If you fancy a break from the beaches then Phuket Town is a good alternative. Phuket Town recently officially became Phuket City but most people still call it Phuket Town. It will not be everybody's cup of tea but it does offer a more authentic Thai experience than the tourist resorts.
You can take a day trip to the town and do some shopping and sightseeing. There are also some good hotels in Phuket Town so you could stay a couple of nights and easily entertain yourself for two or three days exploring the town's attractions.
Phuket Town is the capital of Phuket province and has a population of 70,000 people. The town was originally founded in the mid 1800's as a trading center for the local tin mining industry. As the industry boomed Phuket Town quickly established itself as the most important town on the island and soon replaced Thalang as the island's capital.
It is now the administrative center of Phuket. It is a thriving mix of modern and old. There are new shopping centers next to old markets, modern hotels and old guesthouses, discos pumping out loud dance music and old bars with live Thai country music.
The town does have genuine character and plenty of points of interest.
The old town is the area where the tin traders originally founded the town. The tin miners came here to trade their ore and would then go out and spend their hard earned-money in the local shops and vice dens. It is the area around Dibuk Road, Krabi Road, Thalang Road, Ranong Road and Ratsada Road. The buildings in the old town area are more than 100 years old.
In the last couple of decades the old town area had been allowed to degenerate. Many of the charming walkthrough archways had been blocked or bricked up and the ornate doorways fell into disrepair. More recently, the local authorities have started to realise what a treasure they were losing and they are regenerating the area. The archways have been opened-up, buildings restored and overhead wires buried with more work soon to come.
A walk around the old town area is full of interest and an opportunity to admire the Sino-Portuguese architecture.
The architecture of the buildings around the old town area is usually described as Sino-Portuguese. That is a mixture of Chinese and European influences.
The buildings are mostly shop houses, three or four stories high. They have a ground floor shop where the family can run their business with living space behind and on the floors above. Many of the buildings are very narrow measuring only 5 meters wide but they can stretch up to 50 meters back. You can most clearly see the Chinese influence in the ornately decorated doors and windows while the European influence is behind the distinctive walkthrough archways.
The Chinese influence comes from the large number of Chinese migrants who came to work in Phuket's tin mining industry and from the strong trading relationship Phuket formed with Penang. At the time, the island of Penang in Malaysia was the major local trading port and the Chinese dominated its business community. If you go to Penang today, you can see some very similar architecture.
The Portuguese reference is misleading. The Portuguese were among the first western traders to have a presence in Thailand but they had left long before Phuket started to flourish. The European influence is mostly British Colonial style imported from Penang, which was a British colony at the time.
Soi Romanee: This delightful little soi between Thalang Road and Dibuk Road is one of the oldest streets in Phuket Town. It was once home to a variety of vice dens catering to the tin miners. It is now a charming little street full of quaint examples of sino-portuguese architecture. There are several charming little bars here where you can sit and soak up the ambience. The local authorities recently tidied away the overhead power lines, which really does improve the experience.
China Inn Cafe: There are a few examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture where you can go inside and look around. One of the best is China Inn Cafe on Thalang Road near the junction with Yaowarat Road. The owner has done a fabulous job of restoring the building to its former glory and has filled it with antiques and mementos from the old tin mining days. The cafe is in the garden at the back of the building. The food is good but a little expensive. The surroundings are a real throwback in time and the owner does not mind if you just want a quick look around and do not eat.
Mansions: As well as the Sino-Portuguese shop houses, you will also see a few colonial style mansions, often described as Sino-Colonial. Two of the best examples are on Krabi Road. On the corner of Satun Road is the impressive Phra Phitak Chyn Pracha Mansion, named after its original owner, Phra Phitak was a Chinese tin baron. This mansion has now opened the Blue Elephant restaurant. Next door is another colonial mansion open to the public. The owner of Chyn Pracha House allows visitors to look around her residence for a small donation.
There are several beautiful temples and Chinese shrines around the old town area. For more information on temple etiquette and what happens there, see our Temples page.
Jor and Jui Tui shrines:
These two Chinese shrines are next to each other towards the western end of Ranong Road at the junction with Soi Phuthon. These Chinese shrines are Taoist and are dedicated to particular gods.
The Jui Tui shrine is dedicated to the vegetarian god, Kui Wong. It is the center of activities during the Vegetarian Festival. The Put Jor shrine is dedicated to the goddess of mercy. It is 200 years old (although it was rebuilt 100 years ago after a fire) and is the oldest Chinese shrine in Phuket.
- The Shrine of the Serene Light:
This is a surprising little discovery just yards from bustling Phang Nga Road but you will not see it from the road. It is up a small alley near the junction with Yaowarat Road. From Yaowarat Road, you walk passed what is probably the best second hand bookshop in Phuket and turn left up the alley with the Chinese flags at the entrance.
A local Chinese family built this shrine in 1889. It has a nice little garden where you can take the weight off your feet for a while and watch the comings and goings. You will see local people paying their respects by lighting candles and josh sticks. Then look inside the shrine which is rammed with religious artifacts.
- Sam San Shrine: On Krabi Road, near the junction with
Patiphat Road are two more small temples. The one on the road is Khachonrangsah
Temple. The more interesting one, set back a little from the road, is Sam
San Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the Goddess of the sea and they
hold ceremonies here to bless newly launched boats.
- Mangol Nimit Temple: On Dibuk Road is a traditional Thai Buddhist temple. Inside you will find the usual selection of Buddha images and religious artifacts.
Thai Hua Museum
Phuket Thai Hua Museum is on Krabi Road in the old town area. It was originally a Chinese school. It features exhibits about the history of Phuket, particularly concentrating on the role Chinese immigrants played in Phuket's development.
Chinpracha House is a lovely example of Sino-Portuguese architecture. The home is still occupied but the owner has opened the downstairs to the public as a kind a living museum. It is a beuatiful house full of antique furniture and photos of six generations of the family. It is well worth popping in if you are passing by.
Thavorn Hotel Lobby Museum
The Thavorn Hotel is on Ratsada Road. It was built in 1961 and was Phuket's first 5-star hotel. It is looking a little worn these days but still has plenty of character.
In the hotel's lobby is a small museum containing artifacts from Phuket's history. There are all sorts of antiques and paraphernalia from the old tin mining days such as mining implements and opium pipes. One of the centerpieces is a glass case containing two sabers, which the two heroines apparently used to fight the Burmese. Perhaps the most fascinating is the collection of old photos. Entrance is 30 baht.
Phuket Trick Eye Museum
This is a little oddity of an attraction. It is a display of optical illusions that only really come to life when you puut someone in front of the picture and take a photo. If you ever fancies hhanggliding over the sea or appearing on the front cover of Time magazine, this is your chance to at least get the picture.
The downtown market is the main fresh food market in Phuket. It is on Ranong Road.
The market is a constant hive of activity and never closes. The produce available varies depending on the time of day and the best time to shop is actually early morning from 2am to 6am. This is when many of the local restaurant owners buy their ingredients for the next day's business.
Take a wander around the market and you will see an extraordinary range of local food produce. Take the opportunity to try some of the amazing fresh local fruits. On one side of the road is a side road with an open-air market selling mostly fruit and veg. On the other side of the road is the indoor market where they sell meat, seafood and other produce.
Khao Rang Viewpoint
You can see across Phuket Town all the way to the southern coast and islands beyond. There is a small exercise park at the top of the hill.
There are a couple of nice restaurants. Halfway up the hill is Viewpoint Restaurant. The food here is nothing special but the views make up for it. At the top of the hill is the nicer Tung Ka Cafe, again with great views and nestled into the jungle.
Saphan Hin is a nice spot for a bit of relaxation or activity if you are up for it. It is a large leisure park created on a land reclamation project built in 1969. In the circle at the entrance to the park is the Tin Mining Monument dedicated to Australian Edward Thomas Miles who brought the first tin dredger to Phuket in 1909.
The large area reclaimed from the sea contains a number of sports and recreational facilities. There is a sports stadium, large swimming pool, Thai boxing stadium, tennis courts, petanque, basketball courts and indoor sports hall.
There are a number of karaoke bars & restaurants and they hold a small fresh food market daily in the central car park. It is also a popular spot for picnics under the trees by the sea. When the tide is out you will see locals foraging the muddy seabed for shellfish.
The area is pleasant to visit during the day but unfortunately it has become a haunt for local youth motorbike gangs in the evenings. This is usually no problem but there have been occasional outbreaks of violence.
King Rama IX Park
For a break from the bustle and noise of the streets, head to King Rama IX Park, also known as Suan Luang (royal park). You can access the park from Chao Fa Road or Wai-Rat Hong-Yuk Road. It is a large park with a big lake in the middle. It is a popular place for some late afternoon jogging and there are also some exercise classes from 5pm onwards.
You will see the locals playing takraw with great dexterity. It is an Asian game that is basically keepy-uppy with a small rattan ball.
Phuket Town is a shopper's paradise. There is so much variety and you can find many bargains. See our shopping page for more information about shopping in Phuket.
Weekend MarketThe weekend market takes place on Wai-Rat-Hong-Yuk Road opposite Naka Temple every Saturday and Sunday. The market is open from mid afternoon to 10pm. It is worth getting there early as it gets very busy later in the evening. It will take an hour to walk round even if you are not shopping.
There is a huge range of bric-a-brac, clothes, accessories, toys, souvenirs, CD's, handicrafts and all kinds of other stuff.
RobinsonsThe main department store In Phuket Town is Robinsons on the corner of Tilok Uthit 1 Road and Ong Sim Phai Road. This five-storey department store sells designer clothes and accessories, sports goods, souvenirs, jewelry, toiletries, electrical goods, etc. In fact, just about everything. The prices are a little higher than other outlets but the goods are genuine and good quality.
Ocean Shopping MallAlmost next door to Robinsons on Tilok Uthit 1 Road is Ocean Shopping Mall. This is a down-market shopping mall where you can find some good quality goods at very reasonable prices. It contains mostly clothing stores but you can also find CDs, souvenirs, toys, mobile telephones and more.
The building includes a multiplex cinema that has some English language screenings with Thai subtitles. There is also a ten-pin bowling alley, games arcade, karaoke booths, a children's play area and a few restaurants.
Expo MarketThis indoor clothes and accessories market is on Tilok Uthit 2 Road near the Thavorn Grand Hotel in Phuket Town. It is one of the best places to get good deals on clothes. On the road outside are more shops selling more clothes and household products. It is open seven days a week.
Shopping MallsOn the edge of town and within an easy taxi ride are a number of shopping malls including Central, Big C, and Tesco Lotus. These include large supermarkets and shops selling all manner of goods at very competitive prices.
Specialist ShopsThere are lots of little specialist shops around Phuket Town. Take a wander around the old town and you will find art and antique shops. On Thalang Road are many textile shops. Try Montree Road for gold, pearls and jewelry.
You never need go hungry in Phuket Town. There are so many eating-places you will never run out of choices. Some of the best places to eat are the little corner shop restaurants and food stalls but these are just too numerous for us to even attempt to list here. There are also plenty of bigger restaurants. Here are a few suggestions:
- Tung Ka Cafe
- This restaurant is a quiet getaway from the bustle of the town with fantastic views across Phuket Town to the southern coast. It is at the top of Khao Rang (Rang Hill).
- The Natural
- This restaurant does great Thai food in a relaxing ambience at good prices. As the name suggests, they have gone for a natural look with lots of plants and wood. It is on Soi Phuton a hundred meters from the junction with Bangkok Road.
- Goong Gata
- All you can eat for 89 baht and the beer is cheap. These cook-it-yourself barbecues have become very popular in Thailand. You get a small cooking pan (ga-ta) on your table with burning coals underneath. There is a help-yourself buffet with as much fresh meat as you can eat and a selection of side dishes. This restaurant is on Ong Sim Phai Road.
- Moo Gata
- This is the same style of eating as the Goong Gata restaurant above. This one is on Patiphat Road.
- The Metropole Hotel
- The Metropole Hotel does a popular daily lunch buffet. It is at the south end of Montree Road.
- The Pearl Hotel
- The Pearl Hotel has a popular Chinese restaurant on the top floor. It is on Montree Road.
- Good authentic Italian food and their own wood-fired pizza oven. Salvatore's is on Ratsada Road.
- Indian food served in a beautifully decorated restaurant. Kannasutra is on Takua Pa Road near the junction with Ratsada Road.
- Western Food
- There is a selection of western fast food outlets such as KFC, McDonalds, Pizza, Swenson's on Tilok Uthit 1 Road near Robinsons & Ocean Plaza.
Phuket Town offers a wide variety of nightlife so there should be something to suit most tastes. The majority of customers are Thai but you will see a few westerners around and as long as you are sensible, you will have no problems and the locals will make you feel welcome.
The venues are dotted around town so you need to know where they are to find them. The 'in' places often change as the fickle Thai crowd moves on so it is difficult to keep up with the most popular spots. The Thais love a good live band and will often head to the bar that has the best band of the moment.
Prices are generally cheaper than the tourist resorts but some of the trendier bars are quite expensive. You will see many Thais buying bottles of spirits and mixers. This is a cheaper way to get your alcohol intake. They will even take their bottle of whisky on to the next bar so they only need to buy ice and mixers. This is an accepted way of drinking in Thailand and the bars do not object.
Note that the 01:00am bar closing time is generally enforced in Phuket Town.
Music Bars and Discos
- Timber Hut
- This is consistently one of the most popular bars in Phuket Town with locals and foreigners alike. It has a good live band and is usually busy and loud. It is on Yaowarat Road north of the junction with Dibuk Road
- Blue Marina
- This is one of the most popular discos in Phuket Town. It is part of the Merlin Hotel on Tung Kra Road and has a good basement club feel. There is a DJ and live band. Because it is part of the hotel, it can stay open beyond the normal 1am closing time.
- T2 Disco
- This is a popular Thai style disco. There is a live band but you will notice there is no dance floor. At Thai discos you tend to just dance where you are. It is on the traffic circle by the Metropole Hotel at the end of Tilok Uthit 1 Road.
- Rockin Angels Jammin Bar
- This is a little oddity on Yaowarat Road just south of the junction with Dibuk Road. It is a small bar with lots of music mementos on the walls. The owner is a talented musician and occasionally jumps on stage for impromptu jam sessions. Any passing musicians are welcome to join him.
- Thavorn Hotel
- The Thavorn Hotel on Ratsada Road has a nice bar with live Thai country music. It is a good place for a relaxing drink and is decorated with some nice Phuket historical artifacts.
- This is the closest thing Phuket Town has to a nightlife zone. It is along the canal by Soi Taling Chan and Takua Pa Road. There is a strip of cosy bars and restaurants, some of which have live bands. James's Bar on Soi 7 is a good spot for a late drink as it stays open beyond the normal 1am closing time.
- Soi Romanee
- There are some quite charming little bars along this soi, which is one of the oldest streets in Phuket Town. The classic renovated sino-portuguese architecture provides a delightful backdrop for some continental style street drinking.
- Michael's Bar
- This is one of the local ex-pat hangouts in Phuket Town. It is a simple open faced bar on Takua Pa Road near the junction with Ratsada Road. It is a nice place for a quiet drink and a chat with the locals.
- O'Malley's Irish Pub
- This is an Irish style pub. It hasn't really found its niche market in Phuket Town so it is a good spot for a quiet drink, a game of pool or watch sport. It is on Suthat Road.
Well this is Asia and there is no ignoring the girly bar scene. It is done more discreetly than Patong but is still visible enough. Most of the customers are men from Thailand and other Asian nations such as Japan and Korea. There are also a few westerners.
In some ways, the Asian girly scene is less sleazy than that offered to tourists in Patong. There is less flesh on display, less dirty dancing and the girls do not throw themselves at the customers in the same way. However, some of the venues are distinctly run down.
- Pink Lady Cafe
- This is a plush girly bar with a stage show, beautiful girls and expensive drinks. It is at the bottom of the Metropole Hotel at the south end of Montree Road.
- Pink Lady 2002
- This is a more mid range girly bar. The girls sing songs on a stage and the customers can reward them by buying them flowers. It is on Phang Nga Road near the junction with Montree Road
- Coyote Bar
- Coyote dancing is a new fad in Thailand. The girls dance disco style to modern dance music. The dancing is more energetic and provocative than the girls hanging on to poles at the normal girly bars. There is a coyote dancing club on Phang Nga Road.
- Karaoke Bars
- Some Karaoke bars are family venues where Thais go to eat and sing songs. Some are girly bars. Karaoke bars can be identified by the strings of multi-coloured lights that are hung outside. If they have tinted windows and young ladies sitting outside then they are almost certainly the girly bar variety. There are lots of them around. There are quite a few along Surin Road and Ong Sim Phai Road.
- Soi 11
- This really is the bottom of the heap. Here the girls sit in rows on benches behind shop front windows. The customers select their girl and take them to a room upstairs for a quickie. Thai men pay as little as 200 baht. They expect westerners to pay a bit more. Soi 11 is a little side-street between Phun Phon Road and Takua Pa Road.
There is plenty of nice accommodation in Phuket Town. For something with a little Sino-Portuguese character, you could try one of the guesthouses on Thalang Road.
For a little more comfort, try one of the following:
- Royal Phuket City Hotel (4 star)
- Possibly the best hotel in Phuket Town with spacious lobby, excellent exercise facilities and swimming pool. It is on Phang Nga Road.
- Sino House Hotel (3 star)
- A new hotel, quickly earning itself a good reputation.
- The Taste Phuket Hotel (3 star)
- A nice location on the edge of the old town area.
- Metropole Hotel (4 star)
- A good hotel, centrally located close to all the main attractions. It is on Tilok Uthit 1 Road by the clock tower circle.
- Merlin Hotel (3 star)
- A good mid range hotel just a little out of the center. It is said to have the best massage salon in town. It is on Tung Kra Road at the junction with Yaowarat Road.
- Pearl Hotel (3 star)
- A good mid range hotel with nice restaurants and bar. Centrally located on Montree Road.
- Phuket Center Apartment (2 star)
- Simple but nice serviced apartments in a fantastic central location.
- D's Corner & Guesthouse (2 star)
- Budget accommodation for travellers in a charming location on old Thalang Road.