This is a guest post by the lovely Kate Glover (pictured here with a fried elephant?!) who works with me at Fleewinter (a boutique London tour operator that offers Asia holidays). She’s currently in Thailand on a one-month research trip and has written this excellent guide on how to spend 24 hours in Phuket… well worth a read!
If you’re in search of a Thai beach paradise, Phuket which is regarded as quite over-developed, is unlikely to feature too heavily in your holiday plans and wisely so. It is however a key jumping off point to Thailand’s southern islands and as such many people find themselves spending a night there before continuing their journey by speedboat or ferry the next day. I found myself in that situation on route to Koh Yao Noi, and at first I was not sure how to spend 24 hours in Phuket but I am delighted to report that it doesn’t have to be a wasted stopover and is in fact the ideal amount of time needed to explore Phuket Old Town. This charming, foodie town is fast becoming a destination in it’s own right thanks to some lovely colonial architecture, hip boutique hotels and quirky hole in the wall coffee shops and bakeries.
Arriving on a late afternoon flight from Chiang Mai we had a 40 minute drive from the airport, before checking into The Memory On On (that’s not a typo!) A renowned backpackers hostel for many years, the old Dutch building on Phang-Nga Rd was transformed 3 years ago into a charming boutique hotel. Some of the dorm rooms remain, but now firmly for flashpackers and the rest of the rooms are large and elegant, with shutters at the windows painted in duck egg grey, en suite bathrooms and pretty lace canopies above the beds. The lobby is also especially nice with a elaborate tiled floor, hanging lanterns, old antiques and a open central courtyard. Standard Double Rooms at The Memory On On cost approximately £60 per night at the time of writing (for more details on booking click here or drop me an email).
The history of Phuket Town is varied, rich and interesting. The first traders to arrive were from Persia and then later in the 16th Century the Portuguese and Dutch who influenced much of the original artictecture. Finally in 1860 the East Indian Trading Company brought 100,000 Chinese from Fujian Province to work in the booming Tin industry on which Phuket’s wealth was built. These last arrivals had a huge impact on the town as a result you can find many Chinese temples and Chinese restaurants selling bird nest soup for over $100 per bowl!
Phuket town goes to bed quite early and so bar an evening walk to get your bearings and some food at One Chun a great restaurant at 48/1 Thepkasattri Rd serving local Phuket food, there is little to do. The morning however is a different story and it is well worth getting up early to visit the local food market on Ratsada Road. You need to be there by 7am as it’s all over by 8am. The fish section made me especially envious when thinking about the fish counters back home, as did the oh so cheap dim sum served at BoonRat Dim Sum on the corner of Bangkok Soi 4 and Bangkok Road. This tiny hole in the wall restaurant serves over 50 types of Dim Sum which are eaten as a breakfast food in Thailand.
After the market I suggest taking a walk down the main street – Talang Road – where the various shops should be opening by 9am. To get there see if you can find a tiny alley linking Ratsada Road with Phangnga Road, just after Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant and before ATB Bank. Here you will find the amulet traders who specialise in ‘renting’ rare Buddhist trinkets thought to bring good luck and often worn around the neck. Normally tiny wooden, stone or ivory objects the amulets were originally carved by monks and given as a blessing in exchange for alms or donations. Some are extremely old and phonemically valuable, but note I carefully use the word ‘rent’ above as the traders do, because as a sacred item they can’t be officially sold 😉
Once on Talang Road you will notice a difference compared to the other streets. The major of Phuket Town is working hard to restore this street to it’s former glory. He has already removed the electricity cables from the shop facades and has encouraged the original shop traders to return. Therefore instead of tourist shops you can find DIY merchants, haberdasheries, printers using 100 year old presses, barbers and this Chinese herbal remedies shop that I loved. The old apothecary chests still line the back wall with both the Thai and Chinese text on each draw. I only wish the owner had spoke English so I could have asked what everything is used for. Going forward the major plans to restore a few of the more dilapidated buildings and clear the archways that run between each shop as they would originally have been used as a sophisticated covered walkway for shoppers.
About ten shops from the junction of Talang Rd and Phuket Road you will find a delicious Rotti Shop run by Aran Poshan. You’ll know you have the right one if you see photos adorning the walls of Mr Poshan and his most famous customers. Whatever the time of day I highly recommend popping in to try Nam Keng (rotti with curry sauce) and Matta Bar (rotti with chicken served with a cucumber dipping sauce) The fusion of the Burmese curry flavours from Mr Poshan’s home country and the Thai love of sweet and sour is fantastic. He also did a wonderful froffy spiced chai tea but you’ll have to show him the photo below as I’m afraid I didn’t take the name. Mr Poshan is sadly not open in the evenings.
To end a morning walkabout in Phuket Town you must seek out i46 Old Town (46 Thanon Road) and order a ‘copi cham’ – a mixed tea and coffee drink, perfect for those who never know if they fancy a tea or a coffee! i46 Old Town is a coffee shop with a difference. The café occupies the front of a fourth generation Sino-Portugese merchant house, but incredibly the Mr Nong the owner is happy for his patrons to wonder back into the main body of the house where his family still live.. Part café, part living museum it is great to be able to get inside one of these stunning old buildings and see the old photographs of Mr Nong’s father and grandfather working with the British in Phuket’s tin mines are an accountant and then an engineer.
So the next time your planning a trip to Thailand remember to leave a little time for Phuket Town. That way your jumping off point for the islands can be fascinating, quirky and delicious as well as convenient.
Love Kate (in Phuket) x
PS If you would like to book a Thailand holiday or enquire more about a stay in Phuket and the Thai Islands please checkout www.fleewinter.com/thailand and you can also contact me directly for advice.