A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region is the only book to trace the history of Phuket and the central Malay Peninsula from the inside looking out. It follows the fascinating and colourful 3,000 plus year history of the development of one tropical island from a wild and mysterious place of primitive jungles to its modern day role as a globally known jet-set destination.
Phuket sits off the central Malay Peninsula, one of the most historically important, but least recognised parts of the world in a global perspective. The ancient and vitally important great east-west trade between the Mediterranean, the Middle East and India to China, the Spice Islands and the far East, has been on-going for over 5,000 years. This was predominantly a seaborne trade, with ancient mariners using the convenient monsoon winds that have blown since time immemorial. The main obstacle to this great wind-carried trade was the long, jungled arm of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra which stretches all the way across the monsoon belt, blocking the way of seafarers. Its strategic position put the Malay Peninsula and those islands around it at the centre of this trade, which carried goods, commerce, ideas, technology and religious beliefs from one side of the world to the other.
The book covers the effect this trade had on Phuket and it’s surrounds, and the effect they had on this trade. The story starts from the earliest times when mongoloid tribes displaced the original Negroes in the region. It follows the arrival of religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Mohammedanism and the rise and fall of great regional empires such as Funan, Kamboja, Chola, Srivijaya, Pagan, Sukhothai and Malacca until, in the 15th century, the Siamese Ayutthaya Empire took control.
Then came the arrival of the Europeans, from the 15th to the 19th century, with their warlike ways who tried to subjugate and control the peoples and the great trade of the region. Initially the Portuguese, then the Dutch, the French, and the British all tried to establish themselves on Phuket.
Phuket was always an independent, lawless and wild place and was frequently the base for, as well as prey for, the violent pirates of the region for many years. In addition the island was often in rebellion against its corrupt and greedy Malay and Siamese overlords, caught up in wars between local rajahs and sultans, and during the 16th to early 19th centuries it was ravaged during the wars between the Burmese and Ayutthayan empires,
It wasn’t until Britain took the neighbouring Burmese and Malay territories into it’s growing colonial empire during the later 19th century, that Phuket at last became a place where people could live, invest and undertake commerce without constant fear for their lives. This is when the industrious Chinese emigrés appeared, in their thousands on the island, to dig for, and trade, tin. By the late 19th century, Phuket had become an almost exclusively Chinese, run by the local triads and strongmen. Their commercial acumen, combined with British imperial pressure for free and increased commerce, helped Phuket become the world biggest producer of tin by the early 20th century. This huge cash inflow allowed Phuket town to develop as a little sister of elegant colonial Georgetown in Penang.
The book then covers the change from Siam to Thailand in the nationalist era of the 1930s and 1940s, and the Thai pressure to reduce Chinese influence of Phuket. Then the Japanese invasion and the later local resistance and allied counterattacks. Lastly the book moves to the postwar development of Phuket as a successful tin mining and rubber producing island and then its rapid transformation from the early 1990s into one of the world’s great leisure destinations which now attracts in over 12 million tourists a year — more than most of the world’s great cities.