Phuket Town | the Heritage and the Food Scene

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 town is well restored and renovated so there is a genuine old town here. Still quite under-visited considering the amounts of tourist. 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 that was there long before tourism.Originally deriving from a Chinese port built by rich tin barons. They came with the huge 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?

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.

Sino -Portugese building in Phuket Town
Beautiful ornamental close up in Phuket Town

During the old days in Phuket Town, the newly rich and the workers loved a good good party and the Chinese were infamous for their gambling. Soi Rommanee was a street full of brothels and opium dens.

Street sign in Phuket Town
Soi Rommanee

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 the year 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 but also at the Sino Inn. Both gives 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, enjoy 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. For good restaurants also don’t miss out on the places outside of the old town. 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 a few fantastic insider tips on where to eat in Phuket Town. All collected and presented by my good friend Christian Larsson who is a long time resident on the island.

Phuket Town foodie guide:

N.C Restaurant

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 kinds 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 picked out in their fresh and raw state before they go 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 very interesting mixed Malay, Chinese, Thai and even Indian culinary heritage of Southern Thailand. Wash down food in the typically way with iced Kopi (coffee) or various herbal ice drinks.

Location on Google maps here.

Blue Elephant

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 huge 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.

Raya

This place is another classic restaurant serving traditional Thai cuisine, albeit in a more relaxed setting compared to the Blue Elephant. Housing the restaurant is an old wooden Thai house with black and white photos on the walls. Photos often depicting the owner (a lovely old lady) and her family through different generations. The menu is not innovative or new-age in any way but offers genuine 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 friend. 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 noodle and Dim Sum places dotted all over the city centre. 

But you will also find this particular Chinese restaurant that is a real 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 the very professional and knowledgeable staff.

From the name it goes without saying that tables are mostly of the round and big 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 a smart thing is that the dishes can all be ordered in regular or large (family) size.

Everything here cooks from terrific fresh ingredients. Try the speciality 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 a huge 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 tastes excellent. For example, the lobsters comes cooked according to your preference and then served on a truly gigantic plate with lots and lots of condiments. The dish needs the 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 a very interesting place for ”people watching” too, the Phuket elite families frequent this institution very often.

Location on Google Maps here.

Another institution worth its visit in Phuket Town.

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.

City scene in Phuket old Town

Estimate a 20 – 30 minutes drive by car to Patong. It all depends on the traffic!

Traffic scene in Phuket Old Town

Some inspiration and historic information in this blog post was gathered from Phuket News.

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