In the 16th century, Takua-Pa was part of a busy and economically vibrant region of southern Thailand, but today, only memories remain of its international significance.
Only 100 kilometers from Krabi town, Takua-Pa is easily accessible and rather centrally located between Phuket, Krabi and Khao Sok National Park. This was possibly one of the reasons the region held such prominence in the trading empire that saw Siam (old Thailand) flourish.
Prior to the 15th century, the region was commonly referred to as Takola. It was an important stop on the maritime silk route that connected India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and many other Southeast Asian countries to Europe. Ships loaded with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper and turmeric would pass by these waters on their way to the Middle East and eventually to a variety of ports in Europe.
In 1498 under the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama, the influential trade route from Europe, around the Cape of Good Hope and onward to the waters surrounding the region of Takola was pioneered. This trade route inspired many other explorers of the time and gave way to one of the most traveled and profitable trade routes in history.
The Portuguese traders that came to land in the region of Takola developed parts of the region using the architecture and construction style that they were accustomed to back in their homeland. This gave birth to a variety of small Portuguese-styled towns that are commonly found throughout the region. The most famous of these regions were Takua-Pa, Phuket old town and Penang-Malaysia.
The birth of the spice trade paved the way for many other developments in the region and for the economy as a whole to flourish, but this was not the only resource to affect the region.
Later in the 18th century, British explorers discovered tin deposits from Phuket north to Phang-Nga. This gave way to a number of mines that once again allowed the region to flourish and expand even further.
In time, as the number of ships and ports entering into the spice trade increased, ships moved on and the trade in general spread to other regions such as Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Smaller areas such as Takua-Pa were marginalized and left with less trade opportunities. This, in conjunction with the drop in tin pricing around the 20th century, left Takua-Pa a ghost town of sorts.
Today, the remnants of the Sino-Portuguese architecture are still evident in the old town, with terra-cotta tile roofs, roman-style pillars supporting outdoor balconies and large open-spaced indoors. In fact every house in Takua-Pa old town, was built with its own well, offering each dwelling it’s own source of fresh drinking water. Many of these wells are still operating but since the wells are rather shallow, the water is no longer used for drinking.
Walking down the main road in this old town we are constantly reminded of the area’s history. Old photos of the Chinese migrants who came to Takua-Pa to work in the tin mines can be seen in many of the homes. These are a fascinating assortment of 90-year old photographs – including some of the well-known Chinese vegetarian festival. Along the street, there is also an original Chinese temple dating back to the 17th century that simply blends into the street, looking as yet just another house along the way.
Being in this area feels like a step back in time, and yet the locals live there seemingly oblivious to the historical treasure surrounding them. They are charmingly unaccustomed to foreigners exploring their streets. They warmly greeted us with smiles and they invited us inside for a cup of tea and to show off their family photographs.
This is a slice of another world in the heart of southern Thailand.
After exploring the historical district of the town, we made our way to the outskirts where city development is starting to encroach on the natural surroundings. The town has vast expanses of rolling and jagged hills with winding rivers extending through them like large veins. A large river ran next to the central local market offering us access to pristine and exotic nature in only a10-minute boat ride. Traveling upstream we turned off to a smaller tributary where the motor was cut. Only the drivers’ paddling which pushed us through this thick mangrove forest could be heard. Two minutes later the boat driver spotted our first mangrove snake, a beautiful, jet-black specimen with bright yellow stripes running from nose to tail. It sat calmly and flicked its’ tongue to wave us by. Soon after, the boat driver pointed out a two-meter Burmese python coiled up and resting on a cluster of branches. The snake sat peacefully without giving us any notice. Next, a number of hornbills shouted out and then we saw a troop of macaque monkeys peering down at us from the canopy. It became clear that this was a hugely biodiverse region and a treasure to explore!
We returned to town and continued investigating the vast array of historical monuments. After we made our way through this amazing town, we then headed out to the nearby island of Koh Kho Khao. This is a long island in the Andaman Sea which extends 17 kilometers from tip to tip. It was rumored to have a large airstrip that the US military used during WWII to ship in troops and supplies. Heading to the north of the island we found the airstrip which was now a long open field covered in overgrown grass, obviously not used for decades.
Next, we stopped at a small beachside resort and slowed down to rest on the wooden beach benches there. We decided to relax and enjoy some local Thai cuisine while watching the turquoise waters extend to the horizon. The rest of the afternoon was drifting away into the horizon, until we were awoken by the call to attention for our next stop, which was to explore Koh Pa. This is an ideal deserted island right off the coast with gorgeous snorkeling sites all around it. We took a long tail boat to this island and stopped for some great snorkeling along the way, which was the perfect way to finish off our time on Koh Kho Khao.
Later, when we returned to Takua-Pa old town and were walking down the same quiet main road we had visited previously, we were stunned at the sights, and we had to do a double take. This same road that had previously been empty and void of significant human energy had transformed into a bustling and fascinating marketplace with shop keepers selling anything from fried insects to hand made hard candies. The products there were much more diverse and interesting than those I have seen at other similar markets – again, set up for local interest only, not for the tourist trade.
The experience in Takua-Pa was unlike anything we have experienced in southern Thailand, a perfect blend of cultural immersion, historical intrigue and natural exploration. It is a great experience for everyone from individuals to large families.
If you are interested in spending a few days exploring a remote and unseen area of southern Thailand contact the organizers at: