Phuket’s location on the trading route between China and India helped to begin its life as a major trading hub to many nations. Resources such as furs, pearls, animal hides and ivory made it a popular destination for merchants looking for a good deal. The protective bays also offered shelter to travellers that were looking to escape severe weather during the monsoon seasons.
The island was largely populated by indigenous tribes until the 16th century when tin miners arrived to exploit the island’s natural resources. With tin mines then established on the island, a resource that was at the time considered very valuable, Phuket began to draw the attention of visitors from Europe. As news of it’s standing as a trading hub grew, so did European influence on the island. The island even had a French governor by the name of René Charbonneau, whom was then replaced by another Frenchman, Sieur de Billy, in 1685. The French and European dominance ended in 1688 however when the Siam revolution saw them removed from the area. Such was the importance of Phuket to the French that on 10th April 1689 a French general, Desfarges, led a failed attempt to recapture the island and put it under French control.
In addition to tin, there was also a roaring rubber trade which contributed significantly to the island’s wealth and large swathes of the island were covered in rubber plantations. The rubber trade is still very much active today and its contribution to the economy is currently surpassed only the thriving tourism trade.
A British midshipman, Captain Francis Light, earned his way into local history books in 1785 when he warned the authorities of an approaching Burmese army. The warning allowed the people of Phuket to prepare their defences, an act which ultimately led to the attempted invasion being a failure. The responsibility of defending the island fell to Kunying Jan, the wife of the not long deceased governor, and her sister Mook. The invading Burmese army laid a month long siege on the Island but the local army and militia held firm and on 13th March 1785, the Burmese were forced to retreat. It is understood that in order to make the defending army look much greater than it actually was, Kunying Jan and her sister had all the women on the island dress as soldiers to deceive the Burmese. Having been responsible for successfully spurring the local army and inhabitants into action, the two women are commemorated this day by a statue located on the island’s Thalang roundabout.
Tourism in Phuket arrived on the island in the 1970s, with wealthy visitors travelling from far and wide to Kat Kata’s Club med. It was in the 1980s that tourism really began to boom on the island, helping to shape the island as it is today. on 26 December 2004, Phuket was devastated by the tsunami that caused devastation throughout the Indian Ocean region. The island has gradually recovered from the horrific event and is now seeing tourists returning in their droves again.
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