Phuket’s history is littered with fascinating eras filled with different groups of people, from Chinese tin miners and early-European traders to Burmese migrants and the Siamese. As a result, the island has a wealth of temples and shrines, each of which reflects a specific period and group of people from Phuket’s past.
The temples and shrines in Phuket are not just ancient relics; they are frequently visited by islanders paying their respects to friends and relatives or else seeking luck for the future. At Wat Pud Tha Mong Kon Ni Mit on Thepkasattri Rd in Phuket Town, there are hand-written signs nailed to trees with messages, translated into English, such as “It is advisable to think before doing anything”.
There are 29 Buddhist monasteries in Phuket. The most spectacular temple on the island – the one that even the Thais make an effort to visit if they are in the area – is Wat Chalong. The temple is said to have been a source of healing on the island, soothing the rift between Chinese secret societies in the late 19th century. In the temple you will find the Poh Than Jao Wat, a revered Buddhist statue. The Grand Pagoda is enormous and a great view can be seen after walking up the stairs to the top. Along the way, there are pictures depicting the Buddha’s life. The Grand Pagoda also contains a bone splinter from one of Buddha’s bones.
Wat Chalong is located on Chao Fa West Rd, about 30 minutes from Phuket Town. A little past the temple on the same road, you’ll come to a large sign signaling a right-hand turn that will take you up Nakkerd Hill to Phuket’s Big Buddha Statue. The drive up the hill is long and winding, but you’ll be treated to one of the best views on the island when you arrive at the peak. The 45-meter Buddha statue can be seen for miles around.
Wat Suwan Khiri Khet in Karon looks like it could be a zoo judging from the two enormous, turquoise serpent statues that guard the temple grounds. The life of the Buddha can be seen inside the temple. In the smaller building are two Ramayana images watching over a sapphire Buddha. The temple is easy to find on Patak Road.
Wat Prathong in Thalang is worth a visit, if only to see the half-buried Buddha statue. Don’t get any ideas about digging the Buddha up, though, as all who have tried have been cursed. Built in the 1750s, the temple features a museum full of interesting artifacts. Wat Prathong is about 20 kilometers north of Phuket Town, near the Thalang District Office.
Also in Thalang is Wat Phranang Sang, Phuket’s oldest temple, featuring numerous tin Buddha statues, harking back to the time when tin was Phuket’s most precious commodity. Points of interest include statues of heroines Lady Chan and Lady Mook, also seen at Heroines’ Monument, and a large reclining Buddha. The temple is beautiful and certainly worthy making the effort to visit. Two tin Buddha heads were found inside the stomach of one of the larger Buddha images. The temple is located on Thepkasattri Rd and the entrance is recognizable by the two statues holding the gates.
Despite being overrun with tourists from all walks of life, Patong has its own temple – Wat Suwan Khiri Wong – over the hill and at the bottom of the road that comes from Phuket City and Kathu. The temple is possibly the most peaceful place in the whole of Patong, despite being next to a main road. There is a large bell tower, living quarters for monks and a small market nearby. This temple gives you some indication of what Patong was like before development went haywire and blessed the area with its most recent charms.
A reflection of Phuket’s large Chinese community, there are numerous Chinese temples and shrines dotted around the island, particularly in Phuket Town. During the Vegetarian Festival, these temples become the island’s star attractions. There is also plenty to see during Chinese New Year in February. The Chinese temples and shrines are more reserved in their appearance than their Thai siblings and you’ll feel like you want to tip-toe around them. Two of the main Chinese places of worship in Phuket City include Jui Tui Shrine at the end of Rangong Rd and Samkong Shrine in Samkong on Yaowarat Rd.
Visiting Phuket’s temples and shrines is the best way to learn about the history of the island. Temples play an important role in the community for all nationalities. They are peaceful places that stand out as the island around them becomes increasingly chaotic and developed. With Buddhism such an important part of life in Thailand, it should stay this way for years to come.