to worship, pray or explore another culture. Thai travelers believe that no visit to Phuket is complete without a stop at Wat Chalong. When in Thailand, do as the locals do and visit this revered and sacred place to discover Buddhism, or simply marvel in the temple’s beauty.
The history of Wat Chalong is shrouded in mystery and turmoil. The exact origin of the temple is unknown, although many historians and locals believe the base structure was constructed during the reign of Kim Rama II (1809-1842). In 1876, under the regime of Kim Rama V, Wat Chalong was the site of refuge for the locals against a group of rioting tin miners. The temple’s abbot, Luang Pho Chaem, served as a source of strength to the frightened visitors and was later immortalized in by the erection of a statue in the temple’s main hall.
Through the years, the temple underwent several facelifts and renovations, the most recent being the construction of a pagoda to hold a bone fragment from the Lord Buddha. The fragment was purchased from Sri Lanka in 1999 and interred in this Grand Pagoda in 2002.
Visiting the Wat Chalong
The Main Hall: step into the temple’s main hall and you’ll find two cans filled with long bamboo sticks. Pick up one of the cans and shake it carefully until one of the sticks makes it way to the top and falls to the floor. Locate a number on the stick and take the first right corner. There, you’ll find a wooden cabinet with several drawers. Locate the drawer that corresponds to your number and choose a slip of paper inside to reveal your fortune.
Many locals and tourists visit the main hall to receive an answer to a significant question. On the floor near an alter depicting the Lord Buddha you’ll find two red wooden blocks. Ask your question and toss the blocks, which appear to be two halves of a circle, onto the floor. If the blocks land one side down and one side up, your answer is “yes.” If the blocks land with both sides facing the same direction, its “no.” Whichever answer you receive, leave a donation at this alter. All the proceeds go toward Wat Chalong’s conservation.
The Sermon Hall: The sermon hall houses statues honoring the former abbots of Wat Chalong, including Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Phor Chuen. Many locals visit the hall and place gilt leaves on the statues to commemorate these honorable men. While in the sermon hall, you’ll notice several locals receiving blessing from the temple’s monks. Monks also bestow good luck on the Thai tourists in the form of string bracelets. The bracelets are blessed and believed to ward off injury and illness.
The Grand Pagoda: Take your time while exploring the temple’s most ornate structure, the Grand Pagoda. The Pagoda houses the Lord Buddha’s bone splinter and features decorative paintings depicting the Buddha’s life.
Don’t be surprised when the quiet and austere atmosphere of Wat Chalong is interrupted by the loud crackling sound of fire crackers. Many Thai locals and tourists light firecrackers inside large clay ovens near the temple’s sermon hall. The firecrackers are ignited in gratitude of an answered prayer. A common practice is to request help from one of the temple’s former abbots, and if the prayer is answered, a string of firecrackers is lit as a way of celebrating good fortune.
Preparation to visit Wat Chalong begins long before you leave the hotel room. Dress appropriately to visit this holy destination, which means wearing clothing that covers your stomach, shoulders, chest and legs. The weather in Phuket is often warm, so wear light clothing constructed from natural fibers to stave off heat exhaustion. Slip on a pair of inexpensive shoes before you walk out the door, which means leaving your high-priced sandals and sneakers at the hotel. Once you reach the temple you’ll notice several piles of shoes near several of its structures, including the sermon hall and Grand Pagoda. Slip of your flip flops or sneakers as a sign of respect. This is where not donning your best footwear comes into play, as it’s possible that another tourist could accidentally slip on your shoes.
The most important point to remember when visiting Wat Chalong and exploring Buddhist culture is that the temple is a place of reverence and worship. Never act inappropriately and when in doubt, look to the locals and Thai or Asian tourists as a point of reference. Follow their lead when it comes to removing your shoes or visiting the temple’s structures. The last thing you want to do as a visitor is offend any devout Buddhists at their place of worship.
This guest post article was written and provided by Erica Gustafson who currently resides in Australia. Erica works as a freelance digital media consultant for Expedia. She enjoys flying all over the world and writing about her experiences.