Historic walking tour of Phuket Town

By Dave Rudd

Phuket Town has an eclectic mix of styles

Phuket Town has an eclectic mix of styles

Phuket Town’s historic centre is located between the Bay of Tongkah and low hills. It resembles the likes of Penang in Malaysia, and other British Straits settlements of the colonial days, owing to its significance as a stopover port en-route between India and Southeast Asia. And while you might be tempted to lie about all day on the beach, the island’s commercial centre is a cultural and historic excursion that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Phuket Town has been influenced by a number of peoples over the centuries, including the British, Portuguese and Burmese, while the Chinese came in droves during the tin mining years of the late 19th century. They brought with them their ideas of building, culture and food, evidence of which is all around today. There are restored shop houses galore, along with a slew of colourful Chinese temples, Sino-colonial houses, and buzzing markets.

Phuket Town make-up and architecture

Old Town Phuket is one of a confusing array of quaint, one-way streets and alleyways. While you can drive through Old Phuket, you will get far more out of a trip by taking a historic walking tour of Phuket Town.

The Town is loaded with ancient Sino-Portuguese buildings which date back to the tin mining era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many houses have distinctive Chinese-style roofs and windows while inside the centre of the building are usually little courtyards to help dissipate the tropical heat.

Phuket Town’s historic streets are pockmarked with natty night markets where all manner of local items and foodstuffs can be had. This area is a far cry from the hectic resorts along the coast of Phuket and immersed in culture. The Old Phuket Town Festival (September to November) is a great time to be here.

Thalang Road

This is the main street for taking in some of the best of historic Phuket Town and can be found in the Chinatown area in northwest Phuket Town. It is located just off Yaowarat Road and is home to some of the town’s oldest Sino-Portuguese architecture.

Thalang Road was formerly the main trading street on the island and today it sees a string of festivals and should feature on any walking tour. The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a popular time to see Thalang Road, after the so-called Main Street Movement has seen to it that the road is well adorned and attracts plenty of flag wavers.

Phuket Town historical attractions

On your historic walking tour of Phuket Town around Thalang Road, Yaowarat Road, Phangnga Road, and Phuket Road, and associated side streets, be sure to check out the many fascinating Sino-Portuguese buildings, temples and museums.

There are some lovely old colonial Asian mansions

There are some lovely old colonial Asian mansions

Phuket Provincial Hall: this pubic building was built around 1910 and was Phuket’s first building to receive the National Conservation Award. It is a large, colonial-looking structure in the administrative quarter and was noted by the Fine Arts Department in the 1970s.

Phuket Town Police Station: lying across from the equally appealing Chartered Bank, the police station in Phuket Town features a striking clock tower. It lies at the corner of Phangnga Road and Phuket Road and was erected in the early 1900s at the time of the tin mining boom. The police station is also soon to house an urban heritage museum.

Jui Tui and Put Jaw temples: these two Chinese temples at the corner of Phuthon and Ranong roads, near the bus station, lie opposite each other and have plenty of historic value. The most intriguing temple is the older Put Jaw, which happens to be Phuket’s oldest Chinese Taoist temple. It was originally built in the late 18th century and is dedicated to Kwun Im, the Goddess of Mercy.

Jui Tui is next to Put Jaw and linked to it. It is the larger and more modern of the two and sees plenty of bustle during festival times. The red, mango-shaped contraption near the altar is used to answer your questions. Simply pose your question and toss the pieces. If they land different ways up, it’s a yes, and a no if they land with the same sides showing.

Wat Mongkol Nimit: located on Dibuk Road, this large temple is in the classical Thai-style and features a lofty roof with distinctive multi-tiers and elaborate lass tiling.

Sino-Portuguese mansions: architectural types will enjoy these delightful structures, which were built by the rich rubber and tin magnates of the boom days. They mainly lie on Krabi Road amid impressive gardens and are massive, even by today’s standards.

Phuket Culture Museum: head here to learn more about the history of Phuket Town through pictures and dioramas. The museum has free entry and is situated on Rajabhat University’s campus.

Khao Rang (Rang Hill)

Another must-see on a historic walking tour of Phuket Town is Rang Hill. It’s not far from the centre of town and is easy enough to walk up. Once up here you can see the entire Old Phuket, along with the Bay of Tongkah and mountains in the distance. A couple of restaurants and shops provide sustenance up top. Be sure to check out the golden Buddha statue halfway up the hill as well as the fitness park near the top. Khao Rang is a good spot to check out the fireworks during the various festivals.

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