Situated in the Andeman Sea, Phuket boasts a population of approximately 387,000 residents on a 222 square mile island. It is Thailand’s largest island but its second-smallest province. Striking features of this beautiful place are its elevation of 1,736 feet above sea level and rain forest area. There are two schools of thought as to the origin of its name. In the Jawi dialect of Malaysia, Phuket is derived from ‘bukit’ translated as ‘hill’. Thailand accounts maintain that the name comes from ‘phu’ (mountain) and ‘ket’ (jewel). Phuket’s main sources of income are derived from tin, rubber and tourism.
Formally adopted in 1985, the main feature of Phuket’s official seal “Two Heroines Monument” pictures two sisters who endeavoured to protect their homeland during a 1785 Burmese invasion. The site occupied by this monument is one of the island’s most important places to visit.
Before venturing out to visit anywhere in Phuket, tourists are urged to respect and embrace the code of conduct relative to monks. These Buddhist religious leaders are easily recognised by their orange garb. Since religious cannons dictate that no one is to stand taller than they are, members of both sexes are admonished to genuflect or bow in their presence. For women, this code of conduct goes one step further in that monks are never allowed to have physical contact with women. On any form of public transportation, any attempt by a female to occupy a seat next to a monk will require the monk to vacate his seat and stand in the aisle next to a man.
At the top of your list of places to visit should be the Two Heroines Monument. Situated on Phuket’s main roundabout, this monument honours the bravery of two women who prior to their action were known as Lady Chan and Lady Mook. Erected in 1967, this marble monument memorialises these two women who were titled by King Rami I as Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Si Sunthon.
At the base of this massive landmark structure is a shrine area where tourists and locals leave mementos such as floral leis, incense sticks and other small items. Although visitors may leave personal trinkets or items purchased from nearby vendors, many locals observe this practice using items personally belonging to them to invoke protection during off-island travel or when dealing with important issues of everyday life. March 13th of each year is set aside for a festival event to honour these valiant women. In addition to delicious foods, this gala gathering features on-stage re-enactment of the battle, a sword swallowing exhibition and ends with an awe inspiring fireworks display. Just prior to the fireworks, direct descendants of these two women are formally recognised.
Occupying 5.2 acres of land near the Two Heroines Monument, a visit to Thalang National Museum will further enhance your understanding of the monument. The museum opened in 1985 on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Thalang led by the two sisters. Thalang National Museum’s entrance is graced by a 7.6 foot tall bronze statue of the Hindu god Vishnu. Architectural features of the museum center around a thatched roof and gable. Among the items on exhibition is a bronze Dong Sun ceremonial drum. Other exhibit rooms explain the history of tin making and the lifestyle of the area’s original female residents, the Sea Gypsies.
To many tourists, Phuket appears to be a city of memorial statues and sites. Since the early 2000s a statue known as The Big Buddha has been an ongoing project which when completed will bear the Buddha’s proper name which is Pahra Putthamingmongkolekanagagiri. When completed, The Big Buddha will have two faces. The first face is 39 feet tall, made of brass and dedicated to HM Queen Sinikat. The second measuring 147 feet tall and encased in white marble honors the 85th birthday of King Blumibol.
Be sure not to miss Wat Chalong, the sacred Buddhist temple. A very special area of the temple is a Chedi that is purported to be the resting place of a bone from the body of The Great Buddha himself. Visitors are urged to adhere to the temple’s dress code which dictates that female shoulders and upper torso must be completely covered as well the upper legs. Both men and women must remove hats and shoes upon entering the temple.
Taking the time to explore one of the three Phuket Pearl Farms accessible only by boat is an extremely educational adventure. During a typical tour, visitors learn how pearls are extracted from oysters and the process they pass through from a pearl in the rough to a beautiful piece of jewellery.
Khao Phra Taeo Wildlife Center is a rain forest haven for many outdoor creatures including deer and creatures bordering on extinction such as gibbons, monkeys and boars. Keep an eye out for rare plants such as white back palms. The center is a refuge for birds such as the Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black Napped Oriole and various species of owls. Burmese pythons and green pit vipers have been spotted plying its waterways.
Those interested in learning more about elephantshave several options to include embarking on a 30-minute trek aboard one of these majestic creatures. Follow trails through the rain forest with your guide to learn more about elephants and other creatures who inhabit the area. Other options include feeding, bathing and watching elephants as they plough rice paddies.
Phuket Old Town is a place where tourists enjoy spending time because of its historic nature. The area developed at the height of the tin industry has quaint shops and less travelled streets, but also has large mansions where tin tycoons/barons lived around 100 years ago. It could be said that Old Town is a popular tourist attraction in and of itself despite the attractions within it. One of its main arteries, Thalang Street is closed to vehicular traffic every Sunday evening when it becomes what the locals reference as “Walking Street’ making it an ideal mingling place for locals and tourists to shop and dine.
Tha Hua Museum is a 13-room structure that originally functioned as a Chinese language school. Tourists are advised to begin their exploration of this Sino-Portuguese building in the Chinese Migration room to better understand China’s influence on the culture of Thailand in general and Phuket in particular. Upon leaving this area, it is best to move in a clockwise direction of the entire second floor before investigating exhibits on the first floor. Many of the exhibits invite hands-on interaction which is particularly helpful when accompanied by children.
Unlike the aforementioned museum, Baan Chinpraca Museum is a private residence whose lower story is open to the public. Erected in 1903, the upper floor is still occupied by members of one of the tin and rubber mogul’s family. Rooms on the ground floor are decorated with items that reflect the lifestyle of traditional Phuket residents. Situated next door is a mansion that since 2010 has functioned as an eatery known as The Blue Elephant.
Occupying the town’s old post office building, Phuket Philatelic Museum is a must-see for stamp collectors. Another adventure awaiting you near the old post office is the rather unique Phuket Aquarium. What makes this adventure unique is the fact that visitors negotiate a walkway while they view sea creatures swimming on each side of them as well as overhead. Another area of the aquarium contains tanks that are home to seahorses, various types of cowfish, eels, turtles and leopard sharks.
Most tourists rank Phuket FantaSea as definitely unusual in the realm of the normal theme parks for the simple reason that it is only open in the evening. In addition to a large buffet-style restaurant capable of providing seated dining for 4,000 customers at a time, the highlight of the evening is a 70-minute Vegas-style live presentation entitled “Fantasy of a Kingdom” executed by 30 elephants and a cast of approximately 130 humans.
Be sure not to miss a visit to Phuket’s Trickeye Museum. Opened in 2002, this museum contains approximately 100 3D images that are superimposed on two-dimensional surfaces. These images are created in a painting style known as trompe-l’oeil which is French for “deceive the eye.” These images are guaranteed to invite interaction because an ordinary scene such as a rice field will appear to have money and other valuables scattered around waiting to be retrieved; however these items are not physically present but your eye leads you to believe they are.