The island-province of Phuket in Thailand has more to offer than just its God-made wonders such as beaches, dive spots and mountains. Its man-made attractions are also worth the visit, and one of them is the Old Phuket Town near the modern town of Phuket around the Thalang, Dibuk and Krabi roads.
Walking around the streets of Old Phuket is a blast from the past. Get to see ancient houses and structures that represent 18th Century European architecture. So, you might ask, why are there old Western structures in this southern island-province in Thailand?
Old photographs taken during the reign of King Rama V from 1853 to 1910 prove that some of these buildings were already constructed around that time. Thai history, however, records that the Portuguese and British came later in the early 20th Century when they were invited to improve the town’s tin mining industry, which was then controlled by Hokkien Chinese. The Europeans built modern infrastructure, including roads and canals, as well as the antique homes along Old Phuket Town.
There are two styles of houses: the Sino-Portuguese-style shop-house and the big Sino-Colonial mansion. Looking at these structures, one could imagine how the early settlers lived. It seemed that families were all business-oriented since they used their houses as shops at the same time, using the lower floor for trading and commerce. The row of shop-houses, or “taim choo” as the Hokkien Chinese called them, had banks, stores and tin mining offices.
These shop-houses prove that the families that lived here were affluent. Theirs was a spacious living area, 5 meters wide and 50 meters long, with a living room, kitchen, family room, bedrooms, and an open-air veranda. The walls are thick and solid, and so the open area allows air to enter so that the family can endure the hot Phuket climate. Outside is an arcade that offers shade and shelter to anyone passing by or conducting business.
Today, tourists often visit three Sino-Portuguese shop-houses. They are the House of the Beautiful Images on Soi Romani street, which is now a café and opens from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM every day except Wednesday; Dibuk Grill and Bar on Dibuk Road, which is open from 11:30 to 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM every day except Sunday; and China Inn Café and Restaurant on Thalang Road, which is open every day except Sunday.
Old Phuket Town may be old but in no way is it a ghost town. It is bustling with tourists and activities. Every February, Thalang Road, Soi Romani and Krabi Road burst into festivities as they host the annual Old Town Cultural Festival. There are street shows, parties and dining as locals dress up in traditional “yaya” attire.
Besides the old grandiose houses and mansion, other attractions here are quaint cafés, shrines and temples, printing shops, and unofficial museums. The best time for a stroll is early in the morning before its gets too hot into the day.
Old Phuket Town provides wonderful contrast to the modern town of Phuket. This island-province is now a world-renowned international destination bursting with modern structures and attractions. Old Phuket reminds everyone of the province’s rich history and long-ago encounters with Europe.