Phuket may be fondly referred to as the Pearl of the Andaman boasting amazing natural abundance but the island is also an attraction steeped in history with plenty of things to do and see that would satisfy the curiosity of cultural sightseers. Phuket’s diverse melting pot of cultures began during King Rama V’s reign when a huge influx of Chinese headed away from war-torn China through the Malay peninsula and landed on its shore while the Europeans came here to seek fortune from the island’s tin wealth. This hybrid of influences is evident in Phuket’s charming Sino-Portuguese architectural style, Peranakan customs and eclectic culinary scene. This harmonious cultural blend that is unique to Phuket never fails to captivate its visitors.
In this edition, Power is taking you to Phuket’s cultural trails where every destination is well worth a visit and doable for a day-trip. Get ready to dive in!
1. Seek Blessing and Appreciate Intriguing Arts and Culture at 3 Exotic Temples
Since old times, temples have long been a spiritual centre unifying Buddhism faith of the local and visitors. Phuket is home to several historically-important temples where people come to learn Buddhist precepts and traditions in order to preserve and pass the heritage on to the next generation.
Visit Chalong Temple where the spirit of Buddhism has been united for over 200 years
Despite being one of Phuket’s most revered temples, there is no evidence as to when Chalong Temple was built. However, a mention of the temple’s name was found written in a record dated back to the era of King Rama III. Also officially recorded was that King Rama V graciously bestowed on it a new name; Chai Thararam Temple. Local and international visitors come here to pay respect to the wax model of Luang Pho Chaem or Phra Kru Wisit Wongsacharn. The highly venerable monk earned respect in the local and neighbouring provinces with his compassion and social contribution when he tended to the injured or ill villagers with his concoction of herbal medicine. The famous monk was also able to expertly put a plaster cast to heal bone fracture. The temple earned the trust of the local and villages nearby and Its temple school later became a protocol for a primary school in Chalong sub-district.
Regarded as the most beautiful temple in Phuket, its stunning Phra Mahathat Chedi Baramee Prakat displays intricate wall paintings depicting the Buddha’s life story. The top floor is where the sacred bone relic of the Buddha from Sri Lanka is enshrined. You could also venture outside for a nice view of the entire temple compound and Phuket scenery,
Pray and pay homage to Luang Pho Chaem at Chalong Temple which is open everyday during 8am – 5 pm. For further details, please call 076 381 226 or visit Chalong Temple Page on Facebook.
Marvel at the Buddha image that rose from the ground at Phra Thong Temple
Boasting mystical legend, the temple is previously known as Phra Phud Temple before getting rechristened Phra Thong Temple by King Rama VI. Devotees come here to pay homage to Thailand’s one and only Phra Phud (literally means the Buddha that emerged). The temple also has an on-site museum where historical paraphernalia and utensils donated by the local villagers that reflect stories of a past dipped in tin mining.
The famous highlight of the temple is the Buddha of which only half of the statue protrudes from the ground. The legend has it that a villager found the Buddha buried underground and tried to unearth the whole of the Buddha but to no avail. When King Padung of Burma (now Myanmar) attacked Thalang and tried to take the Buddha back home. Their excavation also failed. Later the villagers encased the protruding half of the Buddha and started calling the emerging Buddha ‘Phra Phud’. The temple was only built when a monk on a pilgrimage suggested the idea after spending the night in an umbrella tent set up in the area and spotted the Buddha. When the temple was completed, the Buddha was enshrined in the ordination hall or Ubosot. It is said that actually the Buddha statue was made of gold and covered with a layer of concrete.
Phra Thong Temple is open to the public everyday between 8am and 5.30pm. For queries, please call 076 274 126.
Adore the elegant aesthetics of the Big Buddha
Majestic Buddhist contemporary art of Phraphutthamingmongkhol Akenagakhiri is a jaw-dropping experience that should be on Phuket visitors’ must-see list. Simply known as Big Buddha Phuket, the seated Buddha statue in the attitude of Subduing Mara was made of concrete and covered with Burmese white Suriyakanta jade which weighed over 135 tons. Perched on top of Nakkerd Hills in Karon sub-district, the giant Buddha is the island’s tallest Buddha standing at 45 metres tall and is one of the most impressive landmarks in Phuket.
It took almost a decade to complete the temple construction and all expenses were paid entirely by donations from local community and visitors. The temple is the spiritual centre and dhamma retreat for all Buddhists. Up there you would get a bonus of stunning visual treats – magnificent panorama of Kata Bay, Promthep Cape and Koh Kaew Phitsadan.
Visitors can drop in to appreciate the aesthetics of Big Buddha Phuket everyday from 6am – 7pm. For further details, please call 081 891 3827 on mobile phone or 076 373 138-9 on landline. You could also get online and visit their website or Big Buddha Phuket Page on Facebook.
2. Enjoy Cultural Learning of Peranakan History at the Museums
Phuket has its own distinctive cultural DNA that makes it stand out from the rest of Thailand. Similar to many Southeast Asian countries, the island is heavily influenced by the local Peranakan community. Derived from Malaysian language, Peranakan means a child of a foreign man and a local woman. Visit these museums and discover how Peranakan culture has shaped Thailand’s largest island.
Peranakan Phuket Museum
Step into the world of Phuket’s past where you get to know more about Phuket’s cultural fusion of early Chinese immigrants and the local through exhibitions that simulate the lifestyles, cuisines, shop houses in Phuket from past until present. There is a zone dedicated to an intricate art of Peranakan jewellery used in Peranakan ceremonies. Advanced technology is utilised to make the presentation easy to understand. Sightseers who appreciate eclectic cultures of Phuket would find a visit to this museum a quality experience.
Peranakan Phuket Museum is open everyday from 9am – 6pm. For further details, please call 076 313 556 or visit their official website.
Phuket Thai Hua Museum
The museum initially started off as the first ever Chinese-teaching school in Phuket. With collaborative efforts of Phuket families of Chinese Hokkien origin, Phuket Thai Hua Museum is founded as a public memorial in remembrance of the virtues of their ancestors who paved the way for Chinese descendants. This is the place to be if you are looking for a cultural attraction that lets you soak up the history of Phuket since its tin-mining heyday.
Established in 1934, the building, which houses the museum, has been modernised but it still maintains the original Sino-colonial architectural style. This technologically equipped museum has 13 rooms exhibiting the stories of local Peranakan community in chronological order ranging from where their ancestors came from, how they made their fortune and wealth, their traditions, lifestyles, cultural beliefs and folk wisdom. All is done in a manner that is easy to digest so that visitors of all ages and genders can have fun while enjoying a throwback into the past.
Phuket Thai Hua Museum welcomes visitors everyday from 9am – 5pm. For further details, please call or visit its official page on Facebook.
Chinpracha House & Museum
Established over 100 years ago near the end of King Rama V era, the historical residence of Phra Phitak Chinpracha (AKA Tan Ma Siang) was the first Sino-Portuguese house in Phuket. Still belonging to his Thantavanich family several generations later, this gorgeous mansion along with its fine collection of furniture, daily utensils and appliances have been beautifully preserved and its ground floor has been opened to the public as a living museum.
This two-storey grand mansion has a Chinese character covered with lacquer and gold leaf at its front door. Designed based on functions and Chinese art of feng shui, the house has a big opening on the roof to create a ventilation passage for natural air and natural light to cool and illuminate the interior of the house. An indoor pond takes the highlight in the centre of the house under the sun roof. The floor is laid with original Italian tiles. Part of Phuket history is told through period items which the family has been using for over the century including ancient bed, imported furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl from China, dining set imported from Malaysia’s Penang and plenty of priceless antique portraits and exquisite paintings. The furniture on display and elegant decoration are a perfect testament of the family’s opulent wealth in the previous century. Not only does the museum serve as a learning source for Phuket arts and culture but also a venue for Phuket’s cultural activities including Baba (male) and Nyonya (female) wedding or Peranakan wedding. If you have a chance to witness the wedding, it is best not to give it a miss as it is a rare ceremony that is fast disappearing these days.
Chinpracha House & Museum is open everyday from 8am – 4pm. For further information, please call 076 211 281
3. Spellbound by Eye-Catching Phuket Old Town
Thalang Road is one of the island’s oldest roads where you could find the culturally rich Phuket Old Town. Back in the days, majority of early settlers flocked to this road and built colourful kitschy Sino-Portuguese shop houses; a style legacy which was commonly found in Penang and Singapore. Thalang Road since then has prospered into bustling business area along with its surrounding neighbourhood. The unique splendour of Phuket Old Town on Thalang Road is a reminder of the vibrant history and cultures from the past when Phuket was a renowned trading port.
The quirky and captivating Sion-Portuguese vibe is also prevalent on other roads in the vicinity of Thalang Road. Other recommended photogenic neighbourhoods include Phuket Road, Pnangnga Road, Rasada Road, Ranong Road, Krabi Road, Satun Road, Dibuk Road, Yaowarat Road, Soon Uthit Alley or Rommanee Alley. Stroll along these roads and get a closer look at how the local go about their daily routines or jolt your taste buds with their gastronomic diversity.
After all Phuket is not just for sun worshippers. The island has a lot more to offer worldly travellers beyond top-class beaches. To fully experience this enchanting island, simply delve into its extraordinary past and discover colourful culture and intriguing traditions that you will not find elsewhere in Thailand. Cultural understanding helps you enjoy your vacation in a more rewarding and memorable manner. Add this spectrum of colours to your Phuket vacation and create wondrous moments to treasure before flying back home.