Evidence of developed civilization in Phuket dates back well before it’s discovery by Europeans in the 16th century. In fact, the earliest recorded civilization in Phuket dates back to the 5th century B.C. These tribes, known as the Ban Chiang, existed here until at least the 3rd century A.D after which there is no further record of their presence on the island. Who they were and where they went remains a mystery, however historic artifacts indicate that they were a developed race with knowledge of bronze, iron and ceramic craft.
The Mon culture crossed from Burma in the 6th century A.D and settled in the Northern regions of Thailand. They brought with them many of the traditional customs that are still practiced and recognized throughout Thailand today. The most significant of these being the Buddhist religion, which is the dominant faith throughout the country to date. The importance of Buddhism in Phuket is s recognised through the many temples, statues and annual celebrations and festivals.
The Mon remained dominant in Thailand until the 11th century A.D when the growing strength of the Khmer people began to push them out. The Mon people still remain today in regions of Burma and Myanmar. In the 14th century, the Kingdom of Ayuthaya arose in the North just past the modern city Bangkok. Ayuthaya, the traditional capital of Thailand, was to become one of the richest and most powerful kingdoms of its time. Strongly influenced by the Khmer traditions the Ayuthaya Kingdom held reign over the islands of Thailand until the cities destruction during Burmese invasion in 1767, after which Krung Thep (Bangkok) became a “temporary” capital. Following the destruction of the city of Ayuthaya, the remaining Thai army launched a campaign against the Burmese that would last for many years.
It was during this war that one the greatest legends of Phuket history was born. In 1785, shortly after the death of the Phuket Governor, the Burmese Army launched a sea invasion upon the island. Taken by surprise and without military leadership Phuket seemed certain to fall under Burmese control. However, the Governor’s young widow Chan and her sister Mook, rallied the islands people, even dressing the women as men to appear as soldiers and made a defensive front at the city of Thalang. This crucial action confused the Burmese army and fooled them into a hasty retreat. Chan and Mook were honoured by the King and conferred with royal titles. The historic “Heroine’s Monument” can still be seen by the highway as you head towards the airport.
After the eventual defeat of the Burmese and Vietnamese armies in Thailand under the leadership General Chakri, Chakri assumed the throne and founded the Chakri Dynasty. Thailand’s current King is the ninth successor of this throne. During the 1930’s absolute monarchy was abolished in favour of constitutional monarchy and in 1939 the name of the country was changed to “Thailand” by Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram , meaning “Land of the Free.” Despite the change of political structure the King and his family are still greatly revered throughout the country. As you travel around the island you will see many photo monuments of the King.
Today the population is made up mostly of Thai people (about 75%) and the remainder mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Laos. Theravada Buddhism is still the dominant religion, respected by around 95% of the population. The majority of Thai citizens still make a living through farming, the most prominent market being wheat and rice cultivation. Many vegetables are farmed in the North and in the Southern region (Phuket) there are large productions of rubber and teakwood. And of course, there is a large variety of tropical fruit and coconuts found all over the country.
Above all things, the Thai people are famous for their friendly smile and good nature. They are very accommodating and more than happy to welcome travelers into their country. Therefore it is important to treat the locals and their traditions and culture with due respect when you visit.