The Phuket Heroines Monument
Time for a bit of Phuket history. Yes, history.. Phuket has a rich cultural heritage, although it's not so apparent if you're staying in a hotel by the sea. Until tourism arrived on the scene around 30 years ago, hardly anyone lived at the beaches except some fishermen and farmers. The main towns of Phuket were at Phuket Town and Thalang. Phuket Town only became the main town in Phuket in the late 19th century. Before that Thalang had been the biggest population center. Almost every visitor to Phuket will pass through Thalang on the way South from the airport, and about 6km south of Thalang you can see the Phuket Heroines Monument - in the middle of the main road on a traffic circle - you know, it's that statue of 2 ladies holding swords...
Having driven past the Heroines maybe 1,000 times I decided last weekend to actually stop and have a closer look at the monument. Stopping and getting to a statue in the middle of the busiest road in Phuket is not easy! I was coming from town, heading North.. there's not a lot of parking since this is the main road. I passed the monument, u-turned and found a parking spot outside the Tesco mini-store about 100m North of the circle. It then took 5 minutes to cross over the road to the Heroines! Phuket has been called "Bangkok by the Sea" and on the main roads you can see why! But eventually a gap came in the traffic and narrowly avoiding a large truck I got across to the Heroines monument.
Chan and Mook are facing North. Still fighting the Burmese! Of course these days there are maybe thousands of Burmese in Phuket working on building sites and fishing boats.. we know a Burmese guy who we call up for odd jobs around our house - he built our garden shed for us! Burmese now come looking for work and relative freedom - I won't say they are treated like equals by the authorities here, but many Burmese come here to escape from the military government in their home country. I'm not going to discuss the rights and wrongs, just want to mention the irony that Phuket celebrates defeating the Burmese - indeed the provincial symbol is the 2 Heroines - and now there are Burmese everywhere!
Chan and Mook led the people of Phuket against the Burmese invasion in 1785. Well, actually the start of the Burmese-Siam war was 1785 and the invasion of Phuket in early 1786. Phuket held out against a much larger Burmese force and "saving" Phuket, the ladies were given the honorary titles of Thao Thepkasattri and Thao Sri Sunthorn by King Rama I. The main road from Phuket Town to the airport is called Thepkasattri road. There are temples in the Thalang area named after the heroines too.
Well, a closer look reveals much more than a drive-by on the main highway. This is not just a statue of the Heroines of Phuket, but also a shrine. People come here to pray and give thanks to the ladies who "saved" Phuket over 200 years ago. The shrine is obviously very well looked after by somebody - everything was very clean and neat. I was happy to finally get up close to the statue that I had seen so many times out of the car window!
The smaller version of the Heroines statue forms part of the shrine. People rub this mini statue with gold leaf. The shrine shows just how much the local people respect their history and just how important the Heroines are. And this history is not forgotten. The Heroines monument was built in 1966. And in 1985, some 200 years after the battle of Thalang, the Thalang National Museum opened. We've been a couple of times. It has plenty of information about the history of Phuket and in particular about the 2 Heroines. Worth a visit for anyone who wants more than just beaches and massages on their holiday to Phuket!
And if you happen to be in Phuket in mid-March ... the annual Phuket Heroines Festival takes place near Thalang Town around March 13th - the date of the battle of Thalang in 1785. We went along to the festival for the first time in 2010 - it was bigger and more impressive than we expected. There is a dramatic performance with hundreds of performers based on the events of 1785. We missed it this year, but would like to go again.
(above) - Photo from the Phuket Heroines Festival.
The map below shows the location of the Heroines Monument, Thalang town and the site of the annual festival. That's enough history for now! I just wanted to say something to show that Phuket has more depth than beaches, hotels and tuk tuks!
View Phuket Heroines Monument in a larger map