A large island in the Indian Ocean, is 867 kms. from Bangkok. It is the only island having provincial status, and was a regional headquarters as well, with a rich and colorful history. Known as the Pearl of the Andaman, it derived much of its former glory and its enormous wealth from tin production, which in Phuket dates back over 500 year. Today, Phuket is the major tourist attraction of Thailand. The surrounding waters contain much varied marine life, and the town is notable for its Sino-Portuguesearchitecture.
It is a very attractive island for sightseeing, with lovely seashores and forested hillsides. Its population of 1.6 million people ranks sixth among all provinces. Approximately 1.75 million Rai of the area is forest land. The main occupation here are rubber tree plantations (making Thailand the biggest producer of rubber in the world) and tourism, with a thriving diving industry attracting thousands of divers each year.
About 70 percent of Phuket is mountainous; a western range runs from north to south from which smaller branches derive. The highest peak is Mai Tha Sip Song, or Twelve Canes, at 529 meters, which lies within the boundaries of Tambon Patong, Kathu District. The remaining 30 percent of the island, mainly in the center and south, is formed by low plains. Streams include the Khlong Bang Yai, Tha Jin, Khlong Tha Rua, and Khlong Bang Rong, none of which is large.
Since the early 1980’s the tourist business has been Phuket’s chief source of income. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and souvenir shops are much in evidence on the west coast. However, while once all-importance tin mining has ceased, tourism is by no means the island’s only activity. Agriculture remains important to a large number of people, and covers by far the most part of the island. Principal crops are rubber, coconuts, cashews, and pineapples. Prawn farming has largely taken over the east and south coasts. Pearl farming is also important. Phuket’s fishing port is at all time filled, and processing of marine products, mainly fish, makes a significant contribution to the economy. With so many healthy industries supplying income, construction has become a major factor in employment. This range from massive public works projects, large office buildings and hotels, and housing estates with hundreds of units, down to single family homes, apartments and additions.
Official population as of December, 1998, was 231, 206. This figure numbers those who are registered as living in Phuket. Phuket’ s attraction as a center of economic activity has resulted in many living on the island whose registration is elsewhere. The total population of Phuket varies considerably depending on the time of year, through it is never less than the figure given above.
The island is divided into three districts, Thalang in the north, Kathu in the west, and Muang in the south. Thailand’s system of government relies upon a strong central authority, thus the Provincial Governor is a civil servant appointed by the Interior Ministry in Bangkok, as are the Nai Amphoe, or District Chief. The cities of Phuket and Patong have their own city governments, with elected city councils, the leading members of which serve as mayor. There are also elected provincial, district, and sub-district, or Tambon councils. The local constabulary is part of the Interior Ministry.
Phuket’s weather conditions are dominated by monsoon winds that blow year round. It is therefore always warm and humid. There are two distinct seasons, rainy and dry. The rainy season begins in May and lasts till October, during which the monsoon blows from the southwest. The dry season is from November through April, when the monsoon comes from the northeast. Highest average temperatures, at 33.4 degree Celsius, prevail during March. Lowest averages occur in January, when nightly lows dip to 22 degree Celsius.
Phuket Island has a long recorded history, and remains dating back to A.D. 1025 indicate that the island’s present day name derives in meaning from the Tamil manikram, or crystal mountain. For most of history, however, it was known as Junk Ceylon, which, with variations, is the name found on old maps. The name is thought to have its roots in Ptolemy’s Geographica, written by the Alexandrian geographer in the Third Century A.D. He mentioned that in making a trip from Souwannapum to the Malay Peninsula it was necessary to pass the cape of Jang Si Lang.
Phuket was a way station on the route between India and China where seafarers stopped to shelter. The island appears to have been part of the Shivite empire (called in Thai the Tam Porn Ling) that established itself on the Malay Peninsula during the first Millennium A.D. Later, as Muang Takua-Talang, it was part of the Srivichai and Siri Tahm empires. Governed as the eleventh in a constellation of twelve cities, Phuket’s emblem, by which it was known to others in those largely preliterate times, was the dog. During the Sukothai Period Phuket was associated with Takua Pa in what is now Phang-nga Province, another area with vast tin reserves. The Dutch established a trading post during the Ayutthaya Period in the 16th Cent. The island’s northern and central regions then were governed by the Thais, and the southern and western parts were given over to the tin trade, a concession in the hands of foreigners.
After Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767 there was a short interregnum in Thailand, ended by King Taksin, who drove out the Burmese and re-unified the country. The Burmese, however, were anxious to return to the offensive. They outfitted a fleet to raid the southern provinces, and carry off the populations to slavery in Burma. This led to Phuket’s most memorable historic event. A passing sea captain, Francis Light, sent word that the Burmese were en route to attack. Forces in Phuket were assembled led by the two heroines, Kunying Jan, wife of Phuket’s recently deceased governor, and her sister Mook, After a month’s siege the Burmese were forced to depart on 13 March, 1785. Kunying Jan and her sister were credited with the successful defense.
In recognition King Rama I bestowed upon Kunying Jan the honorific Thao Thep Kasatri, a title of nobility usually reserved for royalty, by which she is known today. Her sister became Thao Sri Sunthon. During the Nineteenth Century Chinese immigrants arrived in such numbers to work for the tin mines that the ethnic character of the island’s interior became predominantly Chinese, while the coastal settlements remained populated chiefly by Muslim fishermen. In Rama V’s reign, Phuket became the administrative center of a group of tin mining provinces called Monton Phuket, and in 1933, with the change in government from absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system, the island was established as a province by itself.