Phuket is a cultural confluence of Thai-Chinese, Thais and ethnic Malays and sea gypsies. Muslims dominate the rural population in Phuket. The island roughly has 2 parts – Phuket Town and Phuket Province. Thai is the official language on the island but the rural folks speak in strong southern dialect, which even other Thais find difficult to understand. The economy of Phuket is mainly dependent on tourism revenue. Earlier tin and rubber industries used to be the primary revenue generator for the island. The lifestyle of urban Sino-Thais living in Phuket is much similar to their counterparts living in Bangkok.
Thai culture obviously has the dominant influence on Phuket. Thailand has an interesting and colourful culture, which dominantly influenced by Buddhism – the major religion in the country. Around 95% of the population in Thailand is Buddhist and every nook and corner of the country testifies the fact. Buddhist temples are the obvious and the commonest symbols of how the strand of the religion is woven with various facets of Phuket society and communities. Besides, orange robed Buddhist monks frequent the streets of both Phuket and mainland Thailand. Statues of Buddha can be witnessed anywhere in any province of Thailand.
The official language of Phuket and mainland Thailand is Thai. However, use of English in commercial and in government sectors is not rare. In fact, secondary schools have English in their curricula and communication in the language is generally not an issue for tourists in Thailand. However, English is not as common in Phuket as it is in mainland Thailand. Other commonly spoken languages are Mon-Khmer, Malay, Chinese and Lao.
Thais are generally friendly and the inhabitants of Phuket are not different to their mainland counterparts. In fact, the entire country is called the land of thousand smiles. Smiling inhabitants of Phuket make initiation of conversation easy irrespective of the language barrier.
The King of Thailand is highly revered by its people. Tourists from fully democratic countries may not be able to relate to monarchy and, so, should be careful about the language, remark and gesture they use for the king. An offence towards the king may be punishable. Besides, everyone with the inclusion of tourists is expected to stand while the national anthem of Thailand is played.
Phuket has been inhabited by people since long. There is archaeological evidence suggesting presence of settlements on the island since 100 BC. In fact, rock drawings by unidentified Neolithic people have been found in Phuket. However, it could not be ascertained whether people had settled on the island 3 millennia ago.
Phuket has been common halt for Thai, Chinese, Indian and European explorers. Later, the traders from these parts of the world used Phuket as port en route to Maritime Southeast Asian places. Eventually, the traders became attracted to the island rhinoceros’ horns, birds’ nests, ivory, ambergris, pearls and especially timber and tin found there.
Negritoes are said to be the earliest proper inhabitants of Phuket. They were followed by Mons, who came from what is presently central Thailand, and Dravidians, who migrated from India to the then mainland Thailand and then to Phuket. Thais from the mainland arrived on the island later than these migrations. Later, Muslim fishermen from Malaya moved northwards to Phuket and its neighbouring islands such as Koh Phi Phi. They established coastal villages and their descendants, with mixture of others, still live in Koh Pannyi and Phang Nga Bay. The places have historically been known as Ujong Sylang, Junsalaomm and Junkceylon.
Chinese began to settle in Phuket from late 18th century. Tin mining and the rubber industry was the major attraction for the Chinese settlers, who mainly served as skilful and unskilful labourers under the mine owners. Being highly spiritual and missionary in their nature, the Chinese purposely and non-purposely introduced Buddhism to other inhabitants of the island. Besides, other culturally influential traits such as culinary and clothing were introduced on the island too.
Chinese influence is apparent in the architecture in Phuket. Apart from Chinese, Portuguese elements can be found considerably in the architecture on the island. The traits of European culture inevitably lasted as British and French had control over many Maritime Southeast Asian land.
Thailand, and for that matter, Phuket is rich in diversity. It can be said originally Chinese, religiously Buddhist, culturally Hindu and ritually Brahmin. Its classical literature is primarily in Sanskrit. However, such a description of a land can never be totally true as the confluence of all the elements from various places leads to interaction between them and, thus, the formation of a more complex culture and community.
Buddhism is certainly definitely enjoys the majority as religion. Among minorities, Muslims are the most prominent while animistic beliefs and Brahmanism can be noticed to have predatory impact on Buddhism and Islam.