But then soon after the grand opening it closed again, mainly because the items on display for the visit of the princess were all borrowed from local Phuket people, and not permanent museum exhibits! It is now finally open again, and in addition to its historical artefacts it does have two plus points – free entry and aircon.
The main entrance to the museum is on the corner of Phuket Rd and Phang Nga Rd. This building was originally the Chartered Bank, built around 1900 I believe, just when Phuket Town became the main town on Phuket Island and the tin-mining industry was booming. It was the first bank in town and the police station was built directly opposite.
Inside the room was largely empty, save for photos of the princess on the wall and a couple of displays of old Chinese-style tableware. And on the far side of the room a desk and several surprised-looking young ladies, a couple of whom were dressed in old Baba/Nyonya-style clothes. Oh my goodness! A visitor! One of the young ladies spoke decent English. I signed in to a visitors’ book and was given an information brochure.
Behind the desk is a back room that was originally the bank vault. Inside is a small collection of jewellery and some explanations of what the jewellery was for.
I should explain a few of the meanings of words. Peranakan is the name given to people of mixed Chinese and Malay decent. By “Malay” I don’t mean “from Malaysia” but “from the Malay peninsular”. In the early 19th century many Chinese left Southern China and settled in places such as Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Phuket. The majority of the Chinese were male and many married local ladies. Phuket had a huge influx of Chinese at a time when the tin-mining industry was taking off.
The names Baba and Nyonya are also used: Baba are the men, Nyonya are the ladies. There is a big Baba wedding ceremony here in Phuket every year which I have attended a couple of times.
So I was informed by the museum staff that an audio-visual presentation would start at 1:30pm on the upper floor of the museum. The presentation takes place five times per day at 10am, 11am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm and 3:30pm – every day except Monday, when the museum is closed.
The audio-visual presentation took place in several small rooms. One of the volunteers guided me, and several Chinese tourists, who also turned up to watch halfway through the first part. It started well with a film showing Chinese heading away from war-torn Southern China to seek their fortune and ending up in Phuket after many weeks at sea.
The second part might have been good but the sound was not working – showing the Chinese settling in Phuket and having families. Then we had a display showing family life in a typical shop-house style house with the skylight in the middle, followed by small displays about Nyonya clothing and some local foods.
The museum maybe needs a little more work, maybe more signs explaining things, but as a free attraction gives some interesting insights into life on Phuket in an earlier era.
Over the road in the clocktower building, work is underway with some more presentations of photos and information. I think I’ll head back next year and see what’s been added. I’m a big fan of museums although I do realise most people visit Phuket for beaches, and museums may not be top of the list of things to do!
But my column does try to suggest more than just the usual attractions, and I do recommend looking around old Phuket Town, so why not have a quick look at this museum while you are there.
The Peranakannitat Museum website: https://peranakanphuketmuseum.com/
Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: sunrise-divers.com.
You can read more about Phuket on Jamie’s Phuket Blog -