Take a break from the beaches. Take a break from the sea. Now come take a journey through time. The old town in Phuket has been hidden from tourists for years- and un-rightly so.
With the Portuguese influenced architecture down to the local Thai food stalls, the old town of Phuket is a perfect blend of the heritage and architecture of Phuket from the end of the 19th century and a slight touch of contemporary modernism to go with it. If your perspective on Phuket is limited to the hectic party scene of Soi Bangla and sun-kissed beaches, then you’ll be in for a huge surprise. Just merely glancing upon the buildings of different colors will flit you through into a completely different world- one over a hundred years ago. Take your time here. Taste the food, learn the history, and cherish the experience!
To start it all off, where better than to start at the golden dragon statue at the end of Thalang Road?
The dragon stands majestically in plain view, reflecting off any impending sunlight and glittering amidst the clear blue skies. Over a hundred years ago, Phuket town made its fortune through tin mining, and several Chinese people immigrated to Phuket in hopes of getting a share of this fortune. Today, they still live there and believe that Phuket is in fact a dragon risen from the Andaman sea, due to the unique shape of the island. In Thalang road, you’ll find plenty of evidence and relics from those days and ages- such as colorful Portuguese styled buildings and local food stalls, one which have been run by these Thai-Chinese families through generations.
But out of all these colorful buildings, perhaps the most famous one of them all lies in Soi Romanee. Here, a giant pink building lies at the entrance of a small street connecting Thalang Road and Dibuk road. In the past, this was the biggest red light district in all of Phuket, but today, that has all died down and lives purely as an artifact of Phuket’s past. Today, many of these old buildings have transformed itself into small guesthouses, café’s and bars- serving many backpacker tourists hoping to stay in Phuket on a budget. Although there are definitely better budget hostels and guesthouses around Phuket, many choose to stay in the Old Phuket town for convenience and ease of access to different areas. And hey, lets be honest, its not often you get to live within an oasis of an islands past!
Every month, there will also be live jazz music played in Soi Romanee by locals- and once or twice a year, the whole of Thalang road will be transformed completely into a crowded walking street. On these nights, plenty of food stalls will open up, live music will be playing, and tons of activities and events will be undertaken- free of traffic or cars. If you by any chance arrive on Phuket on one of these days, then I urge you to try it out. It is an absolutely unique and amazing experience!
But if small stalls and shops are what you crave, then no need to wait for the walking street. Every day, families living in the area open up their shops to locals and tourists- all serving their own unique specialty in trade. Many of the batik shops in Thalang Road are run by ethnic Malay or Indian Thai’s and offer cheap clothing for better qualities than some of the cheap imitations you may find in Patong or otherwise.
If foods a concern for you, don’t worry, the old Phuket town is filled with small restaurants and café, all offering some amazing local Thai dishes.
Just remember, appearance isn’t everything- more times than less, you’ll find that the smaller shabbier looking restaurants may actually serve better tasting dishes than their larger competitors, try and give them a shot, you might be surprised! Also, along the road, you may find a local Thai dessert called “roti”.
Although this banana mixed pancake may turn you off at first, its an absolute delight to those who have the taste for it. It’s a perfect blend of sweetness, warmth and Thai-ness- the perfect metaphor for the Old Phuket town itself!