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Phuket (ภูเก็ต)

Province (map) and island (map) in the Andaman Sea facing the west coast of the southern Thai peninsula. The name Phuket originated from the Malay word bukit, meaning ‘hill’, though earlier the island was known as Thalang and Jung Ceylon. Its capital city of the same name has a population of about 50,000 and is located 862 kms from Bangkok. With approximately 810 kms² it is the largest island of the country and connected to the mainland and the province of Phang Nga by a bridge to the North. Formerly Phuket was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign ship logs of European traders. It thus derived prosperity from international trade, especially with regards to the production and trade of tin, for which the French in 1685 had gained a monopoly under king Narai. However, in 1688 the French were expelled from Siam, following the revolt of Ayutthaya. On 10 April 1689, the French led an expedition to capture the island of Phuket in an attempt to regain the monopoly and inforce some sort of French control in Siam. Nevertheless, the French occupation led nowhere and in January 1690, they left again. Around February 1785, the Burmese were preparing to attack the island with an army of about 3,000 men, but Francis Light, a captain with the British East India Company passing by the island, sent word to the local administration that he had observed Burmese forces getting organized to invade. Thanks to this early warning, the sisters Chan and Muk (fig.), later known as the Phuket Heroines (fig.), were able to repel the invasion, after a month-long siege. When in the beginning of the 20th century tin supplies on the island declined and the tin mines diminished, Phuket switched to the production of rubber. Phuket is now a popular holiday destination with many beaches and places of interest, and derives much of its present income from tourism. It is also famous for its annual Vegetarian Festival. On 26 December 2004, Phuket was affected by a tsunami that hit Thailand's Andaman coast line, killing around eight thousand people, of which reportedly about 250 in this province, many of them foreign holidaymakers celebrating Christmas, but also Thais and illegal Burmese construction workers, whose death was often unreported. Worldwide over 220,000 were killed or went missing. The province has three amphur. See also Phuket data file.