Wat Chalong is officially called 'Wat Chaitararam' by royal decree but not many people use that name. Located in the northern part of Tambol Chalong ('tambol' means sub-district in Thai) on Chao Fa West Rd, the wat is close to many local attractions. The name 'Chalong' means 'festival' in Thai - many years ago the area was named 'Chalang' after locals, fearing Burmese invaders, had moved from Thalang district. However, the Thai government pointed out that no such word existed in the Thai language and ordered local officials to change the name.
Wat Chalong, or Chalong Temple, is replete with history and legend. Many stories have been told about how the miracles performed there and how the wat played a pivotal and healing role in the fighting between Chinese secret societies ('Angyee') in 1876.
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A Must See
There is a saying among Thai tourists that if you are visiting Phuket but have not yet set foot in Wat Chalong, then you have not really arrived on the island.
No one knows exactly when the Wat Chalong was first established, though many people believe the original was built during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1842). It was later relocated and since then has been renovated and augmented a number of times.
The most recent major addition to the wat was the construction of a special chedi, 61.39 meters high and costing 66 million baht, to house a fragment of bone from the Lord Buddha.
This fragment, the Phra Borom Sareerikatat to use the correct term, was brought from Sri Lanka in 1999. It was installed in the chedi in September 2002 in a consecration ceremony presided over by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, representing HM the King.
In 1876, during the reign of King Rama V, Chalong came under threat from the Ang-Yee Rebellion - a large mob of rioting immigrant Chinese tin-mine workers that had been rampaging across the island.
Local people were terrified. They did not know where to turn. Should they stay and fight? Should they run away?
They finally went to Luang Pho Chaem (1827-1908), Abbot of Wat Chalong. The highly revered monk told them simply, "I have been here a long time, and I am staying." Hearing this, the people decided to stay and fight off the Ang-Yee. This they succeeded in doing and later, with the help of soldiers rushed from Bangkok, the rebellion was put down.
To show appreciation, the King bestowed upon Luang Po Chaem the title of Phra Kru Wisit Wongsacharn. These days, almost everyone in Thailand is familiar with the name of this remarkable monk.
A statue of Luang Pho Chaem, alongside one of Luang Pho Chuang (1875-1945) can be seen in the wat's main hall. Many Buddhist Thais go there to stick gold leaf to these images as a part of paying respect to the two famed abbots.
Wat Chalong History
Wat Chalong has played a major part in Phuket's history. During the 19th century the island was an important centre of industry because of the influx of wealth brought in through tin mining and many Chinese labourers flocked to the island as a result. Some formed secret societies and these 'Angyee' societies began to amass power.
When tin mine owners refused them the opium they had grown accustomed to they became incensed. A small group of Angyee seized the Provincial Hall, killing people in the process. Locals escaped to Wat Chalong and ran to the Abbot, warning him of the imminent danger. He stated that as he had been raised and educated at the temple he was not about to run away from it. Locals took heart from him and stayed there. As a Buddhist monk, Luang Poh Cham could not physically fight the Angyee but he rallied the people to fight back whenever the Chinese attacked. The fighting was fierce and the Chinese even breached the temple wall at one point and this breach can be seen at the temple to this day.
Time after time the locals fought back against the attackers and others, encouraged by their success, joined them. They pleaded with the Abbot for a religious talisman to bring them good luck and he gave them pieces of sanctified white cloth which they used as headbands. The Angyee dubbed them the 'Whitehead Troups.' The climax came when the Chinese labourers, drugged and stupefied by their opium, were attacked and destroyed by the locals.
King Rama V (1853-1910) was informed about this victory. He invited Luang Poh Cham to Bangkok in order to promote him to regional Abbot for Phuket and its surrounding provinces. This was when the king bestowed the royal title of Chaithararam on Wat Chalong.
The Tale of Luang Poh Cham
Luang Poh Cham's walking stick is the subject of many tales. Apparently it had many healing qualities and, as mentioned, it is in the possession of the current Abbot. One of King Rama V's wives was cured of acute stomach ache by its touch. The most amusing story about Luang Poh Cham's walking-stick concerns a local girl who was so desperate to get healed that she solemnly vowed to gild his privates if he would rid her of her stomach pains. He healed her (presumably the Abbot knew nothing about the details of her vow) but she forgot about her promise.
Thai people believe that breaking a promise can bring evil upon people and sure enough, she fell ill again. When her parents found out about her foolish oath (females must never touch Buddhist monks) they approached the Abbot. His adroitness saved the day. Out came the walking stick and Luang Poh Cham sat on it in such a way that it protruded from his robes. The girl gilded it with gold leaves and was subsequently cured. This supernatural occurrence was the talk of the area for a while and resulted in many Buddhists from as far away as Penang visiting Wat Chalong.
The Tale of the Repentant Thieves
While travelling back from his audience with King Rama V, Luang Poh Cham and his entourage stopped for the night at a temple in Chumpon. He insisted on staying in the unprotected main hall instead of a safer inner room, saying that even though they may be robbed, the thieves would not get far with their loot. It was exactly as he said: Thieves came in the night and took all the monks' valuables. Later that morning, the shamefaced thieves returned, bearing their loot and saying that the further away they went the heavier the stolen articles had become.
After Luang Poh Cham passed away in 1908, his followers discovered that his total wealth amounted to 50 satang (half a baht). Many people in Malaysia and other provinces of Thailand heard about this sad news and travelled to Phuket to pay their last respects. Luang Poh Cham's funeral was the biggest ever held in southern Thailand.
- How to get there: 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.