Phuket’s welcoming, friendly people are a rich mix of sea gypsies, Buddhist Thais, Muslims and Chinese-Thais, all of whom are part of the history of the island. Many of the 30 per cent of Muslims here are the descendents of the original sea peoples of the region, with the mainland ancestors of the Chinese community braving the long and dangerous sea journey in the 19th century to work Phuket’s tin mines. The Chinese-Thai community holds a good number of the Peranakan peoples, who originated in Malacca and Penang.
Moken, the sea gypsies, still maintain a modern version of their ancient, nomadic sea-based culture, and are spread out along the Andaman Sea with the three communities now settled on smaller islands close to Phuket still living much of their lives on their boats. The Moken follow an animist faith centered on ancestor worship and were largely off the tourist trail until the tsunami which, due to their intimate knowledge of the sea, they managed to avoid by reaching high ground before it struck.
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