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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.
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.
By Lana Willocks.