Old Phuket Town Tour
Phuket to many people means beaches, family holidays, nightlife, luxury resorts, shopping, maybe diving, snorkeling, sailing, golf, elephant rides, tours and of course the famous smile :) A lot of the reason for this blog is to highlight the other Phuket, the history, the festivals and local life, local restaurants and things to do that might not be so obvious. Visitors may not realise that Phuket has a rich and varied history, although you can't find much sign of this by sitting on the beach. The beach areas were sparsely inhabited until recently. The main population areas 100 years ago included Thalang (in the center of the island) and Phuket Town. Thalang was the main town until the late 19th century. Phuket Town became very important due to the tin mining boom in the 19th century as well as the rubber industry, and it's access to the sea with a sheltered port. Some parts of Phuket Town are more modern, especially around the edges, with shopping malls and new houses, but the old town remains a great place to explore, full of historical interest.
I have done many walks around the town, but when I found "Phuket Heritage Trails" on Facebook, I wanted to do a walk with them. The tours were run by 2 Phuket ladies - Kritchaya (Pu or Chaya) and Chutikarn (Gan). From the photos they had posted on Facebook, I could see that they were Phuket enthusiasts with a lot of knowledge to share, and since my family was visiting from England, we set up a morning tour at the end of September. We met at "the dragon" next to the TAT office on Thalang Road at 9am. We had our own transport of course, but they explained that they would normally be able to pick up from hotels. It's best to start early to avoid the heat of the day, but on the other hand some shops don't open until 9am or later! The dragon is a symbol of Phuket, as it's a Chinese belief that the island of Phuket is a dragon risen from the ocean.
Right away, as we walked west onto the main stretch of Thalang Road, which has had all overhead wires removed, Pu pointed out a building detail that I had not seen before. The facade on this old house still has the detailed carving below the 2nd floor windows - apparently most houses used to have this, but all except this one have been modified in the last hundred years.
Thalang Road probably needs it's own blog page sometime, it's so full of old houses and shops, always something of interest to be found. There are many shops selling cloth and clothing, many of them are Muslim owned, and there are a couple of Muslim restaurants selling Roti (pancakes) and curry. We stopped at Abdul's Roti Shop for breakfast as part of the tour. I had just roti with condensed milk, dad had one with banana, mum was brave and had roti with masaman curry. All washed down with strong coffee.
We enjoyed watching the guy making roti, whirling the mixture around making it thinner. If you're in old town, I do recommend trying some roti!
Many of the houses on Thalang road are private homes, although many are businesses - everything from hardware to herbs to pharmacies and a doctors clinic. Sometimes you get a glimpse inside one of the old houses to the cool interior. I'd love to own one of these houses!
Phuket has people of various religions living side by side. On Thalang Road close to the Muslim shops and next door to the Christian Assembly hall there is a Chinese shrine that I had somehow never noticed before, called Sanjao Hailam - Hailam is the local word for the "Hainan" area of China, from where many people emigrated in the 19th and early 20th century to Phuket as well as to parts of Malaysia and also to Singapore.
There is a very active old town association in Phuket which aims to preserve the heritage and culture in this part of Phuket, so although there have been some modifications to buildings you don't find much in the way of ugly architecture here. of course over time, things need replacing but since a lot of the house and shop owners on Thalang Road are maybe 4th generation, they all have a certain pride in their town. Some houses need some fixing up, some look older than others. We all noticed the tiled roof below that looks like it could well be original.
We stopped for a drink at a cafe next door to the Phuket Thai Hua Museum, which I have visited before. It used to be free entry, but now has been renovated and there are more exhibits - we decided not to visit on this walk as we'd all been there before, but the cafe next door was good!
As you head west along Thalang Road, it becomes Krabi road, still very much part of the old town with many old houses. The museum is on Krabi road, and we headed a bit further west to visit the Chinpracha House, one of the oldest mansions in Phuket. The walking took a while, as we all had cameras, and someone would find something to snap every few meters!
Chinpracha House was built in 1903 by Tan Ma Siang, the son of an immigrant from the Hokkien region of China who had moved to Phuket in the mid 19th century for tin mining. The house next door was also built by the same guy. There was controversy a couple of years ago, as the owner (grandson of Tan Ma Siang) died, leaving the house and part of the land to his wife, and part of the land to his brother, who sold the land where some shophouses have now been built... there is still an ongoing court case as many people including Khun Daeng, widow of Khun Pracha Tandavanitj objected to the building of modern shophouses on the land. There is an admission fee of 150 Baht to Chinpracha House. Inside there are fantastic tiled floors.. I'd love some of these tiles in our house!
I loved looking at the historical photos in the house showing the generations of family who have lived here. Whole walls of photos...
We were also introduced to Khun Daeng, a lovely lady, and I wish her luck in trying to get those shophouses removed! Now, on a normal tour, if you contact Phuket Heritage Trails for a booking, they will have a minibus which will then pick people up at the end of the trail, which might be at Chinpracha House... We had to walk back to our car and it was getting hot! Back to the TAT office is about 1 kilometer, though we took a detour to get lunch at a corner cafe recommended by Pu and Gan... which turned out to be closed, so we decided on lunch at Kaewjai restaurant near the bus station, which is a favourite of mine, doing good local food, always quite full at lunchtime, we were lucky to find a free table!
Above - group walk photo taken by mum - from left, Gan, Pu, Jamie, my dad and my cousin Simon. I can walk around Phuket Town for hours. There are some links below to other Phuket Town blog posts. Always something new to find and learn, if you are interested in that kind of thing!
UPDATE 2018 - Chaya is not running these trips any more, sorry!
• Hotels in Phuket Town
• Walk in Old Town (way back in June 2011)
• Phuket Photo Walk
• Baba Weddings in Phuket
• Thalang Road in old Phuket Town