Before booking this holiday, we thought of Phuket as full of touristy beach resorts, which is not really our kind of holiday. So we were excited to discover there is much more to Phuket than just the beaches. After a few days in Kata Beach, it was time for us to experience some of that culture and history in the vibrant Phuket Old Town, much more up our alley.
It is about an hours drive from the beach to town, so we hired a driver to take us to a few places on the way to make a day of it. We had negotiated a driver the night before, and he turned up in the morning with his open-air minivan, and his daughter along for the ride too.
First stop was at the Big Buddha Statue, which is a very large imposing statue of Buddha sitting atop Nakkerd Hill near Chalong. We were lucky enough to see some elephants on the way up, along the scenic journey. It is free to enter which is always a bonus for us. The view from the top was spectacular, and well worth the visit.
As we drove around, it was great to see another side of Thai life, outside of the resort area, the more traditional Thai villages. A great experience for the kids to see how life is different here. When it started raining, we started to second guess our decision to go with an open-sided van, but at least there were plastic roll down sides!
Along the way, we also dropped into the Wat Chalong Temple, the most important Buddhist temple in Phuket. There were lots of golden Buddhas and beautiful architecture. The views out of the temple windows were just as good as the temples themselves.
In town, we stayed in Ming Shou Boutique House, located on Krabi Road among the historic old town area. The hotel was really convenient with most of the attractions within walking distance. The hotel itself was one of the attractions, a restored Chinese shophouse. You know you have picked a great place to stay when tourists stop to take photos of your hotel.
The next day we explored the Old Town area on dad’s self-guided walking tour. We were staying right among the action, so we knew that walking was the best way to stroll around the few blocks and see all the sights, sounds and smells.
We started with the Thai Hua Museum, just next door, it’s all about Phuket history. Long before the tourists arrived, tin was mined on the island of Phuket, then it became a base for the spice trade, bringing in the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and many Chinese workers, making it the vibrant and interesting town it is today. But now, it is the beaches which draw in tourists like ourselves from around the world.
It was a short walk to Chinpracha House, one of many beautiful mansions around Phuket Town. It was $5 entry to see only the ground floor, so we gave it a miss, just had a look on the outside.
Along the way, we marvelled at the gorgeous and colourful Sino-Portuguese townhouses, a good example is the well-preserved row along Soi Rommanee.
There are of course some shrines, like the Shrine of the Serene Light, known as Sang Tham Shrine, a beautifully decorated Chinese temple down a laneway. Thankfully we had done our research, as places like this are sometimes out of the way and easily missed.
It was hot walking around, and just as we thought that an ice cream would be nice, along came a vendor on his bike selling just that. We couldn’t believe the perfect timing.
All the way around town we saw lots of colourful and interesting street art, brightening up the old buildings, and providing some interest for the kids as we walked the streets.
We had timed our visit here for the night street market, held every Sunday from 4-9pm. On offer were lots of souvenirs and street food. We wandered up and down, buying snacks as we went along. The kids got some portrait drawings done by some local talents. At one point, and to our surprise, everyone stopped and stood for the national anthem.
The setting was great, but the food in the Old Town was even better. We had been disappointed by the offerings in Kata Beach. We still needed to search it out, but there was some great food to be found in Phuket Old Town.
Our first meal was at Lock Tien, a food hall type place selling local Chinese/Thai food (the Hokkien noodles and popiah spring rolls were good). This is what we had been missing, we were so glad to have come here.
There is good coffee around here too. We got the kids occupied, then walked to have a coffee at Coffs & Burgh, a hidden gem on the busy Thalang Road. It not only had some good coffee, but was surrounded by centuries-old antiques all situated in a trendy restored shophouse.
We had lunch at another food hall inside a shopping centre, which was not what we were looking for but was surprisingly good. You had to pre-buy credit on a card to purchase anything, and the place was definitely for locals as the food showed it, and was super tasty.
The best meal was left for last. There was a little local place that was a hair-dresser-by-day-restaurant-by-night kind of place!! It had options laid out the front, with no menu, just an explanation from someone who could speak a little English, and only locals eating there. We met the lady chef, who has been cooking here for years, apparently having some of the best and most sought after traditional recipes in town. But, oh boy, was the food amazing. Best meal of the trip hands down.
A fitting end to our time in Phuket, relaxing while the kids slept upstairs and having a beer on our porch.
What we did not see: On our list of possible things to do, but did not have time to do, were the Rang Hill viewpoint, and the Trickeye Museum.
Our time in Phuket was over too quickly. We flew back the next morning, back via Kuala Lumpur again. We stored our luggage and enjoyed another day out in KL at District 21, an adventure play space. We had time for a few hours kip in the airport Capsule Hotel, then on an overnight flight back home.