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Baan Chinpracha

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Baan Chinpracha is a stately Sino-Colonial mansion at the edge of Phuket’s Old Town area, and the island’s only historical home we’re aware of where visitors are allowed a peek inside.

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Chinpracha's imposing side entrance.

Chinpracha’s imposing side entrance.

Built in 1903 by Phra Pitak Chinpracha (also known as Tan Ma Siang), it was among several grand homes built after the wave of 19th-century Chinese immigrants to Phuket built their fortunes in tin mining, rubber and other industries. His descendants still live there today, but the ground floor has been converted into a public museum.

The architectural style is a fine example of the homes of that era, its most striking feature the inner courtyard that opens to the sky for light, ventilation and, in the past, rainwater collection. Every room is filled with an assortment of photographs and artifacts collected by the family, from traditional clothing to ceramics to elegant antique furniture imported from China and Europe.

A bride in a traditional Baba-Peranakan (Straits Chinese) dress poses for a photo shoot.

A bride in a traditional Baba-Peranakan (Straits Chinese) dress poses for a photo shoot.

Chinese motifs dominate the design theme, and the family’s dedication to its ancestors is highlighted by an elaborate shrine built for the patriarch. Most rooms are set up to appear as if they’re still being lived in, including the old-style kitchen next to the courtyard. Its giant stove laden with clay pots looks ready to fire up for lunch.

A charming old-style kitchen.

A charming old-style kitchen.

Though there’s plenty to see at Baan Chinpracha only a few items are labelled, so those unfamiliar with Phuket and the region’s history are advised to do some research in advance or go with a local guide. We’ve visited on our own a number of times, but gained a lot more insight into the home’s history and design details by joining Khun Kritchaya (Chaya) Na Takuathung of Phuket Heritage Trails, a Phuket native who brings guests here as part of a cultural tour.

Found along Krabi Road, the mansion and its ample gardens were once clearly visible from the street, but after Phra Pitak’s grandson and avid historian Pracha Tandavanitj passed away in 2006, some of his heirs built unsightly shophouses on the street front part of the property, blocking the view. Happily, no further construction has since been carried out and the original home remains intact and in immaculate condition. Access to the mansion is down a narrow lane at the corner of the property.

The inner courtyard with a cooling koi pond.

The inner courtyard with a cooling koi pond.

Next door is another outstanding example of Sino-Colonial architecture, a mansion built by the same family that’s been home to the Blue Elephant restaurant and cooking school since 2010.

This former governor’s residence was once a faded relic, but it’s been transformed into a ritzy dining venue that’s become a favoured wedding and events spot for local hi-so residents. If you’re not able to afford the pricey restaurant, no one there seems to mind if you drop by briefly to snap some photos.

A former governor's home, now reborn as the Blue Elephant.

A former Phuket governor’s home, now reborn as a Blue Elephant.

For anyone interested in Phuket’s history, historical architecture or Hokkien Chinese culture, a visit to Baan Chinpracha is a must. It takes about an hour to explore the mansion, so it could easily be included as part of a walking tour of Phuket’s Old Town district. Free walking tour maps are available at the Old Town information centre on Phang Nga Road or at the Art & Culture magazine office on Soi Romanee.

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