Phuket’s fortunes are now made in tourism but in the past it was home to a thriving tin mining industry. The Phuket Mining Museum, found in a rather remote area of Kathu district, tells the story of the island’s tin-powered history.
Set by a lagoon on sprawling grounds in a large pink Sino-Portuguese style building, the museum opened in 2008. Inside are a series of halls that show the development of the industry in stages, starting with a space-themed room with dangling planets that takes you back to the time of the formation of the sun and earth.
From here, there’s a tunnel with illustrations of prehistoric creatures, leading you to some ratty-looking stone-age people complete with spears in hand. As for how this relates to tin mining, there’s little in the way of explanation at this stage but we’re guessing it’s meant to show that cavepeople figured out some way to extract and use metals for weaponry and such.
And here we must pause to mention that like other museums in Phuket and elsewhere in Thailand, there’s no shortage of eccentricities and kitschy oddities to be found.
The next hall houses the museum’s most elaborate displays: dioramas of an open-pit tin mining operation.
Back in the day, many Phuket beaches were staging grounds for tin-mine activity, including Bang Tao beach. During the tin-mining days Bang Tao had a barren, industrial moonscape with all the tropical foliage scraped away. It’s now home to the huge, leafy-green luxury Laguna Phuket resort complex, which opened in the early 1990s after resort owners spent years cleaning up and restoring the beach and lagoons.
The most detailed scene shows hundreds of miniature workers toiling away on the mine, while others have mannequins engaged in different jobs. These are quite life-like and well done – you can even see the sweat forming on their skin.
Further along is a nautical themed hall with planks wending between two wooden ship models. These show the arrival of Chinese workers by sea. If you peek inside the boats you’ll find more mannequins including one lazy man sleeping on the deck. This leads to the Chinese culture hall with more displays of the heady time during the big influx of migrant labourers in the 1800s, including a scene of an opium-smoking layabout.
Other displays both inside and outside show mining and smelting techniques in more detail, plus old artifacts and photos of the mines and the life of the people who lived in Phuket during that time.
Overall the Phuket Mining Museum is an interesting place but, again like other museums here, it falls a bit short of being truly informative. Some displays have signs in English that give details and historical context, but many don’t. For visitors who know little about Phuket’s past, the displays on their own might not shed much more light on it. We recommend reading up on Phuket’s history before going, otherwise it might be a bewildering visit.
The museum takes between one and two hours to explore. With an entry fee of only 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children, it’s a good-value spot to visit — perhaps on a rainy day.
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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