Photo: Sunset on Patong beach, Phuket.

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Phuket Mining Museum

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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.

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The museum's design is modeled after 19th century Sino-Portuguese architecture.

The museum’s design is modelled after 19th century Sino-Portuguese architecture.

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.

Name that planet. The museum's space hall.

Name that planet. The museum’s space hall.

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.

Stone-age man with weapon. Not a tuk-tuk driver.

Stone-age man with weapon. Not a tuk tuk driver.

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.

Mini diorama of an open-pit mine.

Mini diorama of an open-pit mine.

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.

He's been puffing away on that thing for 200 years.

He’s been puffing away on that thing for 200 years.

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.

A scene showing some of the back-breaking tin-mine work.

A scene showing some of the back-breaking tin-mine work.

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.

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 Read up on where to eat on Phuket.
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