Saturday, December 18, 2010

"The Pearl of the Andaman Sea"

Phuket is the largest island belonging to Thailand.  The island has an area of 540 square kilometers, or 208.5 square miles, roughly the size of Singapore.   To give friends and family back home a basis for comparison, the city of Houston is 601.7 square miles; and the Houston city statistical area is 12,476 square miles.  We all know how far out those suburbs go.  Surely everyone knows how to pronounce Phuket.  The "ph" has the hard "p" sound.  And the "u" has the "oo" sound.  Poo-KET is the correct pronunciation.

This island has all the attributes one might want in a tropical vacation destination:  rocky mountains, limestone cliffs, more than 10 gorgeous white powdery beaches on the main island and many more on the dozens of surrounding tiny islands, tranquil broad bays, and tropical in-land forests.  Plus monkeys, tropical birds and even a few elephants at a few resorts just to remind tourists that they are indeed in Thailand.

Most geologists believe that the area known today as Phuket was once a cape on mainland Thailand that extended into the Andaman Sea.  Geographical formations gradually changed the cape's location, finally detaching it from the mainland.  Call it global warming over the past couple thousand years that has caused very shallow waters to separate Phuket into the island that it is today.  The water depth on the northern end of this island is not navigable 99% of the time because it is so shallow.  Even small motor boats have difficulty in those shallow areas.

Claudius Ptolemy, the famous Greek philosopher with the Roman and Egyptian name, mentioned the cape in a book he authored in the year 157 A.D.  The cape was locally referred to as Jung Ceylon, located between latitudes 6 North and 8 North (the present site of Phuket Island).   Natives called the place "Cha Lang," which evolved to "Tha Lang."  Thalang is now the name of the main town at the north end of the island.  This area was first mentioned in Malaysian literature in 1200 A.D.  Phuket has had an interesting history with influences from both East and West. 

Jung Ceylon was the perfect stopover, sheltering trader ships from monsoons on either side depending on which monsoon was in effect at any given time of the year.  The monsoon blows from the southwest from May through September and from the northeast from December through March.  Traditionally, the months of April/May and October/November are considered transitional weather.  However, the northeast monsoon usually does not become fully established these days until early-to-mid January.  That is why we are waiting here in Thailand for the northeast monsoon to become reliable----to help blow us westward towards India.  Each week the winds become more stable from the northeast, but the monsoon is still not fully established yet this year.   We don't want to head off too soon and then be caught with winds on our nose before we complete the 1460 miles to our destination.

Jung Ceylon welcomed merchants from India, Persia, Arabia, Burma, China and Siam.  During the 16th century, the island was also a popular trading port for tin with the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French.  These traders contributed to the development of mining in the area.  Chinese businessmen and miners later migrated to Phuket to enjoy the thriving tin mining business.  During the past hundred years, Phuket has also established its economic importance with both the tin mining and also the growing of rubber.  The trees with the little pots attached to their trunks are visible as one drives around the island.  One of the tour companies takes you out to collect your own rubber, but we will pass on that experience; or "give it a miss" as our British friends say.

In 1785 a five-week invasion by the Burmese was repulsed thanks to the ingenuity of two sisters, Chan and Mook.  Realizing the population of Phuket capable of fighting was outnumbered by the invading Burmese, the two sisters persuaded all the island's women to dress up as men, thus fooling the Burmese into believing that the island was too well defended.  In fact, the island's governor had just died and the local Thai's were leaderless.   The ploy worked; the Burmese left; and the two sisters were celebrated.  Today there is a monument  in the center of a traffic round-about on the northeast side of Phuket island that honors the heroines.  

Today it is obvious that tourism is the biggest business going.  The number of tourists is astounding.  Wonder when Americans are going to catch onto this great place.  Phuket is one of those places where we truly could get lost, as it appears so many Brits have already.  Everything we might want can be found here.  The climate is very much to our liking -- humid, warm-to-hot (but never cold), beautiful white sand beaches, beautiful rock islands, green/blue waters, very friendly people and great food.  We easily could enjoy living here for many years.

Yesterday we shared a rent car with friends for the day.  The major accomplishment of the day was to get new foam for our cockpit cushions.  The shop in New Zealand was supposed to recover the old foam in these cushions with our new fabric.  But they did us a favor and gave us new foam instead.  And I have hated those cushions every since.  The NZ foam was awful stuff.  The foam we bought yesterday is still not exactly what we want.  I figure we will have new cushions made when we get to France if we can find another fabric we like.  The original cockpit cushions were made in France and were great.  I want those duplicated again.  We looked at fabrics when we were in Houston, but the only fabric I liked was $82 per yard; and that is out of the question.  What we have now (with the new heavier foam) will work until we get to the Amel service yard in France in a couple of years.

We were supposed to go to the kick boxing tournament last night; but Bill had a short-lived Crohn's attack, so we had to cancel at the last minute.   Bill had a lot of pain off and on all afternoon yesterday, but today is back to feeling just fine.  Our friends drove all the way across the island to drop us off at our marina, and then had to drive all the way back across the island so they could watch the boxing starting at 21:00 last night.  Hope they enjoyed their evening.  Sorry we missed it.   Here are a couple of photos they took during the 10 fights last evening.

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