You don’t notice them much zipping along on a motorbike or in a car but you see more from the height of a slow-moving bus or the street-level that walking provides. These are the canals that cross much of the Phuket Town area and a bit beyond. The largest is Khlong Bangyai (khlong meaning “canal” in Thai) which stretches all the way from the bay at Saphan Hin to the community of Kathu in the center of the island. Two-masted cargo ships navigated these waters in the late nineteenth century.
One of the major centers of Phuket Town canal-life used to be the area adjacent to the modern post office on Montri Road. The property used to be owned by Phraya Vichitsongkram (Thut Pattanadilok na Phuket), the first governor of Phuket who expanded the tin-mining at what was then called Baan Thungka (present-day Phuket Town). A number of government offices were later built here, including Provincial Hall and the local prison. In 1882 the entire area reverted to being Crown Property after having been earlier auctioned off. On the piece of land on which the Post and Telegraph Office (now the Phuket Philatelic Museum) was built in 1930 then had Nipah palm and Phapru forests. Chao Ley sea gypsies used to land here by paddle boat, bringing seafood to exchange for consumer goods and other food stuffs. Residents of Kho Yao in Phang Nga Bay would travel to this pier to do their business in Phuket. Local residents would rest here because of the lines of shading coconut trees. In time, the expansion of the mines resulted in the demise of the forests here and still later houses and shops replaced the mines.
As I walk through Phuket Town, I notice more and more canals. Bangyai meanders through most of the historic center with it’s rather murky water but is quite attractive is some spots if the light hits it just so. Many of the other artificial waterways are much uglier, usually containing unsightly trash and a range of mystery smells. Still, I enjoy coming across these as indicators of a time when much of the province’s commerce was carried by watercraft rather than by road.