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It's easy to write-off Phuket Town as merely a travel hub before heading to the beach. But, unlike eastern Chumphon or Surat Thani which really are just a place to hop a ferry, Phuket Town is a travel destination in its own right and deserves some praise.

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For starters, Phuket Town has history. The island was an important stopover on the route from India to East Asia for more than 1,000 years, and everyone from the Burmese to the Portuguese have tried to lay claim to it. More recently, Phuket Town was the centre of the area's tin mining boom and attracted immigrants from China who brought with them their distinctive architecture, cuisine and culture. Today the historical district showcases the restored shophouses, Chinese temples, and beautiful Sino-colonial mansions.

If you won't be travelling off the island, Phuket Town offers a better slice of the real Thailand than any of the beach towns. The cost of everything here -- hotels, restaurants, shops, transportation -- is lower than what you'd pay at the beach, and many budget travellers find themselves hunkering down here to balance their budgets. Most travellers you ask undoubtedly wish they could have had more time in Phuket Town – really!

Hotel prices typically stay the same year-round and you can jump on a cheap songthaew whenever you want to dip your tootsies in the Andaman. Songthaew services to the beaches all depart from Phuket Town so if you don't want to spend all your time at the same beach, this is a good central spot to be based.

As the provincial capital, Phuket Town is where you'll find most of the island's services -- the official tourist office, hospitals, police stations, bus station and main post office. In the downtown area is the large Ocean Shopping Centre with a Robinson's department store, souvenir stands, a cinema and the usual multinational fast food joints. Just outside downtown on the way to Patong is Central Festival, a massive shopping mall with high-end brands, a movie theatre and a slew of enticing restaurants similar to Jungceylon in Patong.

If you have time, a few attractions worth seeing but you won't accidentally stumble upon them. Pick up a map -- the free 'Phuket Town Treasure Map' has a fine suggested walking tour.

Phuket Town is littered with banks and international access ATMs. The Bangkok Bank on Phang Nga Rd is a particularly central branch.

As with the banks, there's no shortage of internet cafes in town, but you can also check your email at the Phuket CAT Office on Phang Nga Rd.

If you're looking for some beach reading, Books, on Phuket Rd has a reasonable selection of English books, including guidebooks and newspapers.

For health care and emergencies, several options are available. See below for details.

Phuket Town's main post office is towards the eastern edge of town on Montri Rd.

The southern branch of the official Tourist Authority of Thailand can supply you with maps, provincial guidebooks, and trust-worthy travel info. Set on Phuket Rd, beside it is a small park with a golden statue of the Great Sea Dragon.

Bangkok Bank: 22 Phang Nga Rd, Phuket Town. Open Mon-Fri 08:30-15:30.
Bangkok Phuket Hospital: 2/1 Hongyok Utis Rd, Phuket Town. T: (076) 254 421; Hotline 1719; F: (076) 254 430.
Phuket International Hospital: 44 Chalermprakiat Ror 9 Road (the bypass road near Big C), Phuket Town. T: (076) 249 400, (076) 210 936; Emergency line: (076) 210 935.
Mission Hospital Phuket: 4/1 Thepkrasattri Road, Phuket Town. T: (076) 237 220-6.
Vachira Hospital: 353 Yaowarat Road, Phuket Town. T: (076) 361 234; Hotline 1669.
Phuket Provincial Hospital: 18, 20 Anupatphuketkan Road, Phuket Town. T: (076) 358 888; Hotline 1131.
Post Office: Montri Rd, Phuket Town. Open Mon-Fri 08:30-16:00, Sat 09:00-12:00.
The Books: 53-55 Phuket Rd, Phuket Town.
Tourist Office: Phuket Rd, Phuket Town. T: (076) 212 213.

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