Phuket, also known as the ‘Pearl of the South,’ is the largest island in Thailand, spread across 570 sq km. Located in the sparkling as well as clear green water of the Andaman Sea, Phuket is about 890 km from Bangkok. With its dramatic scenery, stunning beaches, amazing coral reefs, and tropical sunshine, Phuket is truly an incredible destination. Apart from these, the island is also rich with its historical past.
Phuket boasts of a long recorded history filled with remarkable events. Throughout its interesting history, Phuket was inhabited by various ethnic tribes who molded their lives according to the place’s environment.
The island got its present name from ‘Manikram,’ a Tamil word meaning ‘Crystal Mountain.’ But, for most of the part of the history, Phuket was known as Junk Ceylon, the evidence of which is its mention on old Portuguese sea maps. This has also been found mentioned in the book written by Claudius Ptolemy – a Greek geographer – in 157AD.
According to this book, Phuket is thought to have been once a cape, attached to the Thailand’s mainland. Later, the peninsula was destroyed due to natural calamities, and as such, it got separated from the land. Further, this book states that, in order to travel to the Malaysian Peninsula, it was required to pass a cape, which according to Ptolemy was the Junk Ceylon, also known as Junk Ceylon. The cape was given a location between the latitudes of 6 N and 8 N, which is believed to be today’s Phuket. History has it that the cape was visited by sea merchants from across the globe, since it provided great opportunities to relax and replenish.
The names of various dynasties have also been found mentioned in the recorded history of Phuket. During the 1st century AD, Malaya Peninsula was believed to be a part of the Shivite Empire. Later, the area was dominated by the empires of Srivichai and Siri Tahm. During this period, the region was well-known by its symbol – the dog. In the 13th century, Phuket came into the hands of the Thai power, during which it was a prominent as well as a flourishing city, with a treasure trove of natural pearls, ivory, gems, ambergris, caulk, hides, firewood, and spices.
During the 15th century, Phuket shot to fame as one of the leading tin mining producers of the region. Later, influenced by the rich assets of Phuket, the Dutch made this influential destination as their business region during the 16th century.
Apart from these, scores of merchants and traders from different parts of Europe began to flock to Phuket due to the growing importance of tin. As a result, the then king decided that the area should be governed by a European. Consequently, the place was governed by a French missionary, namely, Renee Charbonneau, between the periods 1681 and 1685. Shortly, the British also began to get attracted with the rich resources of Phuket, and as a result, the East India Company decided to choose Phuket as their base to administer the Malacca Straits. Accordingly, in order to scout the island, the British sent Captain Francis Light, who later married a girl from the island.
Perhaps most important event in the history of Phuket is the attack of the region by Burmese in 1785. However, the Burmese were defeated by the militants under the supervision of two legendary women, Kunying Jan and her sister, Mook. Today, they are famed as the heroines, and a monument has been built on the Thep Kassattri road, in commemoration of their decisive action.
As a result of the growing importance of tin, during the beginning of the 19th century, Chinese laborers began to flock to Phuket, whose strong influence can be still seen in the region. In 1876, a group of Chinese laborers, discontented with their salary and working conditions, began a bloody riot of theft and murder in the island. Then, the locals headed to Wat Chalong in order to get sheltered by two prominent monks. These two monks later convinced the laborers and eventually the place again gained its passivity. One can now find a temple dedicated to these monks in Wat Chalong.
In the 20th century, Phuket was stated a monthon, and was given control of areas such as Ranong, Krabi, Takua-Pah Phang Nga, Satun, and Trang. In 1933, Phuket gained provincial status, and since then, it has been administered by an Interior Ministry-appointed governor.
Phuket still continues its long tradition of welcoming foreigners. It is estimated that more than two million tourists visit here per year, attracted by its serene atmosphere, world-class attractions, and exciting nightlife.
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