Phuket was known by Indian traders as early as the 3rd century BC. The original name was Jung Ceylon. Phuket has always been rich in natural resources such as timber, rubber, ivory and more recently tin. It was also a well known haven for pirates.
The name Phuket comes from the Malay word ‘Bukit’ which means mountain or hill. This name can still be seen around on some older businesses in Phuket Town. It has also been known as Thalang, which is now a province on the north side of the island.
Chinese Tin miners came to Phuket in the 16th century, and they mainly traded with the French and the Dutch. The British were also involved to some degree and were looking to establish a colony in Phuket as a strategic base near the Malacca Straights. The tin mines are still visible, and a lot have been converted into golf courses. The Chinese merchants are still in Phuket, and now Phuket has the largest percentage of ethnic Chinese than any other province in Phuket. The Chinese merchants came mainly from Penang and other parts of Malaysia. Many built Portuguese-Sino designed houses and shop fronts, these can still be seen today in Phuket City’s Old Town. It looks very similar to the Georgetown precinct of Penang.
The riches of Phuket also attracted the eye of the Burmese. For centuries the Burmese have been bitter enemies of the Thais, and in 1785 the Burmese army decided to attack for a second time. Phuket’s army was depleted and virtually non-existent, as all the men were off fighting different wars. 2 women known as Khunying ‘Chan’ and her sister Khunying ‘Mook’ rallied everyone they could in the Thalang area of Phuket.
They then dressed all the local women as male soldiers, making the Phuket army seem huge and invincible. The Burmese invaders were repelled, and Phuket remained part of the Kingdom.
Rama I proclaimed the day a day of national victory, and granted Khunying Chan and Khunying Mook the honorary royal names of Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Sri Soonthorn.
The heroines monument was erected in their honor at the Thalang roundabout, on what is now known as Thepkrassattri Road. Most locals will say a little prayer to the guardians of Phuket as they drive past the memorial, wishing themselves and their passengers a safe journey.
Phuket started to become a tourist hot spot in the 90s. A lot has changed since then. There are a lot more roads, shopping centers and resorts. The Thai government introduced laws in 1996 to prevent buildings to be built 60 meters above sea level to be built. This prevents the natural Jungle on the mountains being destroyed. Some people still try to build illegally, but regular helicopter patrols from the authorities put an end to those dreams.
The devastating tsunami of 2004 laid destruction to all of the west coast beaches, with some 250 people killed officially, and many more migrant laborers from Burma simply just vanished. Phuket was not the worst province hit in Thailand. Phi Phi island and Kao Lak were hit far worse. The reconstruction was very quick, and a new tsunami early warning system has been deployed to ensure tourists safety.
Phuket is a very fast developing island. A new international airport is due to be finished in 2016, accommodating 10 million passengers a year. This will make Phuket a hub airport as well as a destination. There are exciting times ahead for Phuket, and if the current authorities regulate the development correctly it will be the Jewel in the crown of Thailand for many generations to come.