The old quarter of Takua Pa in Phangnga is a poignant reminder of a glorious chapter in its history
Overlooked by most travellers who pass it off as rather quiet, the old town area of Takua Pa district in Phangnga in fact has much to shout about for it still resonates with a glorious chapter from history dating back a century, now almost forgotten.
Both sides of the main Si Takua Pa Poad that bisects the old town are dotted with period buildings conspicuous by their Sino-Portuguese architecture, Chinese shrines and tea houses. Elderly people sit chatting in front of their homes while others ride bikes that show their age to the local market to buy food. Once in a while you spot motorized vehicles.
These days the entire district, comprising mostly of the elderly and retirees, seems to be moving in slow mode, in contrast to its glory days a century or so go when it was a trading hub for people in the tin business
According to its history, tin ores were discovered in Takua Pa long before Ayutthaya, but the latter was first to gain prominence because ships from the West were already making port calls there to buy the ores.
Takua Pa took off in a big way only after the Dutch, British and Portuguese arrived prospecting for tin ores, and with them came Chinese labour to work the mines in Phangnga and neighbouring Phuket.
The tin mining business hit a peak during the reign of King Rama V, as tax records from the time show, growing four folds from 29,040 baht in 1872 to 120,000 baht in 1875.
When tin prices dropped the industry went into a gradual decline, followed by an exodus of Western investors who sold off or left their businesses in the hands of their Chinese employees, explained Chalermchat Janejaneprasert, our tour guide. These workers later married into local families and their descendants, called Peranakan or Nyonya, constitute a sizeable part of Takua Pa and Phuket’s population today. The death knell for the tin industry in south Thailand came in 1985 when all mines were shut down. But the mines, the very source of wealth for several families, have since become an environmental liability.
From the Takua Pa bus station, you can go for a cruise on Sangnae Canal which snakes through 30 rai of banyan forest where some of the trees are more than a hundred years old. To lend a little colour to the tour, it is dubbed “Little Amazon” cruise, which if taken early morning rewards those aboard with sights of some rare exotic birds and snakes.
Apart from the cruise, you can take a day-long tour of Phangnga Bay and stop at a 200-year-old Islamic community on the island of Koh Panyi where you can sample choice seafood at any of its several restaurants. Thereafter, you can proceed to the island of Khao Ta Pu which served as location for a James Bond movie. It is a great opportunity photo shoots. You can also paddle canoes to Tham Lod cave.