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Decoding Phuket’s Wat Chalong

Legacy Phuket Gazette



Decoding Phuket’s Wat Chalong | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: Most people in Phuket have had a peek at Wat Chalong, but few know the temple was once the site of a rebellion and hosted one of the largest funerals in all of southern Thailand. Even deciphering the full meaning of the paintings, statues and different buildings can be tricky.

But for Phuket expat Paul Whittall, who describes himself as “just an English fisherman”, curiosity was just too much. For three years he has researched tirelessly the lesser known aspects of this glorious temple and condensed the information in layman’s terms in his recently published guide book, aptly titled Wat Chalong.

Extracts of his book and information from the man himself gives us an insight into the true Wat Chalong, or Wat Chaitararam as it was officially named by King Rama V in 1846.

The History

It is not known when Wat Chalong was first built, but records show it was rebuilt and relocated in 1837. There is evidence of the early temple – the remains of a wall – on site. In 1876 Chalong was home to the Ang Yee rebellion, during which migrant Chinese tin mine workers rioted across Phuket to protest working conditions.

The Legend

This is when Phuket’s renowned Abbot Luangpor Chaem, now revered throughout Thailand, came into action. He was Abbot at Wat Chalong for 81 years, from 1827 to 1908.

Paul explains that “he is still very much in the Thai people’s consciousness; as soon as they enter the temple he is in their mind.

“He became a major figure in the Ang Yee rebellion because he took on the role of both mediator between the forces and healer, offering the temple as a sanctuary… He encouraged the fightback in time for the king to send an army to relieve Phuket, but he was also conciliatory. This brought him to King Rama V’s attention, who gave him an honorary title,” Paul says.

“According to the documentation, when he died his funeral was a massive affair. People came from all over Thailand and Malaysia, and it was the biggest funeral ever held in southern Thailand. His image appears in many other temples across Thailand.”

A statue of him, and his legendary walking stick which is said to have healing powers, are both present at Wat Chalong.

The Buildings

There are six buildings at Wat Chalong: the Sala, the Mondop, the Ubosot, the Viharn, the Chedi and the Crematorium.

“Other temples are packed with stuff and it can be a bit overwhelming, whereas this one you can get to grips with because it is not so enormous and each building is separate and deals with separate aspects,” says Paul.

The statue of Luang Por Chaem can be found in the Mondop, where offerings are given.

The Chedi is the main building at 61 meters high. It contains paintings of Buddha’s life and his teachings, and at the top there is a display which contains a relic – a fragment of the Buddha’s bone, which was brought to the temple from Sri Lanka in 1999.

The Ubosot is surrounded by eight boundary stones because it is not open to the public. It is the monks’ sanctuary, where they are ordained and where items such as Luang Por Chaem’s walking stick are kept safe.

The Ornate Detail

“My favorite thing about Wat Chalong is all the references to past stories and mythologies that can be found on the buildings,” says Paul.

“If you walk around the temple and look at all the buildings you have got all these stories being told to you. If you can recognize the characters you can see that the whole place is like a massive picture book,” he explains.

Paul points to some figures above the entrance to the Mondop, identifying them as Vishnu, a Garuda (a winged figure) and a Naga (serpent like figure).

“The Garuda and the Naga have problems,” he says. “In Thai and Hindu mythology there is a constant battle between the Garuda and the Naga, and there it is on the roof – you’ve got Vishnu standing on top of a Garuda, which is standing on top of a Naga, which is snaking away underneath.”

“Everywhere you look there are these references to stories, so apart from being an amazing building which is very colorful, everything has layer upon layer of meaning,”

The Paintings

There are two types of paintings at Wat Chalong: those relating to the life of the Buddha, which are mainly in the Chedi and the Sala; and the Jataka tales, which relate the 10 moral precepts and virtues to be perfected to attain enlightenment.

“What is nice about Wat Chalong’s paintings is that they portray little aspects of these massive tales and highlight just one tiny little bit of it, whereas the other temples cram loads of information into one picture,” Paul says.

He points out a painting in the Sala of Buddha sitting under a Bodhi Tree, with evil beings around him. He calls on Mae Toranee, the earth godess, to come and witness his determination to achieve enlightenment and ability to withstand evil.

For more information, readers can contact Paul at:

— Alexandra Andersson

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Future of Bangkok’s iconic Scala cinema building uncertain after closing

Maya Taylor



Future of Bangkok’s iconic Scala cinema building uncertain after closing | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Supanut Arunoprayote/Wikipedia

Cinema lovers and theatre employees are mourning the closure of Bangkok’s legendary Scala cinema after 51 years in business. The theatre was the last one to remain independent in the capital, amid an expanding landscape of multiplex cinema chains. Khaosod English reports that many Scala lovers turned out to bid farewell to the theatre prior to its final screening on Sunday evening.

The Scala’s lease ran out at the end of June and Chulalongkorn University, which owns the building, has not made any statement on what its future plans may be. For Phiboon Phorchaiyarach, who has worked as an usher at the theatre since 1981, the Scala felt like a second home.

“I feel sad. I’ve worked here since I was 21. I’m impressed every day I come to work, it’s like my second home for me.”

He recalls the Scala’s popularity in the early days of his career, mourning the death of the independent movie theatre in favour of modern technology.

“The theatre was always crowded. People lined up all the way to the downstairs to get their tickets punched. Nowadays there are CDs and mobile phones where everyone can readily enjoy what they want to watch. Coming to theatre is not a special moment anymore.”

The Scala belonged to the Apex chain of theatres, which also owned the Lido and Siam theatres. The Lido is now a multiplex and mini-mall, while the Siam theatre burnt to the ground in 2010 as political protests rocked Bangkok.

Nuphu Chayalat, a 63 year old concession stand worker, worked at the Lido for 18 years before moving to the Scala. She recalls watching her favourite films at the Scala, adding that one of them, James Cameron’s Titanic, drew huge queues.

The Scala was named after Milan’s renowned Teatro alla Scala and its first screening upon opening its doors on New Year’s Eve in 1969 was The Undefeated. Over the weekend, those visiting for the last time, were treated to screenings of a number of classic movies, including 1966’s Blow Up and CinemaParadiso, whose soundtrack composer, Ennio Morricone, passed away yesterday.

SOURCE: Khaosod English

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“Come and see” – Ministry invites diplomats to see coconut-picking monkeys in action

The Thaiger



“Come and see” – Ministry invites diplomats to see coconut-picking monkeys in action | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Atlas Obscura

The monkeys, and the Thai government, are hitting back at accusations macaque monkeys are being exploited, even abused, and forced to pick coconuts for commercial farmers. Some larger western retailers say they’re going to pull Thai coconut products off their shelves after being lobbied by animal rights activist that the coconuts were picked by abused and over-worked macaque monkeys.

The Thai Commerce Ministry, coconut farmers and the “monkey school” trainers are dismissing reports, and a dramatic video from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal), that the coconut-picking monkeys are maltreated. So they’re organising a tour for foreign diplomats and the media to see the monkeys at work and decide for themselves.

The permanent secretary for commerce, responding to the reports, says the monkey owners don’t abuse or exploit the animals which have been “humanely trained” to pick coconuts. He has instructed attaches in foreign Thai embassies to provide an explanation to retailers in other countries who have expressed concerns and even instigated boycotts.

“The ministry is ready to invite foreign diplomats to visit coconut plantations and see how the monkeys pick coconuts so they will realise this is not animal cruelty.”

The Bangkok Post reports that Pramual Pongthawaradej, a Demo­crat Party MP for Prachuap Khiri Khan province, the Chair of a House subcommittee tackling falling coconut prices, says they’ve approached owners of coconut milk plants to justify their practices to PETA. They’ve also asked the Department of Agriculture to provide details regarding the use of monkeys to pick coconuts.

A video from Touronthai shows an operating monkey-school posted 4 years ago…

But Somjai Saekow, an owner of a monkey school which trains macaques in Surat Thani, says… “the practice of capturing monkeys from the wild to pick coconuts ceased a long time ago”.

“Currently, monkeys are bred and raised before being trained. They are not forced to pick 1,000 coconuts from trees everyday, and they don’t work every day.

“Coconut-picking monkeys are mostly males and their abilities vary. The owner of the monkey receives 2 baht per a coconut picked.”

“Foreigners may not understand our livelihood. Also, humans are not built to climb up a coconut tree to pick fruit. They will be at risk, compared to monkeys which have the natural ability to do so.”

An owner of monkeys in Surat Thani, denied the claims of poor treatment or abuse of the coconut-picking monkeys.

“There is no cruelty. Actually, they are looked after well. They are fed well with rice, milk, and fruit three times a day. They are treated like family members.”

PETA claims pigtailed macaques in Thailand were treated like “coconut-picking machines”.

“Following PETA’s investigation, more than 15,000 stores will no longer purchase these brands’ products, with the majority also no longer buying any coconut products sourced from Thailand monkey labour.”

PETA said it had found 8 farms around Thailand where monkeys had been forced to pick coconuts for commercial export.

“Male monkeys are able to pick up to 1,000 coconuts a day.”

“Other coconut-growing regions, including Brazil, Colombia and Hawaii, harvest coconuts using humane methods such as tractor-mounted hydraulic elevators, willing human tree-climbers, rope or platform systems, or ladders, or they plant dwarf coconut trees.”

“PETA went further by calling on “decent people never to support the use of monkey labour by shunning coconut products from Thailand”.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thai PM expresses concern over “travel bubbles”

Jack Burton



Thai PM expresses concern over “travel bubbles” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Khaosod English

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has expressed serious concerns about the resumption of international travel under the “travel bubble” scheme, stressing that Thailand must implement a vigorous arrivals screening protocol. The scheme is a proposed limited resumption of international travel to and from countries with a reciprocal agreement.

The Thai government has indicated it has taken a risk-averse stance with future Covid-19 legislation after largely getting the local outbreak under control in late May, early June. There hasn’t been a locally transmitted case in Thailand for 40 days.

Prayut discussed the proposed scheme with the media, saying Thailand must be prepared to allow the resumption of some international travel, with the other countries involved to be carefully considered, and adding that a full agreement must be reached, to ensure compliance with public health measures at the national level.

The PM says the government is concerned about the prospects of international aviation and the country’s external revenue.

During this long weekend, the Ministry of Finance expects up to 10 billion baht in cash flow from domestic economic activities. The PM says Thais are now making more domestic trips, with many hotels reporting a slow return of customers, thanks to the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions. But tourist locations, like Pattaya and Phuket, remain quiet due to their popularity with foreign visitors.

The PM stressed that all businesses “must remain strict with their precautionary measures in order to minimise the risk of a new outbreak of the virus”.

SOURCE: Press Release from Thai National News Bureau

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