It may be a case of ‘the grass always greener on the other side of the fence’ but whenever I’m exploring a new destination, my initial interest naturally gravitates to passing landmarks or distinct looking buildings standing proud on the horizon. I often find myself wondering which part of the culture in the country’s history has been immortalized by mere mortals. The same thing happens when I receive visiting friends to my own country, especially those that are curious about their new surroundings: “What’s that monument?” I try to recall, wanting to be the host with the most,. “I should know this. I know, for example, that it’s got something to do with the country’s democracy, but unfortunately I can rarely say who or when or what actually happened”.
Lost in Phuket
I visited Phuket a few years back, but can’t say I’m familiar with the place as I mainly just snoozed on the beach. More recently, I returned with friends and we booked a Toyota Vios for the week to take a good look around. We paid the 1,100 Baht (US$ 37) per day in advance to the company rep at the airport, and piled into the car. I volunteered for the role of navigator, armed with 3 complimentary tourist maps I had grabbed while waiting for our luggage. We turned onto Thep Kasattri Road, the main artery that runs north-south before veering east towards the south of the island. It was nightfall, so we all kept our eyes peeled for a sign to Surin beach, where we’d booked for the first few nights. “If we get to the big roundabout,” said the designated driver, “we’ve missed the turnoff”.
His prediction came true and we missed our turn, having to loop back around a roundabout centered by statues of what looked like 2 men holding swords standing on a pedestal. We turned back northbound and after another 30 or so minutes, finally find the private apartment which we’d rented. Gleefully throwing our bags down, we shimmied down to swimmers for a much needed dip in the plunge pool. We excitedly discussed the visits we had planned during the trip. The only activities set in stone were a snorkeling day trip, sailing into the sunset from one of the island’s marinas, and food – lots of it.
The next day, following a tip from the apartment manager, we drove down to Chalong Bay on the southeastern coast of the island, again passing the statues on the roundabout. Reaching the pier at Chalong we saw speedboats moored offshore and soon found a guy that was happy to take us snorkeling for 9,000 Baht (US$ 300) per day, inclusive of boat charter and snorkeling gear. He told us our best bet during the wet season was Koh Racha, as the island and protected bays are turned away from the monsoonal waves thus offering better water clarity. We agreed and made arrangements to meet him at the pier at 9am the following day.
In search of an early lunch, we then stopped at Rawai to get a taste of the island’s famed, succulent seafood at one of the many restaurants that line the shores there before heading back north to the Yacht Haven Marina to see about our sunset boat charter. Bellies smiling, we drove to the marina, once again passing the roundabout and it began to seem that all roads led there. Curiosity soon killed my passive wonderings, so I got online with the iPhone (how did mankind ever travel without?) to find out more about this interesting part of the island’s history.
The statues which I originally thought depicted men, are actually two sisters – Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Soontorn, whom the two roads that lead to the monument were named after. The Burmese invaded Thailand in 1785 in the ‘Nine Armies War’, named so after the number of armies that surged into the Kingdom, including one that was launched to conquer Phuket in what became known as the ‘Battle of Thalang’. With a governor who had just passed away, Thalang was caught leaderless. It was his widow, Chan, and her sister Mook, who decided to rally the island’s women to don men’s clothes, bluffing the invaders into thinking reinforcements had been sent for and in effect intimidating the Burmese into a withdrawal of their troops. The sisters were hailed for their heroic acts, bestowed royal titles, and the Two Heroines Monument was built to honor their memory.
Learning this epic tale offered an interesting reminder how so-called ‘Girl Power’ existed long before the Spice Girls or The Bangles. The island of Phuket is just slightly smaller than Singapore, so passing a monument that’s placed smack in the smack centre is inevitable. Should you have a chance to visit and enjoy Phuket’s coastal and underwater glories, stop and remember how a simple act of cross dressing once saved the island from a far less profitable foreign invasion than the one it now enjoys.
The international jet-set island of Phuket is a playground for the rich and famous. You can charter one of the boats that have hosted some of the most exclusive parties the island has ever seen, or enjoy a meal at an exquisite waterfront restaurant within one of the island’s 4 main marinas:
- Ao Po Grand Marina: http://aopograndmarina.com
- Phuket Boat Lagoon: http://phuketboatlagoon.com
- Royal Phuket Marina: http://royalphuketmarina.com
- Yacht Haven Marina: http://yacht-haven-phuket.com