Introducing Phuket Town
Long before flip-flops and selfie sticks, Phuket was an island of rubber trees, tin mines, and cash-hungry merchants. Attracting entrepreneurs from the Arabian Peninsula, China, India and Portugal, Phuket Town was a colorful blend of cultural influences, cobbled together by tentative compromise and cooperation. Today the city is the testament to the island’s historical soul. Wander down streets clogged with Sino-Portuguese architecture housing arty coffee shops, eccentric galleries, bright textiles stores, fantastic cheap restaurants and inexpensive boutique-chic guesthouses, and peek down alleyways to serene incense-cloaked Chinese Taoist shrines.
But it’s not just some lost-in-time cultural archive. Bubbling up throughout the emerging Old Town is an infusion of current art, music and food attracting a very style-conscious, mostly Thai crowd. Investors have finally caught on that culture, not just beaches and girly bars, is a commodity. Century-old shophouses and homes, once left to rot, have been restored, resulting in flash-forward gentrification. It can feel like every other building is now a trendy polished-concrete cafe or a quirky guesthouse, but the city is still a wonderfully refreshing cultural break from Phuket’s beaches.
Despite inflated real estate prices, Phuket Town has the island’s best lodging bargains, and regular sŏrng·tăa·ou run to most beaches. Stay a few days to soak it all up, if you can.