Phuket Town walking tour

A whole lot of fun

What we say: 4 stars

Intricate Chinese shrines, steaming bowls of noodles, candy-coloured shophouses dripping with red lanterns. The Old Town district of Phuket Town is a must for those who want to delve into the food-and-culture scene of the island. A self-guided walk around the area could take just a couple of hours to a whole day, depending on how long you linger at the shops, sights and delicious food stops along the way.

Soi Romanee's shophouses painted in scene-stealing colours.

Soi Romanee’s shophouses painted in scene-stealing colours.

A good place to start is on Ranong Road near the Suriyadate Fountain circle, the area that’s also the stopping point for the blue songthaew buses that connect Phuket Town to the main beaches.

Walk west along Ranong Road towards Soi Phuton, where you’ll see a typical bustling Thai city street scene with shops selling cheap clothes, gold, T-shirts, rice and dried herbs and the Downtown Market with fruit and snacks to sample. Further west is a cluster of inexpensive vegetarian restaurants, which are especially busy during the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival in late September or October.

Continue down Ranong Road to Soi Phuton. At the corner are the Chinese shrines Kwon Im Teng and Jui Tui, both major staging areas for all the lively festivals held throughout the year by Phuket’s sizeable Hokkien Chinese community.

Vintage photos at The Rommanne guesthouse capture the Old Town spirit.

Photos at The Rommanne guesthouse capture the Old Town spirit.

Walk back to Suriyadate Fountain, turn left onto Yaowarat Road, and if feeling peckish at this point stop in at Siam Bakery for French pastries, breads and great coffees, and an air-conditioned respite from the heat.

Head north and take a left onto Thalang Road, and walk a fair distance west to reach the point where the road leads into Krabi Road. The gleaming white Thai Hua Museum is easy to spot, and worth a stop to learn more about Phuket’s Chinese community. Further along are the stately Sino-Portuguese mansions, Baan Chinpracha heritage house and the former governor’s residence that now houses Blue Elephant restaurant.

Wander north on Satun Road, then take a right onto Dibuk Road. Beautifully restored shophouses in pastel shades line the south side of the road. Peek through the window bars of these homes into large family rooms with shrines devoted to various Chinese gods and goddesses. The highly rated Dibuk Restaurant is here, too, serving up French and Thai fare at reasonable prices. Or carry on to Yaowarat Road and join the locals to slurp up some Hokkien noodles at the Lock Tien shop, or stop by the pretty Pirerra Café Bar.

Vintage style at Pirerra Cafe Bar.

Vintage style at Pirerra Cafe Bar.

Continue west along Dibuk Road to Wat Puttamongkon. Nearly opposite the wat is the entrance to narrow Soi Romanee. The shophouses in this former red-light street of the tin-mining era have been restored and given a fresh coat of paint, some converted into boutique guesthouses including The Rommanee or offbeat office spaces.

Exit Soi Romanee onto Thalang Road, where there’s row upon row of shops selling inexpensive batiks and other fabrics. Two roti shops – Abdul’s and Aroon – will satisfy those curry cravings while the restored shophouse China Inn Cafe offers a more upscale dining choice and a photogenic entrance. Just past the Kopitiam cafe next door is the Nguan Choon Tong herb shop, the oldest traditional Chinese herbal medicine maker of Phuket.

Phuket's go-to spot for Chinese herbal healing secrets.

Phuket’s go-to spot for Chinese herbal healing secrets.

Continue down Thalang Road then turn left back onto Yaowarat Road. Walk south along Yaowarat, passing by some art shops along the way, then turn left onto Phang Nga Road. Just past South Wind Books is the entrance to Sang Tham shrine, also called the Shrine of the Serene Light, with lively wall murals that have been painstakingly restored.

Nearly opposite the shrine is Amulet Alley, a tiny walking lane ringing with the lively banter of sellers sitting along a long row of tables displaying statues and pendants. Back on Phang Nga Road, continue east and stop to take a peek into the Memory at On On Hotel, the former backpacker crap-pad turned retro-chic hotel.

Continue down Phang Nga Road, which is lined with open artists’ studios, turn right on Thepkrassatri Road, then take another right onto Rassada Road. There’s more of a tourist-trap vibe here, with souvenir, handicraft, tour and car rental shops lining the street. A must-stop, if you’re not heading up to northern Thailand, is the Radsada Handmade shop for its vintage hilltribe handbags, wall hangings and art pieces from around Southeast Asia. On the south side is the Thavorn Hotel, with its museum full of dusty, clunky old things.

Talisman talk is always animated at Amulet Alley.

Talisman talk is always animated at Amulet Alley.

Following this road will take you back to Suriyadate Fountain, though if you’re wrapping up your walk in the evening hours, stop in at The Brasserie for its Belgian beer and fresh oysters or Salvatore’s for tasty Italian pasta and pizzas. Or, if you’re ready for a splurge, stroll down the adjacent Takuapa Road to Ka Jok See Restaurant and plan to settle in for a long night of good food and glitter.

Being in the heart of town with plenty of banks and shops, there’s no need to bring anything along aside from perhaps a bottle of water for the heat, a hat, an umbrella (in the rainy months) and an empty stomach. The Old Town sights are all family-friendly but young children may find the heat uncomfortable, and those pushing strollers will curse the uneven sidewalks.

Last updated: 19th July, 2014

About the author:
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand (and, ok, a Thai man) began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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