This is a travel journey to the turbulent southern Thai region. For a mere 100 Baht you can practically go to one of Thailand's most sacred temple - Wat Chang Hai. Yes! You can do it with just One Hundred Baht. Make no mistake about it for a round trip locomotive journey starting from Hat Yai Junction - the major train station hub in South Thailand.
By far we have written quite extensively about the Venerable Luang Pu Tuad - a Buddhist Saint from the 17th Century Ayutthaya's Kingdom whom is still highly venerated in Thai Buddhism today. Luang Pu Tuad or Rajamuni Samiramo's miracle is best associated with escaping deadly accidents. Wat Chang Hai is the holy abode of Luang Pu Tuad. It is also a very well known temple for producing only Luang Pu Tuad's sacred amulets in Thailand.
There're a few reasons for writing this travel experience here. The number one reason is to share this travel experience with temple goers on a shoestring budget. Many a times I've heard that to go to Wat Chang Hai the best way is to hire a private vehicle catered for temple runs. No doubt a private car arrangement is much more convenient and comfortable than any other ways. But this affair will be far more costly especially for a lone traveler.
Cost factor and uncertainty about transportation will almost certainly make some temple goers shy away from going to Wat Chang Hai. If you're a student or you just simply want to visit Wat Chang Hai for once in a lifetime with a budget conscious mind, we're showing you the best locomotive travel only here in SimplyBuy's travel blog.
The other issue of concern is about security when going to this part of the world. The three southernmost provinces in Thailand with a Malay-Muslim majority- Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat had been under ethnic separatist insurgency over the last decade. To enter this region whether by private car or train, your own safety must be exercised at all times. There is a reason why we partly gave the acronym GNR (guns and roses) to this region. There's violence and danger (guns) but yet there's still beautiful people with kindness (roses).
Without fear and having a complete trust on the Triple Gems, we set off this travel route by locomotive to the most feared part in Thailand. Try to make a guess which type of amulets that people will be wearing when going here.
If you intend to follow this travel option, please check for more information about departure times at Hat Yai Railway station one day before your journey. Before we begin, this story will never unfold here if not for a monk whom revealed to me several years ago about the possibility to reach Wat Chang Hai by train.
Hat Yai City
Hat Yai serving as the gateway city to Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat can be reached by flights, trains and buses. Tourists can get here from Malaysia which is just across the border, Singapore and also Bangkok. Just remembered Koyo Island, Songkhla article story there's another ferry crossing from Langkawi to Satun before heading to Hat Yai by taking a minibus. The options are all there for you to choose whichever way that is convenient.
A rustic charm of the old township can be clearly seen through the camera lens. Taking a stroll along the city you may see strong Chinese influences. There're several Chinese temples around the city.
Hat Yai is notable for a higher proportion of Malay-Muslim and Thai-Chinese citizens than other cities of comparable size in other regions of Thailand. Overall, it's still a multi-cultural society here with neighboring tourists and locals mixing together in diversity.
The best way to describe is through photography narrative as we're exploring around the inner city. You can easily obtain a travel guide from your hotel reception to check out what's interesting for you. Walking is the easiest way to orient yourself and the city. Exploring the city and its surrounding area of interest with bicycle is also not a bad idea.
Many things have changed since my first visit to this city several years ago. Central Festival is currently one of the largest shopping centers in Southern Thailand. Not a bad place to go shopping in a fully air-conditioned modern mall if you want to escape the humid weather here.
Getting around central Hat Yai is pretty easy with Tuk-Tuk or just by walking 5-10 mins to most guest accommodation and hotels. Songthaew, a pick-up truck with roof and open sides with bench seats at the back is another mode of transport here.
Enjoying street coffee, toast breads and half-boiled eggs by the roadside in the evening can be quite relaxing especially after a long shopping spree or temple tours.
Hat Yai has increasingly become a target of terrorism in separatist campaign conducted by radical Islamist groups. Nevertheless, this bustling city is an important trading and commerce hub. This is also where we enter into Pattani to visit one of the most important Buddhist landmark in this Southern Province.
Kim Yong Market
This market is famous for the locals to get imported snacks from Malaysia and Singapore. You will find many Muslim vendors sellling merchandise on the street. The market itself has many small stalls nestled on its narrow alleyways. Local fruits, all sorts of nuts, and anything Thai you can find here.
Here is no shortage of assorted nuts, dried seafood stuffs, packed foods, kitchen and other household utilities that you might need.
Inside the market still, you can find clothes, leather products, bags, and shoes. This market is busy with hawkers selling food and drink at the outer side of the market to tourists during the peak season. It's good business.
One Way TicketYou can only purchase a one-way ticket to reach Wat Chang Hai. The return ticket can only be purchased at Wat Chang Hai station itself. For a small price to pay (74 Baht) you can get on board a second class seat. The deal is you got to be prepared to spend an entire day from 8.00 am just for this purpose before returning back to Hat Yai Junction by around 7.00 pm depending on the train schedule. We can never predict these train schedule because they have the tendency to be late and seldom arrive on time.
Stay safe, keep low profile and enjoy the train ride. The way most likely to notice a security situation is the heavy military and police presence. This is not likely to affect you in any significant way while you're in the city.
But when travelling to a hot security zone like Pattani, it's quite possible that you will be asked for identification at certain military checkpoints. Therefore, carrying your passport at all times is recommended.
Pattani provides a clear example of how people from different ethnicity can continue to live together under difficult situations. But of course seeing life under conflict and tension is not the only reason to visit Wat Chang Hai. As mentioned earlier, Wat Chang Hai is the abode of Luang Pu Tuad and it's deemed spiritually important to Buddhists in Thailand. This is also where sacred protective amulets are being produced. That's what motivated people like us to go in the very first place despite the clear and present danger.
Don't worry about getting hungry during the train journey. There're food vendors on board the train selling anything from delicious fried chickens, packet rice, noodles, fresh cut fruits, bottled water, coffee, iced teas, cigarettes, etc. It's quite an impressive array of local commodities available on board this Thai State Railway.
Somehow the soldiers sensed that I'm the only foreigner in the train where extra troops are placed on the same coach together with me. This is very assuring because the train journey will take 2 hours to get to the temple. Try to imagine which is a better alternative. Hire a private vehicle with a local driver to get you to Wat Chang Hai comparing with taking a train together with a truckload of soldiers armed to the brim. The choice is very clear.
|The guns protecting me and other passengers|
Wat Chang Hai has been considered a remarkable Buddhist jewel in contemporary Thai society which makes this temple a terrorist target by radical separatists. High security presence can be felt here even on the train itself as we travel deeper inside the south territory. As a Buddhist, we must always refrain from harboring ill-thought on other people's religions. We believe in Karmic retribution, rebirth into woeful planes and thus we refrain from killing.
A one-way ticket will bring you to many station stops along the way before reaching Wat Chang Hai. This train is heading for Sungai Kolok as its final destination before making its return journey all the way back to Bangkok later in the evening using the same route.
For this one-way ticket the sequence of train stations that we encountered along this route starting from Hat Yai Junction are;
- Na Muang
- Wat Khuan Mit
- Tha Maenglak
- Na Pradu
- Wat Chang Hai.
A sense of excitement is awaiting us at Wat Chang Hai even before we arrive. Images of Luang Pu Tuad already started flashing in my mind as if the Venerable is waiting for my safe arrival to the temple.
|Kosaba station. Next stop Thepa station.|
This captivating journey is filled with scenery made up of tropical jungle, rubber plantations, rice fields and small villages as we travel deeper inside Pattani. Just sit back and enjoy the serene atmosphere.
|Napradu station. Next stop Wat Chang Hai|
Situation looked calm and peaceful all along this journey thus far. Fishing is a major industry in Pattani but we're not heading anywhere near to the beach or port area on this trip. We restrict our movement only to temple visit.
If not for the on-going violence, the entire region could be quite attractive for tourists like myself and everyone else to visit many of its nature spots. When the peace return where there's no more guns except roses, this region will certainly flourish once again.
Wat Chang Hai
"Sawadee-kaa" greeting comes ringing into my ears upon seeing Wat Chang Hai signboard. Finally we're reached our intended travel destination to pay homage to the legendary Venerable Luang Pu Tuad to complete my story coverage.
There're no buses or taxis here. The only vehicles you can expect to see here are mostly driven by local villagers or by the army. Pattani town is about 30km away from this train station. After a brief stopover at this station, the train continued its journey to Sungai Kolok the final destination in Narathiwat Province. The people here mostly speak the Patani-Malay language, although most also speak Thai. The Pattani Malays are similar in ethnicity and culture to the Malays of Kelantan, Malaysia.
After taking a breath of fresh air I started orientating myself for direction of Wat Chang Hai. The weather was nice while cooling wind is sweeping the heat away. Quite unusual for this kind of harsh weather to be so comforting all along my journey as though the Divine Angels knew of my maiden train arrival on this day.
|Wat Chang Hai at the background|
A short walk is all that is takes to get across to the opposite side of the road. This train station became deserted again right shortly after the train left. Well, it's better to just walk ahead and complete my mission objective. But before doing that, it is best to check with the Station Master for the next available train heading back to Hat Yai city. You don't want to miss the train back unless you're ready with a backpack to put up a night at the temple like how I did before at the temples in the island of Koyo in Songkhla.
The precise name for Wat Chang Hai should be Wat Ratburanaram. Nevertheless, villagers and devotees prefers to call it Wat Chang Hai literally mean "Gift of Elephants". The history of Wat Chang Hai has been told millions of times from generation to generation. But the main attentions here is none other than Somdej Luang Pu Tuad.
Luang Pu Tuad's Buddhist preaching was very well received in Southern Thailand right till the old capital of Krung Sri Ayutthaya. Luang Pu Tuad's knowledge of the Dhamma and Buddhist Tripitaka had captured the hearts of both royalties and commoners.
According to legend, Phraya Kamdum the Lord of Sai Buri was once exploring for a site to build a new township as gift to his younger sister. Since he was indecisive about which location to choose, using his witted mind, he had requested two of his elephants to lead the way to seek for the most suitable site to build a new township. After several days of travelling, the elephants came to a complete stop at the present day Wat Chang Hai location. The two elephants circled three rounds at this site before trumpeting out loud to mark this as an auspicious location.
Lord Phraya Kamdum was very contented with the location but his younger sister was not happy. She requested Phraya Kamdum to look for another location. To please his sister, Lord Phraya Kamdum continued searching for another new location. Finally he found a new location called Krue Se in Pattani province today where he built this new township for his sister.
Lord Phraya Kamdum of Sai Buri still cannot stop thinking about the first location and decided to build a monasteryand named it Wat Chang Hai "Gift of Elephants" and presented it to the revered Lanka “ Somdej Luang Pu Tuad” of Sai Buri and appointed him as the chief abbot of Wat Chang Hai. Villagers in and around started to addressed him Sir Chang Hai or Master Lanka and some even called him Luang Phor Dam of Sai Buri.
In what manner the names of Somdet Luang Pu Tuad came about in different regions and places, no one knows the actual answers because this great revered monk holds many names and titles during the Ayutthaya period.
Many believed and agreed that Somdej Luang Pu Tuad, Somdet Chao Phra Kho, Phrarajchamuni Sameeram Khunupanachan, Luang Phor Dam or Sir Chang Hai is the same holy monk that every followers mentioned about. Importantly, his distinguishable personality and knowledge of the Tripitaka and mystical powers have won the hearts of many followers.
When Somdet Luang Pu Tuad was staying in Sai Buri, he passed down his wishes to his close disciples and followers. That some day when he departed from this world, he would like his body brought back to Wat Chang Hai for cremation and his ashes be kept there at Wat Chang Hai itself.
He even told his followers that should his body fluids drop along the way to Wat Chang Hai, all they have to do is just light a sandalwood incense stick and stick onto the ground. That particular spot will become a sacred place liked the final journey he made back from Ayutthaya to Wat Phra Kho (also known as Wat Ratchapraditsathan) in Sathing Phra district, Songhkla Province.
When Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo was appointed chief abbot of Wat Chang Hai, he wondered how this monastery came into existence for hundreds of years. He tried to find as much information as possible but villagers are unable to provide him with a clear answer.
Then one night, he had a strange dream where he saw four monks walking out from the reservoir toward the monastery, the first monk that emerge were Luang Phor Sri, followed by Luang Phor Thong and Luang Phor Chan while the last one he saw was an elderly monk walking slowly with a twisted walking cane.
Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo was very peculiar on that elderly monk with a twisted walking cane by inquiring various issue concerning Wat Chang Hai. The elderly monk with a twisted walking cane began to explain each and every details regarding Wat Chang Hai and casually walked through with Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo by describing the monastery’s boundaries in all four directions.
|Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo|
Before dawn, the elderly monk told Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo “ Should you have any queries concerning Wat Chang Hai, all you need is let me know in your dream and I will assist you whatever I can". With that assuring words, the elderly monk with a twisted walking cane and the other 3 monks just disappeared into the mist.
Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo began to recall those words that the elderly monk told him. Later it became clear to him that the elderly monk was none other than the Revered Somdej Luang Pu Tuad.
Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo took many ev ents into consideration and brings to mind those words mentioned by Revered Somdej Luang Pu Tuad, and with that inspiration whatever problems of concerns or missionary works that Phra Archan Thim Dhamma Tharo carry out, it become visible that things went on smoothly without much problem.
Ultimately Wat Chang Hai was fully restored to its former glory. But it's unfortunate that Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo had succumbed to digestive tract cancer and passed away peacefully on 30th November 1969. Currently, the ashes of Revered Somdej Luang Pu Tuad and Venerable Phra Archan Tim Dhamma Tharo were enshrined and kept inside the sacred pagoda at Wat Chang Hai.
|Chao Khun Phra Sunthorn Pariyatwitan|
The current chief abbot whom had been entrusted to look after Wat Chang Hai. Managed to have a brief conversation with the abbot after his meal time.
Wat Chang Hai Ratburanaram's sacred pagoda final gold leafs topping ceremony was performed by his Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 13th April 1988.
For the past few hundred years, Wat Chang Hai has encountered all kinds of calamities from natures to man-made disasters and yet it has withstood and endured the unanticipated environments till this present day. In keeping with Buddha's belief and practices, all the past and present abbots of Wat Chang Hai have dutifully upheld their Buddhist principles in addition to disseminating the teachings of Buddha to many followers.
The surrounding environment is pretty serene and well kept. The main attraction of this temple apart from paying respect to Somdej Luang Pu Tuad is the Phra Luang Pu Tuad amulets that were produced here. For the serious amulet believers, they will never leave the temple without the amulets. A small donation of 50 Baht will get you a piece of these protective amulets.
Many sacred amulets were being produced during Phra Archan Tim's tenure as the chief abbot for restoration works at Wat Chang Hai. During that period of time when the 1st batch was produced in B.E.2497 with divine blessings from Somdej Luang Pu Tuad, the amulets gained popularity for its miraculous powers.
No doubt the 1st batch of Phra Luang Pu Tuad's amulets production are very pricey today but later generations are proven to be just as effective. Each year new batches of Phra Luang Pu Tuad amulets are being produced here at Wat Chang Hai. There will never be shortages of these miraculous amulets for anyone.
|New batches consecrated in B.E.2558|
For those whom have never come across a Luang Pu Tuad's amulet before, the above pictures will give you an idea on some of the amulets shapes. Please note that all the funds generated through donation is for temple maintenance and restoration works wherever deemed necessarily apart from promoting Buddhist teachings.
|Older batches are more pricey|
There's an array of Phra Luang Pu Tuad amulets for devotees as well as believers to choose. Depending on your budget and how deep is your pockets. From 50 Baht piece of amulet to a few thousand Baht per piece of these sacred amulets, a wiser choice is to donate and choose a piece that is within your budget limitation. You can always go back again on other occasion or whenever Wat Chang Hai needs your help in the future.
After spending some ample time discovering the temple's compound and learning about its history from where it all started, I would encourage you to make a trip down to Wat Chang Hai with the travel guidance provided here. You will certainly get to see with your own eyes and feel the aura of yesteryear's glory and pride of this temple. The one-way ticket is certainly worth all the effort.
|Locals from Wat Chang Hai nearby village|
Visitors will indefinitely have the opportunity to collect Wat Chang Hai's legendary Siamese amulets of Luang Pu Tuad for personal use or as souvenirs indicating that you've made it here. Before departing Wat Chang Hai, we are a bit starving and it's time to have our late lunch. Don't expect a fancy restaurant serving authentic Thai dishes within the vicinity of the temple surrounding.
Just across the road from the main temple entrance, you will find a row of food stalls serving the usual Thai delicacies. Fried banana fritters, iced cold carbonated drinks, fruits, Pad Thai noodles, etc. We have passed by this row of food stalls earlier but didn't pay much attention about it.
The stalls are seen displaying an assortment of trades for any temple goers. Despite the ongoing violence in the South, it's business as usual for village folks here conducting their business serving the local community and visitors alike. There're far less foreign devotees nowadays not to mention Western tourists coming to this ancient temple or Pattani region.
|Traditional herbal medicines|
Next Train Out
After a quick sumptuous lunch and scouting around the road stalls, we headed back to the train station to get another ticket to ride back to Hat Yai city. Another one-way ticket is what you will need to board the train.
There's still plenty of time knowing in advance the next train departure from this Wat Chang Hai station. We snapped some photos while passing time here.
Seeing trains passing by this otherwise remote station is something out of the extraordinary because we don't always get a chance to sit at a railway station and see moving trains as dramatic as here.
The next available train that is heading back to the city center has only 3rd class coach available. Therefore, it's a free seating coach and you can choose to sit at any compartment or your preferred wooden seats for just 20 Baht only.
Time to bid farewell to the elderly Station Master whom had been very helpful in assuring non-native passengers to board the next train out of this seemingly lonely place on earth (when there's no passing train).
Although the seats seemed stiff at first, but it's quite comfortable after a while. As the train sped off , the cooling natural breeze from the hot afternoon sun surprisingly made the journey back felt very pleasant. There's no better way to get this kind of experience with just 20 Bath.
Not feeling stuffy or hot inside this classic wooden train coach, soon I'm able to catch a glimpse of Pattani's lifestyle alongside this journey through the lens of my camera. Being a Malaysian myself and lived alongside with other Muslims in Malaysia makes no difference to me in communicating with the Pattani folks here.
The friendliness of the local Thai-Muslim from this deep South province is reflected from their smiles. They are soft spoken and like many others they all love peace and harmony. This is clearly captured on the camera lens.
In many of these laid back towns along the train stations we've encountered, this no-frills mode of transportation played a pivotal role in the daily lives of the people here. People here can practically travel on a day trip to visit friends, relatives and family members living at the other provincial town by using this rail network.
A sense of sheer joy can be felt when seeing some beautiful landscapes under the evening sun as the train is leaving Wat Chang Hai further behind. The thought of rejoicing this small adventure with friends and family members is in the top list of my mind.
We've painted a colorful life into this Southern travel by train to Wat Chang Hai in Pattani. However, travelers are urged to research the situation themselves before heading to this area of GNR, and realize the risks involved and where they should stay to remain safe.
The multi-facet Pattani town is beautiful with a strong heritage of history behind its glorious past. Putting aside all prides and egos, a harmonious and peaceful future is within reach for everyone. May the aspiration of the younger generation of Pattani have their wish come true.
City At Nightfall
After the train journey back to Hat Yai, I've decided to have an early dinner for the rest of the day. The night life here is filled with street vendors peddling food to earn a living from majority Malaysian and Singaporean tourists here on holidays. Not many western tourists would come here if compared with Phuket.
Hat Yai remained as a favorite destination for neighboring tourists just like before since my childhood days. For your own safety measure, try not to stay too long at crowded places e.g. pubs and karaokes. Other than that you should be safe after a day of travelling with pure adrenaline into the deep South with so many soldiers and train passengers.
The beautiful mosaic of cultures can be seen when so many people irregardless of race, religion and belief coming from Malaysia, Singapore, and Thai blending in together in this city on the Southern Gulf Coast.
The sound of each passing train in front of Wat Chang Hai never fail to mesmerize us till this day. For this amazing travel story, we dedicated it to the remarkable servicemen and brave commuters who have to traverse this remote part of Thailand in times of uncertainty.
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