Phuket has a long and fascinating history, stretching back to prehistoric times. Even then, it was a centre for trade;particularly in tin, an essential component in the making of bronze. There are several places where you can learn more about this long history on the island, with fascinating displays and exhibits.
Although the vast majority of holidaymakers come to Phuket for its beautiful white sand beaches, there is more than enough culture on the island to keep people looking for a bit more occupied. Apart from stage shows and wildlife presentations, it is possible to learn the diverse history of the province, which is largely based around immigration, mining and trade.
This fascinating government-run museum sits at the back of a paddock next to the Heroines Monument – on the way from the airport to Phuket Town – and is very popular with visitors to the island.
The siting of the museum is not coincidental – much of what is exhibited concerns the period around 1785 when the Heroines )two sisters) led the people of Phuket in beating back an invading Burmese army. The museum contains dioramas of battles scenes, along with artefacts from the period. There are also sections containing prehistoric items found in the Andaman coastal area; an exhibit about the early Indian civilisations on the peninsula, showing the ancient links between India and Phuket; and displays of local culture, traditions and the way of life. Opening Hour: 09:00-16:00 (Daily). Ticket: 30 Baht. Tel: (076) 313 397.
Phuket (Kathu) Mining Museum
This museum, funded by the Kathu Municipality, is perhaps not as well-promoted as it should be, which is a pity, since it is really quite interesting. From prehistoric times until the 1960s, tin was king in Phuket, and many local fortunes were based on it. It was what brought Indian and, later, Arab traders to Phuket’s shores, plus the Heroines traded tin for guns to fight off the Burmese. The big boom was around 1900, when large British and Australian firms were invited to rip up Phuket’s stunning landscape for the metal.
The museum has numerous dioramas showing the various methods employed through the centuries to mine tin, from hacking it out by hand to using monstrous dredgers that looked like something out of a Mad Max movie. There’s also a walk-through reconstruction of old Phuket Town (circa 1900), which gives a very good idea of life at that time.
Staff speak little English and many of the explanatory signs are in Thai only, so if you want to make the most of the museum, go with a Thai friend of guide. The museum is on Road 3013 (the back road from Koh Kaeo to Kathu), past the British International School and close to the Loch Palm Golf Club. Opening Hours: 08:00-16:00 (Monday-Saturday). Ticket (Adult/Child): 100/50 Baht. Tel: (088) 766 0962.
Much of Phuket’s history from the 18th century onwards is dominated by Chinese immigrants and their descendants. The Chinese community opened its first school in 1911 and when the school moved to new premises, the original building was thoroughly renovated and turned into a museum showcasing Thai-Chinese culture, known locally as Baba (or Peranakan) culture.
It contains exhibits of Baba clothing, art, traditions, festivals and lifestyle, and is also a centre for modern-day Phuket Town festivals ,such as the annual Mass Baba Wedding, Chinese New Year, and the Old Phuket Festival. Opening Hours: 09:00-17:00. Ticket: 200 Baht. 28 Krabi Rd., Talat Nua. Tel: (076) 211 224, Email.
Actually, this is a high-class bar, not a museum, and is located at the Indigo Pearl Resort. Owner Vichit na Ranong, whose family were big players in the tin industry, and who provided one of Phuket’s most highly respected governors, Lord Rassada, is proud of this heritage and themed the entire hotel around tin mining. The Tongkah Tin Syndicate is the apogee of this. It has a corrugated tin roof and is full of tin-related artefacts collected by the family, so it’s possible to have a pleasant drink or two and justify it on the basis that you’re studying Phuket history. The Slate (Nai Yang Beach), 116 Moo 1, Sakhu, Thalang. Tel: (076) 327 006.
Phuket Sea Shell Museum
The Phuket Shell Museum is a love of labour by the Pattamakanthin family, who spent 40 years collecting sea shells and related exhibits. In 1997, Somnuek Pattamakanthin and his son Somwang achieved fame in biology circles by discovering a tiny, hitherto unknown species of snail in the mountains of Surat Thani.
The museum contains more than 2,000 exhibits, including an enormous golden pearl, giant clams, fossil shells up to 380 million years old, and one case full of freak, mutant shells. Opening Hours: 08:00-18:00. Ticket (Adult/Child): 200/100 Baht. 12/2 Moo 2, Viset Road, Rawai. Tel: (076) 380 266, 381 274.
This home was built in 1903 at the height of the tin boom. Like most of the mansions built at that time, the architecture is Sino-Portuguese; a mixture of Mediterranean design and Chinese decoration. The original owner’s descendant, Pracha Tandavanitj, was a great collector of old things and loved to tell visitors about the house.
His wife, Jaroonrat, enjoys continuing his tradition, and it’s a fascinating, free tour with one of the most delightful people in Phuket. Although this is not a museum in the strict sense, it does give a wonderful insight into the lifestyle of the wealthy in Phuket 50 to 100 years ago. To visit, call Khun Jaroonrat to make an appointment (small groups only). Open: 09:00-16:30 (Monday-Saturday). 98 Krabi Rd. Tel: (076) 211 167.
The Thavorn Hotel in Phuket Town is one of the oldest in Phuket. It had the first lift installed in southern Thailand -something that people came to see from far and wide. It also has a small museum containing a large collection of photos of old Phuket, old movie posters, traditional Chinese wedding hats, tin mining equipment, and opium smoking beds and pillows. The collection is eclectic and slightly eccentric, but also fascinating. Thavorn Hotel, 74 Rassada Rd., Talad Yai. Tel: (076) 396 035, Email.