The oldest and most interesting inhabitants of Phuket are the Sea Gypsies, or Chao Le in Thai language. (Chao=people;
Le=from thale=sea). They settle in one bay until all the resources there are finished and move on to another bay
so giving the nature time to recover. But there is no written history about their whereabouts and culture.
The only thing we know is that they lived as nomads without a permanent residence and without writing utensils. Some say they
come from former Malay colonies fleeing Burma from the Muslim invasion. Others say they be descended from the Indian Vedas.
The Sea Gypsies are split in three ethnic groups - the Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi - which speak different languages. While the Moken
still live as nomads, mostly in the northern islands of Phuket, the Moklen and Urak Lawoi settled down at the coastlines of Phuket. By
now there are three settlements on Phuket. The oldest one is at
and frequently visited by tourists. Another one is 8 k.m. north of
at Saphan Bay
and the third is located at
which can be reach by a bridge connecting the island to Phuket.
Until know they are still working as fisherman or pearl divers and some collect bird nests which are a delicacy for soup. Other income
comes from the tourists which visit their villages daily.
Today they have their own language and own religion - the animism. The legends say they brought their dead people
to so-called "death islands" where their souls live forever. Two times a year they celebrate
the most important ritual in animism the
"Loy Ruea" festival. Small wooden
boats are released into the sea carrying presents, fingernails, hair and miniature weapons to please the ghosts
of the sea and the souls of the dead so the Sea Gypsies can live in peace and happily. Another highlight in their
lives is the yearly hunting of sea turtles to eat their flesh. The legend says that a woman of the Sea
Gypsies changed to a sea turtle but with a human face. Since then the Sea Gypsies worship the sea turtles
as sisters of the human kind. And only for this festivals it is granted to hunt and eat the sea turtles.
For their daily living the Sea Gypsies barely use money - they just exchange minerals, shells, oysters,
snake house and other things for what they need. If they get access to money they usually buy rice,
eggs sweets or tobacco. The settlements of the Sea Gypsies give you an insight in an ancient
culture - free, colorful, without crime and police - and everybody is very welcome to visit them for a chat,
a game of pool or to buy a fish or some of their handicrafts.