Sunday, March 17, 2019

One bona fide museum and two historical homes in Phuket Old Town

A historical museum housed in a former school building

Two-paneled painting in the museum depicting ethnic Chinese residents 
on the left and Peranakan Chinese denizens on the right

The Chinpracha House in Phuket Old Town
A couple of weeks before our Phuket trip, my mother asked me to send her a list of places I wanted to visit on the Thai island that she'd send along to her Thai cousin who would be in Phuket when we were there.  In addition to the cave temple of Suwan Kuha, other cultural attractions I relayed my interest in checking out were the Phuket Mining Museum and the Peranakan Phuket Museum.  
But because they're appear to be located fairly out of the way (or, at the very least, not in Phuket Old Town, where my aunt has her house), we ended going to neither of them.  Instead, she took me to visit a museum housed in her old school (while my mother waited in the car because she can be quite the museumphobe and refused to pay the 200 Baht (~HK$49.50 or US$6.31) fee for foreigners)!
For myself, one glance at the building which houses the Phuket Thai Hua Museum and I was pretty much sold.  Among other things: it is aesthetically pleasing, looks to have been well maintained/restored and was fairly substantial in size.  And as it turned out, this museum which provides information on the Chinese community of Phuket (which included immigrants from what's now Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan provinces over in Mainland China, and also ethnic Chinese immigrants who moved from Penang) along with the school previously housed in this location -- which was the first Chinese medium school on the island -- also contained a good number of interesting exhibits that kept me happily occupied for around an hour. 
After getting confirmation that I was indeed interested in historical and cultural stuff, my aunt then took our party to an old row house nearby that belonged to her late husband's family.  There we met with a few members of the family who still reside in the house but have opened up the lower floor of the house to visitors for a fee but nicely let us in free of charge.  
Given how much the outside of the building looked like the row houses to be found in Penang, I didn't find it all that surprising to discover that their internal spaces resembled those of such as the old George Town, Penang, row house that's now home to a Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum.  Those who aren't as familiar with buildings like these will probably find them more picturesque than me, I'm sure.  For my part though, it was more fun to look at old family photos there than the old furniture and such arrayed around the place.
The third and final cultural site I ended up exploring in Phuket Old Town was another ethnic Chinese abode, albeit one that was quite a bit more spacious.  Erected in 1919, the Chinpracha House was Phuket's first mansion built in the Sino-Portuguese style.  Like with my relative's relatives' row house, its upstairs area is still home to members of the family that owns the place while its lower floor has been turned into a cultural museum of sorts that's well described on a Phuket-based website as "something halfway between a museum and a collection of personal items gathered along time".
If truth be told, I enjoyed my visit to it less because I got much information there but because I found the mansion to have a certain aesthetic charm.  More precisely, its main area has been beautifully restored and I thought the lotus pond within is a really nice touch, not least since there are nice reflections to be captured on its surface.  And while some of the other sections of the house do have rundown feel, the decaying look seems to work well, and be appropriate, for this place whose owners appear pretty aware that their family's glory days are in the past but the historical connections they have are still of some value today.   

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