When I was in Phuket, I found myself longing for a deeper sense of Thai culture. Surrounded by beautiful beaches, packed bars and drunk Australians is fun at times, but I always want to see a deeper side to the destinations I visit. A marriage of the history of an area and its new blood. I found that in the colourful side streets of Old Phuket Town and desperately want to go back to Phuket just for this.
In the last century, Phuket was a mining hot spot for tin. A valuable commodity then, Chinese labourers were brought into Thailand and settled in Phuket. The area they inhabited is not only distinct in its looks, but also holds a certain charm about it that has attracted artists, hipster baristas and the odd chain store.
Narrow fronts hide the depth of the buildings within, while bright colours adorn each building attracting travellers into their corridors and stairwells. The original Chinese residents would stay in the apartments at the top of the buildings while running their business of choice below. This practice still exists today although is not as common with whole buildings being converted into galleries and restaurants.
What’s really apparent here is the existence of a cosmopolitan culture that extends beyond just a few decades. The mash of international cafes and shops indicate a wide variety of nationalities. I went on a walking tour of Old Phuket Town that was sadly more walking than actual touring. While we had the chance to learn the history of a few historical buildings, I would’ve rather hired a private guide or gone in a smaller group to learn more questions and take more time at each stop.
A small market square inside Old Phuket Town was an absolute treat. Displays of vegetables and fruit, unfamiliar to me, were put out for locals and travellers to inspect. While fresh seafood and street food treats were dotted across the small area. If it wasn’t for the threat of customs, I think I would’ve brought home everything I had a chance to touch, smell and taste!
I wasn’t brave enough to buy some of the stinky durian though, despite my bravado and being egged on by our group!
Popping into Old Phuket Town is worthwhile if you’re staying in Phuket and want something different. I’d love to go back and spend some time browsing all of the galleries and drinking coffee on the pavements of the cafes! If you do go, try get there around lunch as most of the shops and galleries close at around 5pm and they really are the star attraction here.