Is Phuket Town worth visiting? One shouldn’t ask oneself if it is better to stay in Patong or Phuket Town? This is a question that pops up frequently. However, not a very relevant question. It is a bit like comparing apples and pears. Phuket town holds this traditional Sino-Portuguese old town heritage that carries a long history. The heritage parts of the city is well restored and renovated, so there is a genuine old town here. Still quite under-visited considering the amounts of tourists. Patpong saw its growth with modern tourism and is where the action is. Like it or not. But these are two very different places.
A Short History of Phuket Town
As a fact, Phuket town rests its heritage on a past long before tourism—originally deriving from a Chinese port built by wealthy tin barons. They came with the massive Chinese immigration. This wave made the Chinese become the dominant group on the island and in Phuket town by the 1890s. The more ornate two-floor shophouses became more common in the early 20th century.
However, before that, the houses were more rustic, simple but still with thick walls. Sometimes the Sino-Portuguese style accredits to the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles. Shall we call them Sino -British instead? Strait’s architecture is often the word more preferred nowadays.
As crown prince, Rama VI visited Phuket Town. He noted that this was the most developed and modern place in Siam outside Bangkok.
It had a majestic courthouse, a cinema, an ice factory and some motor cars. Some of the fancier buildings built were the early bank offices that still can be seen. The Kasikorn Bank building in old Phuket town is a wonderful heritage and a popular photo spot.
During the old days in Phuket Town, the newly rich and the workers loved a good party, and the Chinese were infamous for their gambling. Soi Romanee was a street full of brothels and opium dens.
Try the Vintage Accommodation
I have stayed at the Memory at On On twice. First built in 1927, this is a hotel that, after its renovation, reveals a beautiful heritage, but for a long, the hotel was famous for being a cheap and shabby backpacker place. It was chosen for this purpose for the movie The Beach with Leonardo Di Caprio in 2000.
The first time I stayed there, a friend in Phuket wasn’t aware of the upgrade and kind of wondered why on earth anyone wanted to stay there??! On On was early known as Un Un in Chinese, a very cheap hostel, but the meaning was that it was a happy place to stay.
I have had a good experience from On On and at the Sino Inn. Both give that vintage and retro touch to the stay.
Good Reasons to go to Phuket Town
Phuket Town is worth visiting for eating great Chinese and Thai-Chinese food enjoying the genuine and authentic lifestyle of Phuket. There are nice cafes and of course plenty of photo opportunities. The old town comes to life, beautifully illuminated in the evening. Good restaurants also don’t miss out on the places outside of the ancient city. As usual, the trick is to see where the locals themselves go. The eateries are plentiful in Phuket Town, and many are not mentioned in guidebooks. Just follow the crowd.
As a break from the beach life in Kata, Karon and Patong, to begin with, it can be nice to try some local food in Phuket old town. Other options are to sneak into the amulet market or feel the atmosphere in a Chinese shrine.
Below are some fantastic insider tips on where to eat in Phuket Town. All were collected and presented by my good friend Christian Larsson who is a long time resident on the island.
Phuket Town foodie guide:
A classic and locally very well-known ”Khao Kaeng” restaurant. It is located right next to the Bus Terminal in the heart of Phuket Town. In this kind of restaurant, various types of curry (Kaeng)comes in large stainless steel trays. You start with steamed rice on a plate (Khao) and then add the curry or curries of your liking.
In addition, this place offers freshly cooked vegetables. Ingredients are picked out in their fresh and raw state before going in the wok.
In the South, people often eat this kind of food for breakfast. Something that is not common in the rest of the country. This points to the exciting mixed Malay, Chinese, Thai and even Indian culinary heritage of Southern Thailand. Wash down food with Kopi (coffee) or numerous herbal ice drinks.
Location on Google maps here.
Perhaps the most internationally renowned restaurant in Phuket Town. Well informed Foodies that come to Phuket often have a reservation at this place done long before they travel to Thailand.
Set in a gorgeous aged yellow coloured mansion that used to be the Governor’s Residence with large, almost park-like surroundings featuring substantial old trees, plenty of birds and other wildlife, this place is an oasis of calm and class in the middle of the bustling city that surrounds it. Quite pricey compared to your typical Thai restaurant in Thailand, but this place offers classic Thai cuisine prepared, presented and performed with care and attention to detail.
Location on Google Maps here.
This place is another classic restaurant serving traditional Thai cuisine, albeit in a more relaxed setting than the Blue Elephant. Housing the restaurant is an old wooden Thai house with black and white photos on the walls. Images often depict the owner (a lovely old lady) and her family through different generations. The menu is not innovative or new-age but offers authentic Thai food, both general Thai cuisine and the Southern type. Try traditional Thai desserts, a speciality for any meal here.
This is a place where you’ll often see large families coming to eat together. Another sight, the westerners brought in by a Thai business partner or companion. After a while, the old lady owner usually shuffles around between the tables to check that everything is ok and is happy to talk about food and recipes with the customers.
Location on Google maps here.
Hong Kong Restaurant
Thanks to the Chinese heritage, you find numerous truly excellent noodles and Dim Sum places dotted throughout the city centre.
But you will also find this particular Chinese restaurant that is a fundamental institution among the upper class and wealthy Thai-Chinese in Phuket. The place is not large or particularly luxurious interior-wise, but clean and tidy with a very professional and knowledgeable staff.
From the name, tablets are most of the round and wide variety, with a rotating glass section so food can be spun around and reach everybody sitting at the table.
Immediately to the left, as you enter, you’ll see a wall of aquariums where they keep their live seafood, and the selection is typically rather impressive, with almost always a good number of huge Phuket Lobsters (no claws variety) to choose from if you are so inclined. The menu is very extensive, and the intelligent thing is that the dishes can all be ordered in regular or large (family) sizes.
Everything here cooks from terrific fresh ingredients. Try the speciality of fried squid cakes. Yes, squid cakes, and they are unexpectedly delicious. Another dish worth tasting is the ”Peking” Duck that they prepare the Cantonese way rather than in the traditional Beijing manner.
Now, this means that only the roasted duck SKIN is served on an enormous round plate that you then eat as they are, or together with the supplied super-thin wheat pancakes that are quite a bit larger than the ones you might have experienced in Beijing. The rest of the duck meat is served separately, cooked in one of the various ways offered by the restaurant.
Furthermore, all the seafood dishes taste excellent. For example, the lobsters come cooked according to your preference and then served on a genuinely gigantic plate with lots and lots of condiments. The dish needs huge tables to fit!
Finally, this locale is not cheap, especially if you go for the fancy seafood stuff, but the other, more regular dishes are not too pricey.
This restaurant often becomes fully booked by large wealthy Thai-Chinese families that regularly eat here. It can be an exciting place for ”people watching”, too; the Phuket elite families often frequent this institution.
Location on Google Maps here.
Location of Phuket Town
Phuket Town is located on the South-Eastern part of the island, and the Phuket airport North of Phuket Town is a 30-45 minutes drive by taxi.
Estimate a 20 – 30 minutes drive by car to Patong. It all depends on the traffic!
Some inspiration and historical information in this blog post was gathered from Phuket News.
Hotels on Phuket Island
Feel welcome to browse Booking.com’s map for hotel suggestions on the island. None of the hotels have sponsored my stay but if you book your stay from one of the links I will get some earnings from it, without any additional cost for you. Money that helps me run this page. So thank you very much for any contribution!