Well recently, my curiosity finally got the better of me, so I turned out of the hectic traffic and down into the building’s peaceful gardens. Walking up the steps to the entrance – past antique Buddhist sculptures, an intricately carved teak spirit house and an enormous bronze temple bell – the noise of the road faded away and I felt like I was entering a temple.
This feeling was understandable, when I discovered that inside the sprawling multi-room building are hundreds, if not thousands, of Buddhist and Asian artworks sculpted from teakwood, marble, stone, or skilfully hammered out of bronze and silver.
On the day I visited I was fortunate to meet Alissa Sim, whose parents founded the business 33 years ago. She kindly sat with me to chat about the history of the family-run business and how their impressive stock was amassed over the years.
As it turns out, Alissa’s father built the business from scratch, starting out from a tiny shop front on Rassada Rd in Phuket Town to become Phuket’s largest antique store, housing an unparalleled collection of precious antiquities sourced from all over Asia.
“We started out mostly selling fabrics, wooden carvings and other handicrafts from northern Thailand, now I would say we are one of the top five antique shops in Thailand,” said Alissa.
Alissa’s father, the eponymous Mr Chan, was originally in the shipping business and he used his contacts to begin bringing commodities down from northern Thailand. Before long, with the help of a business friend who invested in the venture, he began to bring antiques and handicrafts from northern Thailand and Burma to Phuket to feed the rising demand of tourists.
“A friend of my father helped him bring some antiques to the shop because he did not have a lot of money to buy antiques at the time, they sold quickly and for a good price, so he realised that it was a good business to be in,” said Alissa.
Starting at the little shop in Phuket Town, the business went from strength to strength, moving to successively larger premises until Mr Chan decided to take the plunge in 2003 and construct the purpose-built building which houses Chan’s Antique today. The shop also serves as a home for the Chan family, “We live here, this is our home,” said Alissa.
When he retired, Mr Chan handed over the day-to-day management of the shop to Alissa. Having grown up surrounded by antiques, – sometimes accompanying her father on trips to northern Thailand and Myanmar to source them – Alissa has a keen eye for beautiful objects.
Over the years her family have kept many of the most beautiful and rare pieces to add to their private collection, some of which are displayed in the shop for the pleasure of visitors.
“We travel north about twice a year to select pieces for the shop. Sometimes we find things that we don’t want to sell, so we keep them,” she said.
Many of the objects on display for sale at the shop are Buddhist icons and temple artefacts, some of them as many as 200-years-old. There are hundreds of unique items – statues of Buddha, temple bells and alms bowls, lacquer betel-nut boxes, religious and folkloric figurines, exquisite teak furniture, fine porcelain, paintings, fabrics and decorative wall carvings. It is like a walking through a museum, with the added bonus that you can take home a particular item if it takes your fancy.
However, due to Thailand’s strict laws regarding the sale or removal of Buddhist images from the Kingdom, many of the oldest antiques in the collection are sourced from Myanmar.
“Most of them are Burmese because, as many experts know, Burmese carving is of a very high quality and very detailed. Burmese art also shares many similarities with Thai art,” said Alissa.
She went on to explain that the slight differences in the features of Buddha statues can tell you much about their origin and age, with each region and culture having developed a unique, but similar style of religious art.
“Nowadays it is very difficult to find Thai antiques, but because we have our collection which we bought over many years, we still have some Thai pieces,” said Alissa.
There are also scores of items that, while not technically antiques (i.e more than 100 years old), provide a fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of Thai people over the last several hundred years.
Elaborate lacquer-ware betel nut boxes and scissors for chopping betel are common items – demonstrating the deep tradition of betel nut chewing that continues to this day in Myanmar and India, but has all but died out in modern, urban Thailand.
After being shown around the amazing collection by Alissa, although I didn’t intend on buying anything, I found I couldn’t resist taking home something. I settled on a small bronze figurine of Ganesh, the Hindu God widely revered in Thailand and worshipped as the remover of obstacles and a patron of letters and learning.
I certainly don’t regret my spontaneous decision to turn into Chan’s Antique House. The Ganesh statue now sits on my car’s dashboard as a reminder of that day, and I look forward to returning again to browse the countless beautiful items and pick out another to decorate my house.
So next time you are heading along the bypass road, I suggest you take a look, you never know what you might find.
Chan's Antique is located on the Bypass Road about 3.7km north of the Tesco-Lotus/Sam Kong intersection. The offer a hotel pickup/drop off service for customers wishing to peruse their collection. See their website for more details: www.chans-antique.com