The old town of Phuket has a lot more personality than most provincial capitals in Thailand. Rich in history, this part of Phuket has shrines, Buddhist and Chinese temples, old shop houses and even a red light district.
The town was constructed with riches gained from the islands boom in the tin industry, many Sino-Colonial mansions, once occupied by Phuket’s tin barons still, stand today as a reminder of the towns wealth some one hundred years ago.
The best time to explore Phuket’s old town is early in the morning or later on in the afternoon, when the heat of the day has subsided. There are plenty of quaint cafés and restaurants in this area where you can take some refreshments and watch the world go by.
A fine example of a Sino-Colonial mansion can be found at 98 Krabi Road. Baan Chinpracha will give you a unique insight into how wealthy families in Phuket used to live as well as a unique opportunity to meet Jaroonrat “Daeng” Tandavanitj, who inherited the building from her late husband’s father who was the eldest son of the original owner Phra Pitak Chinpracha who built it in 1903. Most of this interesting house is open to the public, you will be able to explore two upstairs bedrooms, the kitchen and the ground floor where you will discover vintage Italian floor tiles as well as many items of the original furniture imported from China and Europe. Perhaps the most attractive feature of the house is the central inner courtyard that opens out onto the sky. In Sino-Colonial style houses the inner courtyards represented the heart of the house where women would chat, cook and wash their clothes and being open topped this area was also a useful way to bring a cooling breeze into the house during the stifling summer months.
One of the most attractive and best maintained Sino-Portuguese buildings in Phuket is the Thai Hua Museum on the Krabi Road. Once a Chinese language school the building now plays host to a Museum, exhibition space and function hall. Like Baan Chinpracha, the Thai Hua Museum has an open air inner courtyard, it also has a lovely garden. A trip to the museum is a great way to discover the history of Phuket through many different angles and explanations.
Another interesting building is the Phuket Provincial Hall. This public building was erected in the 1910’s and can be found in the administrative quarter. It was gazette by the Fine Arts Department in 1977 and was the first building in Phuket to receive a national conservation award.
Another building that acts as a reminder of the affluent days of tin is the police station with its clock tower that stands across the road from the chartered bank at the corner of Phuket and Phangnga road. Both were built in the early 1900’s. The police station is now earmarked by City Hall for an urban heritage museum.
A wonderful mix of nationalities have made Phuket there home, Thai’s, Malays, Indians, Chinese, Eurasian and even Nepalese as well as a unique mix of Hokkien Chinese and Thais called Baba. The Baba community heritage can be found in the architecture, dress and way of life in Phuket old town.
Neglected for many years the core of the town including Rasada Road, Phang Na Road, Thalang Road, Dibuk Road and Krabi Road are now being renovated. No visit to Phuket would be complete without a visit to this unique, historical and very interesting area.