When getting to know a new place, whether just visiting, or moving there for good, learning about the history and culture is always in the top three of the ‘must do’ list for me. If it’s a place steeped in centuries of history it’s always a treat to explore the ‘old town’ if there is such a thing, and visit any preserved historical sites, taking in the architecture, ambiance and aromas.
Phuket hasn’t disappointed. An afternoon excursion into Phuket’s ‘Old Town’ at the heart of the main city, rewards visitors with the colourful glory of Sino-Colonial architecture. Mansions built by tin Baron’s in the 18th century still stand and streets are peppered with ancient herb shops, fabric sellers and tailors.Wandering in and out of hand carved, Thai-style furniture shops and visiting both Chinese and Buddhist temples creates a rich, cultural experience that leaves quite an impression. When we returned home my clothes still had the pungent aroma of a collection of herbs and spices from our visit to the ‘Oldest Herbs Shop’ in Phuket. A popular stop on the walking tour is to have tea at the historic China Inn, which doubles as an antique and craft shop.
The strongest cultural influences on the island and its history were Chinese and British. However, several others have left their mark as well like the Burmese, French, Japanese and Indians. The infusion of certain elements of each of these county’s cultures has created the multi-dimensional, multi-coloured fabric of the Thai culture we enjoy today.
During our tour, we meandered past the Phuket Thai Hua Museum, which was built in 1911 originally as a Chinese school but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go in. We’ll save that for another day along with the Old Phuket Town post office, built in 1932, which is now the home of the Phuket Philatelic Museum… well, we might skip that one since I’m not a stamp collector!
Every year there is a three-day celebration called the Phuket Old Town Cultural Festival. The purpose of the festival is to preserve Thailand’s culture and traditions and to put the spotlight on cultural tourism. Festivities kick off with a parade through the streets of Old Town with dancers and musicians and traditional Chinese dragons.
The history of Phuket, as far back as 500 BC, has been recorded in a lengthy tome (more like a textbook) written by a Scottish expat named Colin Mackay. In The History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region, published in 2013, he tracks the evolution of Phuket from the Bronze Age through to the tin mining boom that started in the mid 1940s and waned in the 70s as the tourism industry began to grow. We met Mackay when we attended the launch of his book, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce at the Royal Phuket Marina a few months ago. He notes in the preface that the majority of the history is told from the perspective of foreigners, and says, “This is mainly because comparatively few old Thai historical records were kept and even fewer have survived.
Therefore it was the European, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern visitors over the centuries who have left the most, and in many periods, the only, historical records about Phuket and the central peninsula region.” However, he does give credit (and lots of praise) to Thai historian, Pranee Sakulpipatana for helping him dig up records, stay on track and ensure the Thai perspective was well represented.
So, Phuket has been an expat enclave for centuries, paving the way for the likes of us and leaving a lasting legacy for our enjoyment.
by Anne O’Connell.
A published author and freelance writer, Anne O’Connell, has been an expat since 1993 when she and her husband escaped the cold of Toronto, Canada and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They enjoyed the sun and sand for 14 years, while she worked in the PR field, and then decided it was time for a new adventure. Heading for even more sun and sand, they moved to Dubai in late 2007 and then on to Thailand in 2011.
Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter and communications consultant since 2007, specializing in marketing, corporate communications, public relations, social media and website content. She and her husband have a passion for travel and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. You can visit her website at www.anne-oconnell.com or her blog at www.anne-writingjustbecause.blogspot.com.
Read Anne's other Expat Focus articles here or click the button below to view her own blog…