Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoys a rich and colorful history. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign ship logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders.
The Portuguese explorer Fernão Mendes Pinto was one of the first European explorers to report about Phuket and referred to the island as ‘Junk Ceylon’, a name the Portuguese used for Phuket Island in their maps. By the mid-16th century, the island was in decline due to pirates and often rough and unpredictable seas, which deterred merchant vessels from visiting Junk Ceylon.
The Burmese attacked Phuket in 1785. Two sisters, Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Si Sunthon, helped protect the province from Burmese invasion during the Ten Armies’ Wars in 1785. The sisters ordered the women of the island to dress as soldiers and take positions on the Thalang city walls. The Burmese called off their attack and, short of food, they retreated. They received the royal titles Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Si Sunthon from a grateful King Rama I.
From tin to tourism
The transition from a tin mining center to a world class tourism destination took several decades. Tin was mined on the island until 1985, when tin prices fell drastically causing the vast majority of tin mines in southern Thailand to shut down. In the late 1960s that Phuket’s tourism industry began its extraordinary growth. Sarasin Bridge was officially opened in July of 1967 and for the first time there was a road link between Phuket Island and the mainland. It allowed tourists to visit the island by bus from Bangkok.