Phuket Sandbox | Revisit to Phuket old Town and the Mining Museum

Phuket Town and the Island’s Tin Museum are very much connected. After all, the Island’s wealth was initially built on the tin trade and allowed Chinese immigrants to grow rich from this business. So on a rainy day, I got into my rental car and started driving. The first stop was the Mining Museum.

The Mining Museum and the History of Tin on Phuket.

Bronze which is an alloy of mostly copper and some tin gave its name to one of the periods of antiquity. Most of the worlds tin deposits are found in conjunction with granite. Veins of tin down as hard tin were running through the granite but were impossible to mine for the ancient miner.

The ancient miner used cassiterite, an oxide formed by weathering of the surface of the tin deposit. In Thailand, there is evidence of good bronze work dating back to 3000 B.C. Including 10% tin. A dagger found from Ban Chiang in North East Thailand dated back to 3600 B.C had 2.5% tin. Read more here.

Entering the museum.

The Main Range Granitoid Province in western Peninsular Malaysia, southern Peninsular Thailand and central Thailand is almost entirely made up of biotite granite (184–230 Ma). Tin deposits associated with these granites contributed 55% of the historic tin production of Southeast Asia.

sciencedirect.com

Furthermore,

The Southeast Asian Tin Belt is a north-south elongate zone 2800 km long and 400 km wide, extending from Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian Tin Islands.

sciencedirect.com

In 1583 the Portuguese had a depot for the tin trade in Talang and in the 17th century, they were pushed back by the Dutch for the control of tin. The Dutch in their turn were expelled by the inhabitants of Thalang and then the British Captain Francis Light came to establish a trading station and he developed a partnership with the Governor of Thalang.

In 1809 new deposits of tin was found in today’s Kathu area. This was the birth of modern tin mining in Phuket. Chinese migration real took off and gradually new methods of mining started where it was possible to break down soils and rocks with water to reach the tin veins. At the end of the century, Phuket town was so important that it was put directly under Bangkok control.

The Kathu mining museum is located on a prime developing real estate. Pretty much in the hills on the middle of the island. It is clear that the persons behind it themselves indeed does have some money. The grandeur of the soft pinkish Sino-Portuguese building increases your expectations quite a lot. But actually the building is in my opinion the real highlight here.

In the 20th century, marine vessels were utilized to dredge ore from the seabed and then these were used inland as well. In the 1960s a tin melting plant was built and contributed to the wealth of Phuket. A decision was made to develop tourism into the island from 1973 and the tin mining was gradually decreased after large protests against a new tin ore smelting factory in 1988. This was the birth of a new era, tourism. Read more about this narrative on Phuketindex.com.

The entrance to the Mining museum.

The actual exhibition about tin would need some modern digitalisation or at least some pedagogical touch that would help it to take off. A knowledgeable guide could be helpful as well. There is so much more that could be made out of the museum to explain the importance of tin for Phuket Island.

A nice model in the museum depicting a lot of workers working the soil.


Tin was found in the Kathu district of Phuket and was mined until 1992 on Phuket. Tin ore also existed in quantity in the neighbouring Andaman coast from Khao Lak to Takua Pa.

In another section o the museum you walk into a Chinese junk and there are lifestyle exhibitions about how the Hokkien immigrants lived. But again there are mostly a bunch of selected items and exhibited without many stories engaging the visitor. I spent about an hour here. Then I proceeded to Phuket old town.

Returning to Phuket Old Town

I have been coming here continuously since 2011 and the old heritage of Sino-Portuguese shophouses and the historic banks has gradually been restored and at night illuminated. It is a gastronomic and cultural relief to get here after a few days at the beach.

A visit to Phuket town is a must. So many delicious restaurants, high-quality coffee shops, Chinese shrines, galleries and of course the Instagram hot spots with street art. The street art project has a name, FAT. The Food Art Town in Phuket. The artwork is located in a compact section of town. Have a look at Phuket Magazine for where to find the best spots.

I am particularly fond of the area around On On hotel and Kasikorn Bank. I had time for some single-origin coffee on soi Romanee and for some time I wanted to try the Crab House. Something, I didn’t regret.

Weirdly enough some beach restaurants served no crab, but in Phuket town, I could indulge in it.

Phuket town was open for business. Not flocked with visitors though.
Some nice retro setting’s in Phuket Town. This is a popular photo spot, Kasikorn bank.
The shrine of Serene light was established in 1891 by the offspring of the Tan Luan Jae family. The Shrine of the Serene Light – also known as Sang Tham Shrine is not any of the larger shrines. It is very modest but it is so nice to get off the main road and enjoy the stillness while smelling the incense.
A tranquil Hokkien-Chinese hideaway. Please note that no photos are allowed in the main shrine and make sure to take your shoes off.
Some of the best crab in Phuket town can be found at the Crab House.
Fried rice with crab and crab rolls full of crab meat at the awesome Crab House.
Nice Western- Sino fusion at Casa Blanca.
A three star classic in Phuket Town.
Excellent coffee at the Doubrew in soi Romanee.
More street art just by the entrance of soi Romanee
One of my favourite street arts of old Phuket Town.
Soi Romanee was once a red-light district for the many Chinese labourers who came to work the tin mines. Soi Romanee roughly translates to ‘naughty with the ladies’ because of its infamous history.
This street art was created by Thai artist Alex Face. The artist’s signature character, known as Mardi, has been interweaving into a red tortoise cake. This is a delightful delicacy and traditional snack during the Phor Tor Hungry Ghost Festival. The mural also captions favourable Chinese words on the ankles, wrists and tail of the turtle.

Did you know?

  • That the word Phuket derives from Bhukit a Malay word referring to the word hill.
  • On European charts previously you would see the name Junk Ceylon a corruption of the Malay Tanjung Salang.
  • The infamous soi Sea Dragon gets its name from the Chinese legend that Phuket is a golden sea dragon called Hai Leng On also considered a protector of Phuket.

Looking for good places to eat in Phuket Old Town?

Apart from the Crab house mentioned above, you can check out my foodie guide here.

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