In the past Phuket Town was a more compact place than it is today and no more so than its old town, comprising Rasada, Phang Nga, Krabi, Dibuk and Thalang roads. Along these quaint thoroughfares you’ll see the ‘real’ Thailand, such as artisans at work in open-sided workshops, lots of textile shops, establishments with quirky merchandise such as a coconut husking machines, alien-looking lawn mowers, and Asian-made Spanish guitars displayed next to underpants... And why not?
Rang and Monkey hills
Lying to the north of Phuket’s town centre are two prominent hills, both excellent viewpoints. Rang Hill is the most popular but Monkey Hill (Kao Tou Sae) is also a fascinating viewpoint location with an east-facing hillside restaurant, and several colonies of macaque monkeys. Rang Hill has a new designated panoramic viewpoint, several restaurants, including the excellent Kao Rang Breeze, an exercise area, and lots of chilled breezes, making it an ideal cool refuge on a hot afternoon and a romantic dining spot at nighttime.
This quaint and colourful little backstreet connecting Thalang and Dibuk roads may seem innocuous enough but it has a raunchy past as it was a hundred years ago lined with brothels and the odd opium den servicing Chinese labourers and tin miners. Nowadays, it’s a cheerful and photogenic place lined with coffee shops, cute little hostels, and art galleries. One of the most singular aspects of Soi Romanee is that it has no ugly overhead power cables that afflict the rest of downtown Phuket.
Salvatore’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
Sardinian-born Chef Salvatore is a Phuket Island old timer. Years ago he moved his successful business from Patong to Phuket Town and has since been central to downtown’s dining scene. This award-winning trattoria has a cheerful design in its main dining area, an adjacent plush wine bar with an encyclopedic wine list (largely Italian labels). Traditional Sardinian-influenced dishes are served up here by Salvatore’s experienced and long-serving team. Oh, and his freshly baked homemade white bread is probably the best in town.
15 Rasada Road. Tel: 076-225958
Food Gallery serves up modern and healthy cuisine. This all-day dining restaurant is smack-bang downtown in a wonderful people-watching location. Dishes include Benedict bruschetta, a wholesome house beef burger with hash browns and bacon with Cheddar cheese, curries, several healthy smoothies along with a good selection of beers and wines. Food Gallery has a contemporary feel to it with stylish décor and a selection of mood music. If you’ve had a bit too much Thai food and want a change this is the place for you.
Rasada Road next to the Thavorn Hotel. Tel: 076-211775
Natural is one of the island’s quirkiest restaurants, with an electric train set, valve radios, tropical fish in computer monitors and four dining rooms connected by wooden stairs. It’s mostly Thai cuisine with a choice of over 200 dishes. This is a great place for those who appreciate a fun restaurant.
62 Soi Puthorn. Tel: 076-214037
Blue Elephant is the home of Royal Thai cuisine in Phuket Town and with its huge turn-of-the-century ex-governor’s mansion setting it’s definitely the place to head for if you want to dine in opulent surroundings. Food-wise, several dishes here have been cleverly resurrected from old and almost forgotten traditional Thai recipes but the menu doesn’t exclude favourites such as foie gras in tamarind sauce while the excellent wine list expertly complements this rich and worth-a-try-menu.
96 Krabi Road. Tel: 076-354355-7
Central Festival Phuket
Central Festival Phuket is the Big Daddy of all malls. With hundreds of shops counting well-known household brand names, Central is a one-stop shopping destination. You’ll also find fashion boutiques and specialist shops selling sportswear and equipment and it’s said that if you can’t find an item at Central Festival Phuket you probably didn’t need it in the first place. You can spend an entire day here as there are many food outlets and a top-floor food court. Public transport can easily drop you at Central on the main drag that leads into Phuket Town.
74 Wichitsongkran Road. Tel: 076-291111
Baan Teelanka means ‘upside down house’ and here you can wander from room to room taking fun upside-down photos of family and friends hanging from the ceiling. Baan Teelanka is the perfect place for quirky fun and kids just love it. It’s unique in Thailand and around the back of the house you’ll find a maze – unique in Phuket – that seems to get more difficult with every visit and there is also a game room themed on ‘Chamber of Secrets’ along with refreshments.
Bypass Road km 2 southbound. Tel: 076-376245
Not so hot
Phuket Island may have dreamy palm-lined white-sand beaches and idyllic coves leading out to turquoise seas but man, you don’t want to get in a traffic jam in the provincial town centre. Stay away from driving or taking transport downtown between four and seven o’clock on week days. Or if you have to travel at that time take along a good book.