Two sisters that saved Phuket

By Lesley Chittayanon

Monument of the two heroines

Relaxing on the beach in sunny Phuket, it is hard to believe this lovely island was once invaded by marauding Burmese, and even harder to believe the invasion was fought off by women posing as soldiers.

Almost 900kms south of Bangkok, Phuket is suspended from the province of Phang Nga by two parallel bridges. These short road bridges provide a convenient gateway to Phuket, although a large number of visitors touch down in the island’s airport on domestic or international flights.

Unless you are staying close to the airport it is likely the first prominent landmark you see in Phuket is two statues of female soldiers. Located in the south of Amphoe Thalang district, this monument is a highly significant structure to Thai people. You will notice many Thais show their respect with a wai (clasping their hands in a prayer-like position), even while negotiating the busy roundabout it stands on.

The monument commemorates two local heroines who hatched a clever plan and successful mission which saved the country from Burmese invasion. Today Thais continue to pay respect to these women who saved their country.

In 1785 Burmese invaded Thalang with a troop of 144,000 soldiers, in hope of expanding Burma’s borders. Thalang was vulnerable after the death of its governor, so the local people were in despair. Fortunately, the courageous widow of the late governor wasn’t willing to give in to the Burmese.

After the death of her husband, who had been the town’s much respected governor, Than Phu Ying Chan (known as Lady Chan), joined forces with her sister Mook to defend Thalang. After recruiting a massive army of woman dressed in uniforms posing as soldiers, they arranged a defence at Wat Pranang Sang to protect the region from the Burmese.

As the Burmese army neared, Lady Chan put her plans to action. Successfully she managed to weaken their force by destroying their food supplies. The Thalang army used a combination of potassium nitrate and fire arms to blast the Burmese camp. Once the enemy caught sight of the massive body of uniformed soldiers, they withdrew in fear of what seemed like an invincible Thai army.

On 13th March 1785, the month-long siege ended and the two women had saved the province of Phuket by cunningly tricking the enemy. It was a glorious day for Thalang, and a triumphant victory for the nation. King Rama I recognised the women’s heroic efforts with honorary titles: Thao Thep Krasatri and Thao Sri Soontorn.

Festival of fireworks and sports

The monument was erected in 1966 to recognise and honour the heroic acts of these illustrious ancestors. Each year on 13th March, a large event known as Thao Thep Krasatri Thao Sri Soontorn Festival opens in Phuket Town, and in similar style to all Thai festivities, it is a lively and vibrant cultural affair.

More on Phuket festivals.

During the festival, which lasts around one week, many events take place. To mark the beginning of the celebration, a historical tour of Thalang visits significant sites including Thalang National Museum, Thao Thep Krasatri House and Thalang Chanasak Memorial Field.

An array of sporting competitions kicks off on the second day, with Thai boxing on a stage over the water (muay talay), stealing the limelight. Other sporting events include cross country cycling, tug of war and sack races. On a more serious note, the ancestor worship ceremony is the religious part of the festival. Thai Buddhists make merit by visiting the temple (Wat Muangkomarapat) and offering food to monks.

The heroines’ monument is also the site of acts of commemoration during this festive period. Garland giving ceremonies are a colourful event, and are followed by a more serious ceremony wherein locals pay respect to the women.

Historical dramas take place on the final day in Thalang Chanasak Memorial Field. Although language presents problems in understanding the dialogue, the elaborate costumes, traditional music and incredible atmosphere mean foreign visitors can still enjoy the show immensely.

On the 200th anniversary of the war, in 1985, the Thalang National Museum was founded. The museum not only honours the bravery of the two women but aims to preserve the history, culture and archaeology of Phuket Province and the surrounding Andaman shores. It is also an important information resource for visitors to the island.

The museum is located within close proximity to the monument on Pa Khlok Road, just east of the monument. After being established in 1985, the museum was inaugurated on 14th March 1989, by HRH Princess Sirinthorn.

More on the history of Phuket.

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