Whenever I think of Phuket, night clubs at Soi Bangla and overpriced tours always come to mind, since my first trip there in 2012. I never really saw the appeal to head back again, until the opportunity to explore the local side of Phuket came up.
It’s rare that I ever get to go on a heritage tour, and so Phuket, a town known by many for its amazing beaches and glittery nightlife, is one of the last places I’d expect myself to go on such a tour.
It was definitely unexpected what we’d uncovered through this tour, and how much we could take away from this short visit!
When To Visit Phuket, Thailand
The most popular time to visit, where the weather is pretty good, is between November and April. If you want to avoid the crowd, visit between end July and October.
About Old Town Phuket, Thailand
I was mesmerised by the transition of the types of buildings that make up the area as we inched closer and closer to Old Phuket Town. Modern skyscrapers slowly replaced antique shop houses, painted in various shades of colours. If there’s one thing I’m always captivated by, it’s how the exterior traditional shop houses are juxtaposed with modern, hipster shops and backpacker hostels.
Back in the 16th century, before tourism made an impact, European businesses came to Phuket, attracted by the tin mining industry that was booming at that time. By the 18th century, these businesses were taken over largely by the Hokkien Chinese. As such, the stunning 18th century architecture was heavily influenced by the Chinese and Portuguese.
Today, Old Phuket town serves as a reminder of the beautiful history that Phuket has. While the exterior façade remains, Old Phuket Town is slowly transforming to a hipster town, with cool, colourful hostels and modern cafes contained in these shop houses.
Where to Stay in Phuket Old Town, Thailand
There is a wide variety of hostels and some hotels around Phuket Old Town, but if I had to have my pick, here are the 4 more popular hostels, guesthouses, and hotels to stay:
- Beehive Phuket Old Town Hostel (from USD 19)
- Phuket Old Town Hostel (from USD 22)
- 99 Oldtown Boutique Guesthouse (from USD 30)
- On On Hotel (from USD 50)
Find the best deals on HotelsCombined, Agoda or Booking.com!
What to Do in Phuket Old Town, Thailand
Phuket Old Town reminds me of Singapore’s Bugis Street. On Sundays, you can even have a stroll on the car-free roads as some of the streets are closed for tourists to walk.
The streets itself are as much a charm as some of the antique shops, that I couldn’t help but linger along road junctions. Along the way, spot creative art murals, visit the oldest herb store, and enter the grounds of Phuket’s very first hotel.
Our friendly local tour guide Jeff from Khiri Travel picked us up at our hotel at 3pm, and off we went on our tour in a comfortable private car. Though we were on the Old Phuket Town Discovery Tour, because it was a private tour, he was happy to switch things up to suit our plans, which included souvenir shopping and taking a Thai massage!
Throughout the day, I’ve discovered so many hidden gems in Old Phuket Town from Jeff and the people I interacted with, and so I’ve compiled the best spots to hit at Old Phuket Town to discover the real, artsy side of Phuket.
Forget touristy, overpriced island tours already – if you’re wondering what to do in Phuket Old Town, check out the ideas below.
1. Old Phuket Town Night Market
You would obviously have heard about Old Phuket Town Night Market if you’re visiting Phuket. It encompasses rows and rows of stalls selling everything from souvenir to local knick-knacks and clothing.
Go on a shopping spree as you whip out your best hustling skills to get the lowest price.
2. Phuket Old Town Market
Arguably the largest market you can find in Phuket. It’s huge, and I really mean huge! There are so many stores here, covering long distances of roads, that I find it hard to cover them all.
Trucks from different cities arrive at Phuket Downtown Market at about 5pm to 6pm and the store owners prepares to sell their goods the following day, starting as early as 1 to 2am. These trucks, I’ve been told, come from cities as far as just outside of Bangkok, too.
The market usually sells goods at a cheaper rate, particularly if you buy a larger quantity. Here, you can find almost everything – vegetables, fruits, spices, even exotic insects! Give it a look!
This is not to be confused with Old Phuket Town Night Market – this is a food market which is where most locals go to shop for groceries
BONUS: Day Market
The Day Market, located just across Phuket Downtown Market, is open to individuals and sale of groceries are typically between 5am to 10am.
Interestingly, at night, locals visit the market that is turned into a huge donation collection area, where the proceeds will be donated to the temple nearby. The donation area also serves porridges for donors.
Even if you aren’t there to donate, it is still a sight to behold.
3. Ruamsahary Printing House
Home to the oldest printing shop in Phuket, this shop knew the secrets of the trade way before technology was introduced. You can already see the canvases upon canvases spread out on antique, wooden tables, with old master craftsmen working on them.
These days, the shop serves as not only a reminder of the good old days, but also as a lesson on the origins and history of printing for individuals and even businesses!
So if you’re in the area, stop by, come in and say hi; the friendly masters would be more than willing to give you a quick tour of their humble factory.
4. The Old Phuket Coffee Station
This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, coffee store in Phuket. The old-school coffee house depicts the story of coffee in Phuket. Here, you’ll find photos after photos of the old days, from the transportation of coffee by the workers to how people enjoyed the coffee in Phuket. The collection of antiques, such as radio, are a sight to behold as well!
If you’re walking through the streets on a hot, tropical afternoon, stop by and grab an ice cold coffee!
5. Tang Chun Yuan
This is the oldest herb store in Phuket, and you can immediately tell at first glance! I was greeted by an old Chinese lady, with grey hair tied up in a bun (she feels like a Chinese master).
The different scents and variety of herbs will amaze you. It’s almost like a pharmacy – you just got to tell the lady what your illness or condition is and she’ll whip up a concoction of fresh herbs for your ailment.
There is so much history in this store that you can admire even if you’re not ill. From the early 1900s interior designs to the antique collections, there is so much to see and experience here!
6. Southwind Books
This old-school secondhand book store is located within distance of Phuket Downtown. It really stands out, so much so that I noticed it immediately. Looking through the bookstore gave me a nostalgic feeling, as though I was a kid wrapped in my imagination of fairytales again.
There isn’t a wide range of books available – which are predominantly in English or Thai – but the books are rather affordable here. I just love discovering old gems from secondhand stores.
7. Chinese temples and shrines
It was surprising to see so many shrines in Phuket. I was told that they were built for the immigrants from China during the tin mining era in the 18th century.
I thought the temples here existed just as a reminder of the old days, which Jeff said was wrong. In fact, the Chinese temples and shrines are exceptionally vivid during the Vegetarian festival, where processions take place and tourists from all over the world stand in awe to witness.
Who knew that such stunning buildings existed in the past? This former embassy, decked in bright, yellow lights, is a famous photo spot for many, even the locals. I can’t help but be pulled by its mysterious aura, and it sure felt as though I was in Gotham.
While I haven’t seen this building in daylight, the way the building glows at night is pretty impressive!
9. On On Hotel
Don’t be fooled by its nondescript exterior. Step inside and be transported into another world.
On On Hotel is the first hotel in Phuket, which opened in 1927. Owned by a rich Chinese family, you’ll see a lot of Chinese concepts infused in this hotel, with very picturesque corners, and great symmetry and colours.
This antique hotel has portions that have not been changed after so many years. It infuses many open spaces, with no air-conditioning in most of the shared spaces.
If you’re a fan of the movies, you’ll love the fact that this hotel was made more famous by Leonardo Di Caprio in the movie The Beach. Walking down the hotel room isle brought back snippets of the movie, and I can’t believe that I’m walking through the very corridor that Leonardo Di Caprio did!
This is one of the Phuket Old Town hotels you should definitely try staying in if you get the chance.
10. Phuket Immigration Office
The former Phuket Immigration Office, which has now been converted into a tourist information center, holds a lot of history. Jeff told me that this was where Chinese immigrants would have to be scanned and thoroughly checked by the local authorities when they first came to Phuket to work.
I didn’t get a chance to enter the building as it was too late when we arrived, but if you have the time, you should!
11. Street art
It feels like Penang Street! Hidden in the back alleys, sometimes even along the main buildings, you’ll notice great art murals on the wall that you can’t help but stop to take photos of.
12. One Chun Café & Restaurant
We were well taken care of by Khiri Travel, and so filling our tummies was a fancy affair.
Jeff insisted that we have our lunch at One Chun Café & Restaurant, a restaurant that goes way back, dating back many years ago, serving delicious traditional Thai dishes. It is popular among locals and tourists alike so we were lucky that we’ve even got seats on a Saturday evening.
There are lots of art works and antique decorations everywhere in this huge restaurant, such as clocks, televisions and cameras, that makes the restaurant so appealing.
You can’t really try without falling in love with Thai food. Our lunch consisted of Thai-style noodles, crab meat in yellow curry, fried shrimp in tamarind sauce and chicken cooked with cashew nuts. Every dish was so mouth-watering, we even had to scrape through the last bits of food on our table. Trust me, IT WAS SO GOOD!
Even though we didn’t try many restaurants around Phuket Old Town, I can safely say that if you had one meal you had to try around Phuket Old Town, One Chun Café & Restaurant is one restaurant you should definitely head to.
Two of the oldest streets in Phuket are Krabi Road and Thalang Road, which are known as the heart of Old Phuket Town. Other major roads worth exploring on foot include Phang Nga Road, Dibuk Road and Yoawarat Road.
Above are some of the more notable attractions with rich history that you can visit when you embark on this walking tour at Phuket Old Town.
Take a break from all the partying and nightlife and immerse yourself in a different side of Phuket.
After the walking tour, Jeff even agreed to bring us to the Old Phuket Town Night Market and recommended a good massage place nearby for us, and he even stayed with us throughout until 1030pm, when the tour was supposed to end by 9pm. That’s what I call great service!
Special thanks to Khiri Travel for making this stay possible! All opinions remain my own.