Evocative of a time gone by and a cultural glimpse into Phuket’s rich past, Phuket Old Town is a wonderfully historical part of the island to explore. Strolling along the attractive streets of this part of Phuket transports you to a rich history that is a refreshing change from the island’s beach lifestyle. Instead, you are transported to quirky shophouse boutiques, cute cafes and restaurants as well as temples, shrines, and incredible architecture.
Way back in the 16th Century there was interest in Phuket’s tin mining industry and at its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries impressive Sino-Colonial mansions were built alongside the distinctive Sino-Portuguese shophouses. These are the symbols of the Old Town’s past of thriving trade and as a cultural melting pot of Thai, Chinese, and Thai-Chinese ‘Baba’ communities. Malay, Indian, and European influence has also played a part over the centuries.
Today, it is the preserved old buildings, quirky atmosphere, and fascinating places to visit that gives Phuket Old Town its inherent charm and makes it a must-visit during any stay. The best time to capture its essence away from the pool-inducing sun is in the cool of the mornings or as the sun fades into evening.
Sunday nights see the main thoroughfare of the Old Town come alive with the Phuket Walking Street market stalls drawing in crowds to the small streets and creating a vibrant ambiance. The heart of the Old Town includes pretty Romanee Road which has an almost romantic vibe which belies its less than salubrious history as a hotspot for ladies of the night. This connects the renowned Thalang Road and Dibuk Road to create a compact and easy-to-explore gem of a place.
Set in a beautiful house, and former school, the Thai Hua Museum promises a n intriguing insight into Phuket’s history, looking at the culture, architecture, and lives of those living here as well as the many famous festivals hosted in Phuket each year such as the renowned Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
Interesting curios and memorabilia are showcased at the small and quirky Thavorn Museum, including old posters of faded Thai movie stars and antique tin toys. The museum is more a collection of artefacts than a well-preserved collection but this only adds to its almost neglected charisma.
From your luxury vacation villa in Phuket, step inside the stunning Chinpracha House, a gorgeous Sino-Portuguese mansion that is lovingly preserved in all its former glory. The house, which is still occupied, is part museum, and from its Italian-imported tiles to its Chinese furnishings really brings the diversity of Phuket Old Town’s history to life.
A sense of deep spirituality echoes throughout Thailand and in Phuket Old Town Chinese shrines stand close to Buddhist temples. Wat Putta Mongkon, with its school for monks, is a large Thai temple that promises serenity in the midst of the hubbub of the Old Town. Meanwhile, the Jui Tui shrine is the largest and oldest Chinese temple in Phuket. The Shrine of the Serene Light, tucked away down a small street, boasts ornate roof sculptures and Taoist art. Nearby, the weekend amulet market promises a real glimpse into a world of mystique to reveal the power of Thailand’s spiritual beliefs and cultural heritage.
Amongst this sense of history and spiritual expression, Phuket Old Town invites visitors to an appetizing range of menus in some stunning restaurants. Of note are the iconic Blue Elephant and the beautiful China Inn with its antique shop and peaceful garden. Modern eateries include the international menu and ambiance of Gallery Cafe by Pinky, fine Italian fare at La Gaetana, and the oyster and lobster bar at The Brasserie.
The best way to explore Phuket Old Town is on foot with a map and a sense of adventure to discover the gems that lie hidden behind creaking doors, old shophouse fronts, and within upmarket houses from Phuket’s intriguing past.