There are many destinations in Thailand, but Phuket remains one of the most popular. The gorgeous beaches with their breathtaking sunsets, the warm climate all year, the vibrant nightlife and the friendly people certainly make it desirable. Its history of welcoming foreign traders also plays a central role.
If you’re considering visiting, know that you’ll have plenty of options for your Phuket accommodations, ranging from bungalows to luxury resorts and hotels. The eastern side is less crowded, while the western side draws the party crowd, especially in Patong. Although it’s the largest Thai island, you can drive around Phuket in a few hours and see many different areas and attractions, some of which have historical significance.
A Long and Rich History
Phuket’s history goes back thousands of years. Colonists from India created Phuket Town in the first century B.C. Ptolemy, a Greek geographer in the third century A.D., called the area Jang Si Lang, which later became Junk Ceylon. This is how it was known for most of its existence (although locals called it Thalang).
Here are some highlights that help explain Phuket’s more modern popularity:
- Trade and Exploration. Outside influences have shaped Phuket throughout history. It has been an essential trading post for many cultures, including Arabs, Malays, Indians, Burmese, Chinese and Siamese. This was due to its convenient location for trade vessels and its natural resources. In the 16th century, merchants and traders travelled to the area in search of tin. A French missionary ruled Phuket for several years. Then, the British used the area as a base. Later, the Dutch and other ethnicities would flock to Phuket.
- Tin and Rubber. In the 15th century, Phuket was one of the most productive tin-mining locations in the region. Tin reigned as the leading industry for centuries. This drew thousands of Chinese laborers in the 19th century, and, today, this Chinese influence remains, as seen in the architecture, cuisine and culture. While the tin industry is no longer booming, the rubber trade has taken its place.
- The Failed Burmese Attack in 1785. One of the most important and well-known historic events occurred when local residents, led by two women, repelled a Burmese invasion. Than Phu Ying Jan and her sister Mook persuaded the women to pose as male warriors to frighten the Burmese away. These women continue to be respected today. You can visit a monument to them at the Tha Ruea intersection north of Phuket Town. Visitors place marigold-flower garlands, incense sticks and gold leaves on a small shrine at the monument’s base. If you wish to leave something, there are nearby stands that sell these items.
- The Rise of Tourism. In the latter half of the 20th century, as international tourism increased, Phuket was among the first provinces to embrace the industry. In 1967, the massive Sarasin Bridge was constructed to create a land bridge, which made the area easier to reach. As many embraced its natural beauty and hospitality, hotels and resorts began to open. In the 1970s, backpackers began to flock to Phuket. Soon, a modern airport opened, and by the 1980s, Phuket was known around the world as a premier resort destination.
- Tsunami in 2004. A tsunami that hit the island on Dec. 26, 2004, was the most disastrous event to ever occur in Phuket. About 900 people died or disappeared, and over 1, 000 more suffered injuries. Much of the western coast, including the beaches, hotels and towns, was among the hardest hit. The people of Phuket immediately began their efforts to get business and tourism back to where it was. Today, few physical signs of this event remain.
Phuket Is Poised to Remain Popular
As it always has, Phuket plays host to many foreigners. Millions visit the island each year to experience the beauty, the culture and the hospitality of its people. Whether you visit the area’s museums or explore the temples and mansions, you’ll enjoy learning more about this island’s history.
About the Author: Vihang Mahale is a blogger and travel expert. He visited Phuket for the first time in university and fell in love with its beauty.