Phuket Heroines: Saviors of the island

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Real Life Phuket
Photo: Bradclin Photography
Travel handbooks promote Phuket as a tropical destination with scenic beaches and glamorous nightlife.

Island’s rich history and cultural heritage are – sad to say – often neglected, though Phuket has to offer numerous intellectual delights to a curious traveler. The annually Heroines Festival held in the mid-March is one of the events that can reveal this hidden side of Phuket in all of its colors.

Ask a local about the main symbol of Phuket and you will be surprised to learn that it is neither the beaches nor the palms, but the statue of two Heroines. The picture of sisters Chan and Mook, standing side by side with their swords naked, can be found on the signets and emblems of local offices and private companies alike. Top government official start their visits to Phuket bringing flowers to the moments, and even ordinary tourists are in a sense introduced to the Heroines with all the busses and taxis driving past the monument on their way to the airport.

The story of Chan and Mook is a charming mixture of legend and real history. The only thing that is known for sure is date of their heroic dead. It was on the 13th of March 1785 when the forces of Siam and Burma clashed in the battle of Phuket, which ended up with a decisive victory of Phuketians.

The battle was one of the key points of a military campaign know as the Nine Armies War. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Burma (being one of the strongest powers in the region) conducted several attempts to conquer the Kingdom of Siam and namely Phuket which was one of the main trade hubs of the country for civilian and military deliveries alike.

King Bodawpaya of Burma took his shot at the island in 1785. The main Burmese military fleet landed at Nai Yang Beach. Another contingent of invaders got even further inland paddling their vessels up along the canal now known among the locals as "Burmese Soldier Klong".

Phuketians had been warned about the invasion in advance by one of Britain’s East India Company officers, but the island simply had no forces to repel the invaders. The defenders gathered inside of their main fort and would be definitely doomed if not for Chan, the wife of the recently deceased governor, and her sister Mook.

Phuketian forces were too few to contain the enemy and the only threat for the Burmese were the reinforcements from the mainland that were rumored to arrive. The actual chances of this were extremely low but the invaders could not be aware of it. Chan and Mook assembled what forces they could, including women and teenagers who cut their hair and armed themselves with wooden swords to present a much stronger force and make the Burmese believe in the reinforcements. The plan worked out and after a ferocious fight on March, 13 the Burmese retreated.

For their bravery, sisters received the royal titles Thao Thepkasattri and Thao Srisunthon from His Majesty King Rama I. Two districts of Phuket province and two main local roads are named after the sister and the Heroine Festival is held every year in March when the events of 1785 are re-enacted.