Originally known as Junk Ceylon the first recorded reference is found in the third century AD in Ptolemy’s Geographical. Thereafter it was also known as Bukit and Muang Thalang. It did not become generally identified as Phuket until the reign of King Rama five during the nineteenth century. The island is strategically located as a seaport and was visited by ships from the Arab countries and India to the west, Burma and the Siam mainland (now Thailand) to the north and Malaya and China to the east. During the sixteenth century Europeans also established trading posts on the island – first the Portuguese and French; then the British and the French. During the eighteenth century rich deposits of tin were discovered and large numbers of Hokkien Chinese came to exploit this resource. They inter-married with the local Siamese and the population expanded rapidly. At first these settlements were centred around the Kathu area where the tin mine workings were but they rapidly expanded to the Bay of Tongkah. The town of Tongkah was born and was the foundation of what we today call Phuket Town.s.
Under the benevolent stewardship of Governor Kosimbee na Ranong – Phraya Rassadan upradit, the tin mining activities brought great prosperity to the island and the town expanded rapidly. With such a rich cocktail of cultural inputs, a great variety of architectural styles resulted. In particular, the homes of the wealthy were constructed in a fusion of East and West influences – a style we now call Sino-Portuguese. Fortunately many of these buildings have survived and can still be seen in Phuket Town today.
One of the most prominent buildings in the town is the Provincial Hall (or Sala Klang in Thai) which still houses the governor and his staff. A unique feature of the design is that the building has no windows – only 99 doors which promotes a light, airy working environment. Along the exterior access corridors hang many photographs recording the history of the Island. Built in 1910 the Hall still has many beautiful examples of intricately carved fretwork. It is said that each of these took six years to create.
Just across Damong Road from the Provincial Hall is a further fine example of the past. Fronted by lovely lawns, the buiding now houses the Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation but was originally the Tin Mines Department headquarters.
STREETS of PHUKET 81 D3Phuket Prison
Nearby is the old Phuket Courthouse which still has a function in legal processes though much of the work is now done in the modern premises behind. For those sentenced to incarceration the Provincial Prison is located conveniently if not congenially, next door. If you wish to tour this facility you should seek permission from the prison director.
On the corner of Montri and Thalang roads about a ten minute drive from the Provincial Hall is the Philatelic Museum close by to the offices of the Tourist Authority of Thailand. The museum was originally Phuket’s first post office and houses collections of old stamps, and examples of antique postal equipment and sorting boxes. The museum is open from 9.30am to 5.30pm Tuesday through Saturday except for public holidays.
In nearby Krabi Road is the Phuket Thai Hua School Museum. Opened in 1934, it was originally a Chinese school and is the oldest surviving example in Thailand. The frontage is dominated by three archways constructed in the Corinthian style. Canopies, brackets and a hanging staircase were constructed in concrete (innovative at the time) and owe much to Rennaissance inspiration. The windows are in the Roman style. The cast-iron work was imported from an English manufacturer called Yates and Co., of Upper Thames, London. The Museum focuses on the art, culture and languages of the Thailand of yesteryear. During certain times of year Krabi Road is closed to traffic allowing visitors to experience their visit at leisure.
Thalang, Krabi, Dibuk, Phangnga, Rasada, Ranong, Yaowarat and Phuket Roads together comprise what is now known collectively as the Old Town has many examples of Sino-Portuguese shophouses, often carefully restored. They have now been re-invented as antique shops, art galleries and speciality restaurants – an ideal place to relax after your tour.