When I was visiting Thailand, we kept passing a statue to and from sightseeing in Phuket that immediately peaked my interest. It was two women, both stern-faced with their swords raised, holding hands and looking off into the distance. There are always flowers adorning the base and small offerings are often left to honor these two women. I became curious about the pair after seeing them after a few days of driving on the island and finally into our second week I decided to ask our driver if he knew of their significance.
“It’s a wonderful story of courage and friendship that has become a symbol of the people of Phuket,” the driver said and then during one of our rides he started unraveling their tale.
In the 1700’s the people of Thailand (then known as Siam) were in a war with the Burmese. The Burmese took advantage of internal conflict and overthrew the King of Siam in the late eighteenth century. They planned to overtake the country by dividing their army into nine factions and set a large group to Thalang, the largest town in Phuket. The governor, Chan’s husband, had recently passed away so instead of her husband, she and her sister motivated the troops to head out and fight the Burmese invaders.
According to legend, after weeks of fighting, Chan and her sister Mook devised a plan to disguise the women of the town as warriors to trick the Burmese into thinking they had more able bodied men ready to fight. The Burmese fell for the ruse and retreated, leaving the women as heroines. After the war, King Rama I gave both women a noble ranking as a symbol of how grateful he was of their bravery. The sisters were instrumental in the years following the war with creating a trade agreement with the British East India Company through Penang and Phuket Town and utilizing it’s tin mining as a trade source.
The spirit of Lady Chan and Lady Mook resonates with many local people of Phuket and the admiration for their tenacity and perseverance is contagious. I am always in awe of women who have defied stereotypes. As a little girl in America I was often told stories of princesses, damsels in distress or a girl looking for a boy, her “one true love” creating her happiness. I’d love to have more role models like these emerging to provide not only soft, romantic characters but also independent, bad ass adventurous heroines. After sitting in the back of the taxi, watching island life whiz past me in the window I listened to the story of the two sisters that saved Siam and I couldn’t help but feel a little happier knowing there are always a set of sisters in tiny corners of the world making it a better place.