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The Kathu Tin Mining Museum



150 years ago Phuket’s wealth came from the earth. This was Phuket’s “black gold.” The rock and the hills of Phuket were rich in tin ore deposits. Tin was a valuable trading commodity and soon Phuket was at the centre of a thriving economy and became a powerful trading port for foreign ships.


Attracted by the wealth of Phuket, many Chinese came to Phuket to invest or work in the mines and in so doing created a new culture in Phuket which still exists today. Telling the story of early Phuket is the Kathu Tin Mining Museum. Nestled in the hills of Kathu on the site of the old Torlung Tin Mine, the museum has something of interest for everyone If you are a budding geologist or your children are avid dinosaur fans, if you enjoy history, or if you are simply interested in Phuket’s culture, this is the museum for you.


The museum is housed in a magnificent Sino-colonial building, which was designed and built two years ago. The museum is a work in progress. Each area of the museum tells a different story of Phuket with life-like exhibits,rare photographs and hands-on learning experiences. This is a museum for the whole family.


On my recent visit I was very lucky to have the museum’s historian accompany me through the various sections. The first story is the history and the culture created in Phuket by the tin mining industry, the Sino-colonial architecture that sprung up on the island and the wealth that the tin created. The second story took me into the earth’s crust, its geology and how minerals were formed through the ages. As tin is one of the earliest metals known and used by man, its usage can be traced through man’s development.


With my head still reeling from ancient dinosaurs and fossils, I then stepped into a “tin mine” and discovered the different types of mining on the island.At the sluice mine I used an old Chinese wood pan to gather tin ore, sand and water from the stream bed and learned how to separate the tin ore

from the sand. This method of ground sluicing was used for many years by the Chinese. With the involvement of overseas mining companies Phuket soon had the world’s first mining dredge. Information boards in both Thai and English are excellent and explain each type of mining operation.


Once I was out of the “mine” it was on to the next stage and I followed the tin as it came from the mine to the processing plant/smelter and the many different uses of the final products. Even Phuket’s roads were paved with tin. In the boom days of tin, new roads would be laid and at night innovative entrepreneurs would dig
up the tin and resell it back to the road engineers! Next, I literally sailed away with the Chinese immigrants on their month-long journey from China to Phuket by ship.


This was one of my favourite exhibits. I embarked on to a large wooden ship and experienced life at sea. On arrival in Phuket the immigrants disembarked into the town and into the local Chinese shophouses lining the wharf. On my
journey at the museum, I sipped hot Chinese tea at a Chinese merchant’s house and spent time learning shadow puppetry and browsing through Chinese operatic costumes and headdresses.

The last slice of Phuket’s story is the success that tin created for both the immigrants and the local people. At the time of my visit this section is still to be completed, but will house photographs of local families, weddings, buildings, mine concessions and locality maps. Upstairs is a Research Centre and mining
library containing old maps, mineral licenses and early photographs. These will be preserved for future generations and a research Internet facility called “E-Museum” is being set up for students, historians and interested parties.


Outside, on part of the 400 rai of land owned by the museum, are old dredge buckets, railway lines and mine machinery. This is a great area for both adults and children to explore and the fact that the area was originally an historic tin mine adds to the rustic ambiance. The Kathu Tin Mining Museum is open daily. It is located on Kathu Tin Mining Museum Road (past Loch Palm Golf Club from Kathu and past the British International School from the By-Pass Road).





Source: Julie Brixton, "The Kathu Tin Mining Museum", Phuket Magazine Vol.20, No. 3, P. 18-21 (July,2009)


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Last Updated : August 28, 2021


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