Update, 1 February 2019: This year’s festival is on now! Not sure when it will finish but it will probably run till Feb 10 at least.
A festival with rollicking stage shows, firecrackers, chaotic markets and spinning carnival rides. Not something you’d expect to find at a Buddhist temple, but for about 10 days each year Phuket’s largest temple is host to just such an event.
Every year during the Chinese New Year holiday, big crowds flock to Wat Chalong for its week-long fun fair. Wat Chalong is not a Chinese temple, but its history has been intertwined with the Phuket Chinese community for much of its 200-year history.
In the 1800s Phuket was a hotbed of tin mining activity and thousands of workers migrated from China to the island to find work. Over time the Chinese population grew and gained wealth and influence. By 1876 the tin-miners decided they’d had enough of the poor working conditions at the mines and staged a revolt.
Wat Chalong’s abbot, named Luang Por Cham, stepped in to offer advice to local people who were battling against the Chinese, helping to end the rebellion. His efforts were honoured by King Rama V and he’s been a revered figure in Phuket history ever since.
These days, descendants of the Chinese migrants and the locals live in peaceful harmony on Phuket and Wat Chalong is a place for all the island’s communities to come together and celebrate.
Temple fair sights and sounds
At the temple halls, scenes of reverence and reflection unfold as devotees come to pay respect to the Buddha by lighting candles, offering incense and lotus flowers, and pasting gold leafs on the large Buddha statues.
Outside, things are a little more lively and loud. Food stalls and flower shops are among the hottest attractions at the fair, especially the variety of orchids on offer. So much else including helium balloons, gadgets, T-shirts, toys, herbal medicines and handicrafts are sold in earnest.
New visitors to Thailand often pause in awe at the fair’s fried insect stalls, and those brave enough might even scarf down a cricket or two and take a photo of the effort to impress their friends back home. A crunchy Thai treat!
We’ve also spotted some surprising things for sale, including what looked like samurai swords, pet bunnies and huge piles of underwear … at rock-bottom prices.
Kids have plenty to see and do at the fair, with the bouncy castles and amusement rides a big draw. Some of the rides look a bit rickety, but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone from eagerly climbing on for a spin. Parents might want to seek out the massage stands for a relaxing break from the clamour.
The festival opens in the early afternoon, but it really gets rolling in the evening after dark. Stage shows with Thai country bands, shadow puppet performances and Thai dancing start in the evening and carry on late into the night. Some residents in the area complain about the late-night noise, but they just have to put up with it!
Wat Chalong Fair
When: Annually during the Lunar New Year holiday. The 2018 Wat Chalong fair is on February 13-20.
Where: Wat Chalong (official name is Chaithararam Temple), 70 Moo 6, Chaofa West Rd, Chalong