Phuket History – Before tourism took hold in Phuket, the island formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoys a rich and colourful history. Tin mining was a major source of income for the island from the 16th century until petering out in the 20th century.
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. Phuket was subjected to foreign influences long before many other parts of Thailand. Ships would anchor in the safe harbours of Phuket and wait for the northeast monsoon winds, which would allow them to proceed to India.
The interior jungle was inhabited by indigenous tribes until they were displaced in the 19th century by tin miners. The coastal areas were inhabited by Chao Leh, sea-gypsies who made their living through piracy and fishing for pearls. Although threatened by development, Chao Leh villages can still be found along the coast of Phuket and neighbouring islands.
Phuket first became part of a Thai state during the thirteenth century when Thai armies from Sukhothai wrestled control of the island from the Sirivijaya Empire based in Sumatra.
In modern times, Phuket’s economy has rested on two pillars. The first being rubber tree plantations (making Thailand the biggest producer of rubber in the world). Secondly, tourism.
Tourism began on the island in the 1970s with the first beach bungalows at Patong beach. During this time Phuket was a haven for backpackers. Phuket’s idyllic tropical beaches and clear warm waters attracted travellers from all over the world to the island. This was facilitated by the building of an airport in the mid-1970s.
Today, tourism is by far the island’s biggest industry with over 3 million tourists visiting the island annually. Phuketis one of the most popular travel destinations in South-East Asia, along with Samui and Bangkok.