While the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau understands group travel from Australia is currently not possible it does wish for local planners to dare to dream about a future that holds promise of a return to the “land of smiles” through a beautiful story of what is happening right now in Phuket as a direct result of the global pandemic.
They are calling this the hundred year love story of Phuket which began at a time when Thailand’s largest island transitioned from tin mining to trading. Through the efforts of local residents its newest metamorphosis holds great promise for providing something different and, dare we say, unique, for the next generation of group travellers from Down Under…
A little over 100 years ago the Spanish Flu swept through Thailand hitting the country as hard as COVID-19 has done in 2020 and early 2021.
Thailand’s largest island Phuket, located on the Andaman Sea in the south of the Kingdom, was at that time predominantly a location for tin mining. When the flu hit, tin mines that were managed by the government were privatised and Phuket slowly moved into becoming more of a trading hub for Southern Thailand.
With the change came new residents from the mainland, attracted by the vibrancy and beauty of the island and Phuket’s growth as a trading port. The mix of miners with traders saw relationships grow and blossom including that of two young Thais, Ar-Jor Ying and Ar-Jor Chai.
After a short courtship the couple wed and soon after Ar-Jor Ying gave birth to the first of her and her husband’s nine children who were all raised in a local house, Baan Ar-Jor (Ah-Jor’s House).
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Satja Hongyok, the great grandson of Ar-Jor, along with his siblings and cousins, began renovating Baan Ar-Jor, transforming the century old house into a living museum that can now accommodate eight couples who are seeking an authentic Thai experience during their stay in Phuket.
The home displays photographs of a bygone era, clothing, decorative arts and antique furniture, with accommodation rooms complete with modern bedding and linen but which each stay true to the period when the home was first constructed.
As well as renovating the house, the descendants of Ar-Jor Ying and Ar-Jor Chai have repurposed a storage room next to the home and created an authentic Phuket restaurant – Toh Daeng (The Red Table) which is reminiscent of a traditional large family dinner space.
“We just want to see the story of Ar-Jor live on,” explains great grandson Satja Hongyok.
“Ar-Jor spent a wonderful life on this island with her loved ones. We decorated the place the same way our great grandmother did, and we have added many photos to tell the stories so you can feel the love and warmth within these walls.”
Satja and his family’s labor of love reflects the recent activities in Phuket’s hospitality scene with young people reviving their heritage in anticipation of welcoming back world travellers in the future.
Two others examples are Torry’s in Phuket’s Old Town which reinterprets local desserts into ice creams, and The Memory at On On Hotel – Phuket’s first hotel which opened in 1927. Memory at On On Hotel has established a museum to provide visitors with a glimpse of the island’s history, going all the way back to its tin mining past.
These latest attractions are now a part of Thailand’s MICE Magnificent Theme offerings, joining Phuket’s already established Peranakan Phuket Museum, the Peranakan Puppet Show and No. 92 Old Town Phuket.
Yes, the beautiful beaches of Phuket remain. But it is the restoration and recognition of Phuket’s historic past that will be equally as appealing to Australian group travellers in the years to come.
A century after the first global pandemic, Phuket’s stories continue, waiting to be told again when next you can visit.