Phuket Town is the largest town in Phuket Province. It has a population of 63,000 and is the economic hub of the island. For the most part just an ordinary, scruffy provincial Thai town, it’s hardly a major tourist attraction, but the Chinatown area is worth a quick look and there are some great Thai-style shopping opportunities too. Overall, accommodation and food in the town is cheaper than near the beaches, and can provide a refreshing change of pace.
Phuket Town’s low-key attractions are mostly related to its colourful Chinese history and heritage, found in the Chinatown area on the north-western side of the city around Thanon Thalang.
- Old Phuket (ย่านเมืองเก่าภูเก็ต). The beginning of the tin boom in the 19th century led to construction of many fine mansions and shops that are still well preserved. The architectural style, typical of the region, is described as Sino-Portuguese and has a strongly Mediterranean character. Shops present a very narrow face onto the street but stretch back a long way. Many, especially on Dibuk Road, have old wooden doors with Chinese fretwork carving.
Other streets, forming what might be called “Old Phuket”, with similar structures are Phang-nga, Yaowarat, Thalang, and Krabi, and a walking tour of the area is easy and delightful. Some other old European-style buildings of note are the Provincial Hall, the Phuket Courthouse, and Siam City Bank.
Soi Rommanee is located on Talang Road in Phuket’s old Town, was a major entertainment area in the past.The style and architecture has been preserved exactly the way they were 100 year ago.
- Jui Tui and Put Jaw Temples, corner of Thanon Ranong and Soi Phuthon (just west of the Ranong bus terminus). Put Jaw is the oldest Chinese Taoist temple in Phuket, first built over 200 years ago and dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy (Kwun Im), while the adjacent and connected Jui Tui is its larger, more modern annex. If you have a question that is puzzling you, ask it and throw the two red mango-shaped pieces in front of the altar in the air: if they land the same side up the answer is “no”, while if they land on different sides the answer is “yes”. Free entry but donations welcome.
- Wat Mongkol Nimit, Thanon Dibuk. A classical Thai-style temple with a soaring roof and lots of colourful glass tiling.
- Phuket Culture Museum, at Rajabhat University. It’s free and very informative. Phuket’s history is told in pictures and still scenes.
- Khao Rang (เขารัง) A great view of Phuket Town, the southern part of the island, and some of the offshore islands, can be obtained by going to the top of Khao Rang Hill, on the town’s northwest border. There are also several restaurants featuring spectacular views of the city, a health park for exercise enthusiasts, and a comfortable, expanse of grass at the top with a bronze statue of Phraya Ratsada Nupradit, the model Governor of Phuket during King Rama V’s reign.
- Saphan Hin (สะพานหิน). A land reclamation project provided abundant new land now used for parks and public facilities at Saphan Hin, located where Phuket Road meets the sea in Phuket Town. In the circle is the Tin Mining Monument, shaped like a large drill bit, dedicated to the memory of Captain Edward Thomas Miles, the Australian who brought the first tin dredge to Phuket in 1909. The monument was built in 1969 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of tin dredging in Phuket. There is a sport center in the park.
- Phuket Butterfly Farm (สวนผีเสื้อและโลกแมลงภูเก็ต). 3km from town via Yaowarat Road and the Sam Kong intersection. It has a fascinating collection of such tropical creatures as butterflies, insects, marine life all arranged in natural surroundings.
- Phuket Cultural Center (ศูนย์ศิลปวัฒนธรรมจังหวัดภูเก็ต). Located in the area of the Phuket Rajabhat University on Thepkrasattri Road. It displays history as well as the arts and culture of Phuket, such as houses, ways of life, and utensils of the city of Thalang in ancient times. Furthermore, the library collects books on Phuket’s history and culture.
- Thai Village and Orchid Farm (หมู่บ้านไทยและสวนกล้วยไม้ภูเก็ต). Located on Thepkasattri Road about 3km from town, serves daily a typical southern Thai lunch that is followed by a spectacular cultural show including Thai dances, Thai boxing southern customs and elephants. Handicrafts are also on display. The complex also houses a dining hall decorated with over 20,000 varieties of orchid and tropical trees. Digestion is aided by the lilting sounds of Thai classical and folk music played on tradition instruments.
- Phuket Zoo (สวนสัตว์ภูเก็ต) Located on the way to Chalong Bay, the zoo contains a collection of Asian and African mammals and birds. Elephant and crocodile shows are performed every day.
- Thaihua Museum Located on Krabi road in an old chinese language school, this museum tells the history of chinese immigrants on Phuket.
Shopping seems to be the main reason for visitors to come to Phuket Town. In addition to local markets and a slew of malls and departments stores, Chinatown’s Thanon Thalang offers a large selection of boutiques and galleries retailing traditional handicrafts as well as antiques from the region. Phuket Night Bazaar is a large area, where you can get local stuff (though you might find the same things much cheaper at the Big C supermarket!).