Phuket Town which is located in southern Thailand (which includes Old Phuket Town) is more than just the capital of this popular southeast Asian tourist destination. Phuket Town actually offers visitors an insight into the rich history of this once bustling provincial capital and tin mining town.
Phuket actually became wealthy off the back of both the tin mining and rubber tree industries and produced an upper class of wealthy families; as evidenced by the grand buildings and palatial homes built over a century ago that still stand today. It is also the province which has the highest Chinese ethnic population and these influences can be seen by the architectural styles, Chinese temples and even the cuisine which has been assimilated into the culture of Phuket Town.
While Phuket is Thailand's largest island and has a recorded history of over one thousand years; it now derives most of its income from tourism but this wasn't always the case. Indeed, Phuket which is connected to the Thai mainland by by two bridges was one of the major trading routes between India and China. By the 17th century a number of countries including the Dutch, the Portuguese, the English and the French had been trading with Phuket for quite some time primarily for the tin which was plentiful on the island. However, by 1903 a new industry was taking shape as money was being made from the growing of rubber trees. Eventually one third of the island was under cultivation to produce rubber.
Today though Phuket is all about tourism and that means a focus towards the beaches and the nightlife which are among the best in southeast Asia. However, the Phuket nightlife on offer here is much more subdued than in Patong Beach which caters predominantly to foreign tourists. Here you will find an assortment of authentic jazz bars, night-clubs, cultural shows and restaurants where the local Thai population like to hang out but it is much more spread out than in Patong or Kata for example.
Old Phuket Town which was established by the end of the 19th century is the most attractive part of Phuket in my view and is located within a 400,000 square metre precinct that is bounded by Patiphat, Ratsada, Thepkasatri and Dibruk roads. Other main roads within this precinct include Yaowarat and Thalang.
While the thousands of Thai tin prospectors and Chinese workers frequenting alcohol, gambling and opium establishments in Old Phuket Town have long disappeared the material culture they constructed in the form of shrines, buildings and houses can still be viewed today. Many of these old buildings and mansions have been restored especially along Thalang Road so Old Town Phuket looks as though it will continue on for some time to come.
Examples of the these older structures can be seen throughout Old Phuket Town. Even in the most obscure places there is evidence of this bygone era such as the Chinese inspired Shrine of the Serene Light which was constructed back in 1889. It is located off Phang Nga Road along an alleyway near the South Wind bookstore. The beautiful architecture that can be seen while walking along the streets has been influenced by both European and Chinese design and is well worth a look while you are visiting Phuket. The Sino Portuguese styled houses along with other shop-houses and buildings are a mixture of charming, quirky, stately and above all, colourful.
While the buildings that line these streets may be historical the businesses are a mixture of both old and new from Chinese herbal and textile shops, coffee shops and restaurants, bars and boutiques, bookstores and bridal shops. One thing for sure is that this old town offers shoppers a wide variety of products including antiques, knick-knacks, toys, silk and cotton clothing, handbags, bracelets and jewelry, wooden ornaments and even gardening accessories.
The hub of Old Phuket Town is arguably along the historical Thalang Road. Depending upon where you are staying in Phuket you can either walk or get a taxi into the heart of Phuket Town.
The best way to travel to Phuket is by plane or bus. Flights from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Phuket's International Airport occur daily with a number of local airlines servicing the island including Nok Air, Air Asia and Thai Airways.
Being an international airport direct flights are available to Phuket from a number of countries including Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan to name a few. There are an abundance of taxi's and mini-vans located outside the Phuket airport to transport you to your hotel.
Buses to Phuket depart Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal daily with the journey taking approximately 13 hours.