From a small tin mining town a century ago, Phuket has become a hub of culture and tourism and is home to a stunning 100-year-old mix of Chinese and western influenced architecture, labelled Sino-Portuguese, a feature of which is narrow-fronted, long buildings, with ornate columns, arches, windows and doors. Check out old Phuket Town around and about Talang Road, Yaowarat Road and Dibuk Road.
From the Phuket office of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), heading west through Thaew Naam Intersection, is the beginning of old town. This area is home to mainly commercial buildings, now operating as draper's shops (many under Malaysian ownership), restaurants and small hotels for backpackers dating back to the very start of tourism on the island. At the corner of Phangnga and Phuket Roads is the old police station with its clock tower and opposite is the old Chartered Bank building, the first foreign bank to open in Phuket.
Continue the journey on to Talang Road, Phuket's main commercial centre, that was once the town's wealthiest residential area. Here the buildings have been well-preserved for their descendants, although most have now been converted to restaurants, hotels or coffee shops. One notable building here is the On On Hotel, one of Phuket's oldest which achieved recent glory as a location for the famous movie, 'The Beach'.
On your journey, check out many art galleries and don't miss the Chinese herbs at Nguan Choon Tong, the city's oldest Chinese herbalist shop.
The old buildings along Soi Rommanee, located at the middle of Talang Road, have been renovated as part of a drive to stake Old Phuket Town's place as an historic attraction. Even though Soi Rommanee is a tiny, short soi, compared with other parts of the Old Town it is without doubt the most elegant. The unique red/orange colour of the buildings here preserves beautifully the distinctive Sino-Portuguese style and this small lane has now become home to souvenir shops and restaurants, capturing the magic of days gone by for visitors.
Another fascinating road is Dibuk Road, running parallel with Talang Road and leading to Yaowarat Road. Start by strolling west down Dibuk Road, then at Sii Yaek Siam (Siam Intersection) turn left into Yaowarat Road, which still retains the real ambiance of Old Phuket-something visitors should not miss. Hang out in the restaurants along the road and soak up what life was like here all those years ago.
On Krabi Road is a beautifully-preserved Sino-Portuguese mansion, Chin Pracha House, operated as a private museum by the owner, Pracha Thantawanit. Architectural features include doors gilded and carved with bird-and-flower motifs and evocative Chinese character paintings (Chim Chae). Inside, apart from the decor and furnishings is an exhibition of black-and-white photos dating to Phuket Town's tin-mining heydays. Open daily, admission is only 100 Baht. For more information call 0 7621 1167.
A tour of Old Phuket Town is a trip back in time, to an era when tourism was the last thing on Phuket's mind.