Get a taste of culture at Phuket Heritage Festival

By Colin Brown

Phuket has a rich heritage still on display

If you happen to be in Thailand during the first week of February, you’re in for a treat because this is the time of the annual Heritage Festival, when the islanders pay homage to their ancestry and Phuket Town erupts into a riot of colour, music, food and culture.

In the last few decades, the island of Phuket has emerged from a beautiful and somewhat low-key tropical paradise to one of the most popular destination in all of Thailand and is now filled with luxury resorts and elegant hotels. Although the locals may enjoy the benefits of being a modernised world-class destination, they are justifiably proud of their rich cultural heritage, amazing monuments and historic architecture including magnificent Sino-Portuguese buildings.

Although areas such as Kata, Karon, Chalong and of course Patong beach have a fabulous tourist infrastructure and attract visitors and ex-pats from all over the world, Phuket also has an old town on the other side of the island that is fascinating. Formerly called Tongkah, this historic old quarter is a mixture of Thai-Chinese heritage and is filled with a variety of wonderful attractions and historic points of interest.

Phuket’s historic centre is situated between the Bay of Tongkah and verdant low hills, and was designated as a conservation area in 1992. The townscape in this area resembles a British settlement more than a traditional Thai town. Locals are extremely proud of their unique buildings and have made efforts to showcase and honour their distinctive area.

Some of the most important financial hubs and trading areas in Phuket were once situated along Thalang road. Locals in this area have begun a conservation movement along the main street and have attached yellow flags all around this historic area to pay reverence to the past and to celebrate the future.

Since 1998, the Heritage Festival has been held in Old Phuket Town from September to November. The festival brings both locals and visitors alike to the fabulous ‘Street of Culture’ to visit the vivacious and colourful weekend bazaars and to enjoy some of the most fantastic Thai and Chinese dishes imaginable. The festival also provides lively entertainment and plenty of fun-filled activities for children.

Chinese culture is entrenched in Phuket’s history

Besides providing a great celebration and an exciting festival, the Old Phuket Town Foundations major objective is to revitalise the historic quarter and to restore the community quality of the five-footway. The festival encourages pride in the area and young people, business people and local residents to help preserve the city's magnificent heritage.

The festival takes place in the first week of February on the historic streets of Krabi road, Thalong road and soi Romanee. All three of these streets are among the cultural heritage conservation zone. The roads are blocked off from traffic at from early evening to midnight each day of the festival, turning them into a pedestrian area where people can enjoy great varieties of old local cuisines and desserts as well as games and folklore. Spectators are also treated to a spectacular light and sound presentation that reflects Phuket’s rich history.

A much-loved activity during the festival is a visit to Bang Yai canal. Bang Yai is just a stone's throw from Thalang road and participants can take a free cruise on a legendary long-tail boat to view the magnificence of Old Phuket Town from the canal.

The festival focuses on the exhibition of Phuket’s ancient history and culture, and a tour of the fabulous houses and mansions along Thalang road is one of the highlights. The street procession that showcases local customs and traditional costumes is also one of the more popular events.

History buffs and architectural aficionados will be intrigued by touring the old quarter and visiting the impressive remnants of its Chinese history, from the Sino-Portuguese mansions built in the late 19th century to Put Jaw, the oldest Chinese Taoist temple on the island. The Phuket Culture Museum at Rajabhat University is also well worth visiting and is a great way to complement the festival experience.

When participating or spectacting public events in Thailand its prudent to have your travel insurance in order. This can be booked online, and ensures you’re covered for any medical expenses. Public liability is less defined in Thailand and accidents do happen during festival periods, therefore travel insurance is essential.

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