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If you’re looking for the heart of Phuket’s Thai Buddhist community, Wat Chalong is the place to go. The 200-year-old temple has grown in size and stature in tandem with Phuket’s development, and it’s now the island’s busiest and biggest temple.
Far from being a place of quiet contemplation, Wat Chalong is a lively and loud temple. Like Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Wat Chalong is a major tourist attraction, so expect to see throngs of people spilling out from tour buses here throughout the day. It’s also a place of pilgrimage for Thai Buddhists, who, after making merit in the main worship hall, might head outside to set off a huge string of firecrackers in the temple’s kiln in the hopes for an added boost of good fortune.
Another hall houses the eerily realistic wax statue of Luang Por Cham, a former abbot of who is still revered for his healing skills and for his role in restoring peace to the island when Chinese workers staged a rebellion in 1876. The statues of two other former abbots, Luang Por Chaung and Luang Por Gluam, also sit in the building.
Wat Chalong’s tallest structure, the 61-metre Phramahathat Chedi, was added in 2002. It was built in honour of the sacred relic that’s on display on the three-storey structure’s top level: a bone fragment believed to trace back to the Lord Buddha, brought from Sri Lanka in 1999. This level offers great views of the Big Buddha and Nakkerd Hills, too.
For nine days during Chinese New Year (dates vary, but usually early February), the temple is transformed into a bustling fairground for the annual Wat Chalong Fair. Worshippers stream through the temple day and night and in the evening there’s live music and dancing entertainment, games, kiddie rides, and hundreds of food and local product stalls.
Visitors who have first seen the highly intricate and ancient temples of Bangkok or Northern Thailand may find Wat Chalong’s design and size unremarkable by comparison. But for those whose travels are limited to Southern Thailand, it’s certainly worth a visit since it’s among the most elaborate and historically important temples to be found in the region.
To avoid the tourist crowds, it’s best to visit Wat Chalong early in the morning or near the close of the day at 17:00, though the chedi and some of the halls are not open till after 09:00. The temple welcomes all visitors, but keep in mind this is a place of worship so wearing skimpy clothing or beach attire is a no-no. There’s no entrance fee to Wat Chalong but donations are welcome and accepted at donation boxes around the temple grounds.