If you’re planning a trip to Phuket and want something to do other than the beach-centric experiences this wonderful island offers, a visit to the cultural heart of the island, Old Phuket Town, should be on your itinerary.
If you’d asked me a few years back if Old Phuket Town was worth a visit I’d have probably advised you to skip it. But in recent years it’s become a great place to hang out, drink coffee, admire street art, wander the streets, and experience some authentic Thai fayre!
As a bonafide Phuket local, I highly recommend a visit to Old Phuket Town while you’re here.
When visiting Phuket Town, to be honest, you’d get a feel for the place on a day trip, but to immerse yourself in its rich culture and history, I’d allocate at least two days to fully appreciate what the town has to offer.
This duration allows you to explore the area’s key attractions without feeling rushed. If your schedule is tight, a one-day visit could capture the essence of the town, but two days are preferable for a more relaxed and in-depth exploration.
Navigating Old Phuket Town is quite straightforward and part of the charm lies in wandering its streets on foot. The town is relatively small, making it perfectly walkable.
Along with the vibrant Thalang Road, don’t forget to explore Phang Nga Road, known for its unique blend of local culture and historical architecture
Exploring by foot not only gives you the freedom to move at your own pace but also the opportunity to discover the hidden alleys and charming nooks that you might miss otherwise.
The primary consideration might be the heat, especially during midday. However, the weather tends to become more pleasant towards the late afternoon, making it an ideal time for a stroll.
Discovering Old Phuket Town can be a delightful surprise, especially if your previous experiences in Phuket have been beach or party-focused.
Here are my recommendations of things to do and see in Old Phuket Town;
Strolling down Thalang Road is like taking a casual walk through a living museum. Along this street, you’ll find the Phuket Coffee Station, a delightful café known for its excellent coffee and ambient setting. It’s a perfect spot to relax and observe the vibrant street life of Old Phuket Town.
Having lived in Phuket for a decade, I’ve seen this street in all its moods and colors. It’s the backbone of Old Phuket Town, lined with eye-catching Sino-Portuguese buildings.
With its mix of quirky boutiques, cozy cafes that are part of the thriving cafe scene, and local art galleries, Thalang Road is a slice of authentic Phuket life.
Hot tip: The best time to visit is during the late afternoon. The light is just perfect for photos, and the street starts buzzing with energy as the day cools down. Don’t miss popping into some of the smaller lanes off Thalang Road – you’ll find some real hidden gems there, from tiny coffee shops to local art studios.Supanut Arunoprayote,CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Phuket Thai Hua Museum on Krabi Road is a spot I often recommend to friends visiting Phuket, and I find myself returning to it now and then. Housed in a beautifully preserved colonial building, the museum offers a deep dive into the rich tapestry of Thai Chinese culture, showcasing how this heritage has become an integral part of Phuket’s identity.
What makes this museum stand out is how it details the journey of Chinese immigrants in Phuket, particularly their role in the tin mining industry. For anyone curious about the island’s history, it’s an interesting place to visit.
Hot tip: Take your time in each room; the stories behind the exhibits are fascinating. The museum is also a quiet spot, perfect for escaping the midday heat. And don’t skip the garden – it’s a lovely, tranquil space to unwind after absorbing all that history..Christophe95, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Jui Tui Shrine, one of the most prominent Chinese shrines in Phuket’s cultural landscape, is also home to a stunning Chinese-style gate. This shrine, known for its bright red and gold façade and intricate carvings, stands as a testament to the island’s rich spiritual heritage.
It’s a vibrant center of religious practices and traditions, especially during festivals like the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The energy and devotion during these events are palpable and offer a profound glimpse into local beliefs and customs.
Hot tip: To truly appreciate the Jui Tui Shrine, visit during a quieter time when you can observe the daily rituals without the crowds. The early mornings are particularly peaceful. There’s something special about watching the temple come to life as the day begins, with locals coming in to offer prayers.
Even after a decade in Phuket, the local street food scene, with its delicious local cuisine, never ceases to tempt me to eat things I know I shouldn’t!
From the delicious Hokkien noodle dish to spicy satay, sweet mango sticky rice, pad thai, and much more, the variety is a reflection of Phuket’s diverse cultural influences and culinary expertise.
After exploring the vibrant street food scene, make sure to visit the Phuket Town Central Market. This bustling market is a hub for local produce and offers a genuine taste of the region’s culinary diversity. It’s a perfect place to sample fresh ingredients and discover the flavors that make Thai cuisine so unique
Hot tip: Don’t just stick to the main streets. Venture into the smaller alleys – that’s where some of the best street food stalls are hidden. And if you see a place with a queue of locals, join in. That’s usually a sign of something delicious.
The Sunday Street Market on Thalang Road is a weekly highlight in Old Phuket Town. As well as a lively mix of stalls selling everything from intricate handcrafted jewelry to unique clothing and traditional Thai handicrafts, you’ll experience some local live music, loads of street food, and a bustling hub of local artistry and cuisine.
Hot tip: Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat (around 4 pm). This way, you can take your time browsing the stalls and chatting with the vendors. And make sure to try some of the street food – the market is as much a feast for the taste buds as it is for the eyes.
Over the years, Old Phuket Town has become a canvas for some incredible street art. The murals and graffiti dotted around the town add a modern twist to its historical charm, showcasing a blend of traditional Thai culture and contemporary artistry.
I love how so many pieces tell a story, whether it’s about Phuket’s heritage, its people, or just an expression of creativity. You’ll find everything from large, vibrant murals to subtle, whimsical drawings hidden in nooks and crannies.
Hot tip: Wander off the beaten path to uncover some of the more hidden pieces of street art. Early morning is a great time to explore, as the streets are quieter and the light is perfect for photography. I’ve found some of my favorite artworks in the least expected places, turning each walk into a mini adventure. And remember, the street art scene is always evolving, so there’s something new to discover even if you’ve been here as long as I have.Slleong, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Sino-Portuguese mansions in Old Phuket Town are a real highlight. These architectural beauties, with their blend of Chinese and Portuguese designs, have a timeless elegance. Over the years, some of these mansions have been transformed into charming boutiques, cafes, and guesthouses, offering a delightful way to experience the town’s history.
Hot tip: Look out for the ones that have been converted into museums or galleries. They often have little cafes or quiet courtyards where you can sit and soak up the ambiance. It’s a perfect way to spend a leisurely afternoon, especially after exploring the town. And if you’re like me, loving a mix of history and relaxation, these mansions offer the best of both worlds.Indiway.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
If you have kids, the Phuket Trickeye Museum is a place I often recommend for a fun and unusual experience. Located near the center of Phuket Town, this interactive museum is all about illusion and playful art. It makes for a change of pace from the historical and cultural explorations.
Hot tip: Go with a friend or two and have your cameras ready. The more creative you get with your poses, the better the pictures turn out. I’ve had some good laughs here, trying out different poses and angles. It’s a great way to add some light-hearted fun to your day, especially if you’ve been exploring the more traditional aspects of Phuket. Plus, it’s a great escape from the tropical heat outside!Slleong, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Soi Rommanee, located in the heart of Old Phuket Town, is a street I often stroll down for its unique blend of history and modernity. This colorful and lively street is known for its beautifully restored Sino-Portuguese buildings, now home to vibrant cafes, bars, and guesthouses.
During the day, it’s a picturesque and tranquil lane, perfect for a leisurely walk and some great photos. But as night falls, the street takes on a lively, almost festive atmosphere.
Hot tip: Visit in the late afternoon and stick around as evening sets in. You’ll get to experience the best of both worlds – the peaceful charm of the daytime and the lively buzz of the night. The street is also a fantastic spot for a casual evening drink or a light meal, with several quaint bars and eateries to choose from. For me, the allure of Soi Rommanee lies in this seamless blend of old-world charm and contemporary vibrancy.
The Blue Elephant, a renowned restaurant and cooking school in Phuket Town, is a place I often suggest to friends who are looking for an authentic Thai cultural experience. It’s not cheap but they also occasionally host cultural shows that are a real treat.
Hot tip: Check their schedule in advance and book a table for dinner during one of these shows. It elevates the dining experience, making it a cultural journey rather than just a meal. The Blue Elephant’s cultural shows offer a perfect blend of fine dining and traditional entertainment – a must-do for anyone seeking an immersive cultural experience in Phuket.
After living in Phuket for ten years, I’ve had my fair share of dining experiences, and there are a few places I find myself returning to time and again. Each of these restaurants offers something unique, whether it’s the ambiance, the cuisine, or the service.
- Day & Night: This place is a gem for its cozy atmosphere and fantastic menu. Their fusion of Thai and international dishes never fails to impress. It’s perfect for a relaxed evening out.
- Raya: Set in a beautiful Sino-Portuguese mansion, Raya is not just about dining; it’s about experiencing Phuket’s history. The authentic Thai dishes here are as traditional as they come.
- Heh: A relatively new spot that quickly won me over. It’s got a modern vibe and a creative menu that mixes Thai flavors with contemporary twists. A place for the adventurous foodie.
- Flavor: This restaurant lives up to its name. A French restaurant, I highly recommend the Steak. Gorgeous flavors and won’t break the bank.
- Natural Restaurant: Set in a tree house, this place offers traditional Thai dishes in a back-to-nature dining experience. The setting is tranquil, and the food is fresh and wholesome.
If you’re interested in learning how to create these amazing Thai dishes yourself, consider joining a Thai cooking class, which is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the local cuisine and culture.
Hot tip: Try to visit each of these restaurants at different times of the week to experience their unique vibes. Whether it’s a quiet weekday dinner or a lively weekend feast, each offers a different slice of Phuket’s culinary scene. These restaurants have been my go-to for years, not just for their food but for the experiences they offer. From the elegance of Raya to the innovation of Heh, they each add something special to Phuket’s dining landscape.Sharon Hahn Darlin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The On On Hotel in Old Phuket Town is an interesting place, not least because of its claim to fame – Leonardo DiCaprio stayed here during the filming of “The Beach.”
But there’s more to this hotel than its brush with Hollywood.
The On On Hotel isn’t just Phuket’s oldest hotel; it’s a piece of history. The building itself is a beautifully restored example of the classic Sino-Portuguese architecture that gives Old Phuket Town its charm.
Hot tip: Take some time to explore the hotel itself. Its walls and corridors are like a mini-museum, showcasing photographs and artifacts that tell the story of its past. Staying here isn’t just about a comfortable night’s sleep; it’s about immersing yourself in a piece of Phuket’s history. And, of course, there’s always the thrill of staying in the same place as a famous movie star. For me, The On On Hotel blends nostalgia, history, and a touch of star appeal, making it a unique and memorable place to stay in Phuket.
The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is an event that truly encapsulates the island’s unique cultural blend. It’s an annual celebration that I’ve witnessed several times, each experience as fascinating as the last.
This festival is not your typical cultural event. Rooted in Chinese traditions, it’s a time when the town is filled with parades, rituals, and, of course, vegetarian food. The air is charged with a kind of spiritual energy that’s hard to describe but impossible to ignore.
In 2023, my husband and I walked the parade from Kathu Temple into Phuket Town (around 7km). It was a crazy experience watching Thai men & women who you may have had a drink with the night before, suddenly turn into mediums of the Gods and shove knives and anything sharp through their cheeks. Then they walk through Phuket Town and back in bare feet (20 km or so), some having to hold the heavy objects ripping holes in their faces, while firecrackers are being thrown at them.
And I don’t mean the odd firecracker, I mean hundreds, wrapped around wooden poles, set alight, and lowered into the middle of the parade!
It’s not a festival for the faint-hearted but well worth experiencing if only once.
Hot tip: Venture out early to catch the street processions and ceremonies. They can be quite intense, with fire-walking and body piercing, reflecting the devotees’ beliefs and spiritual commitments. The food stalls set up during the festival offer an array of delicious vegetarian dishes, making it a great opportunity to try new flavors. Be sure to respect the local customs and traditions – this festival is a deeply spiritual event for many.
In Phuket, a traditional Thai massage is a must-try experience, and Kim’s Massage, with several spots around Old Phuket Town, is my go-to place. Over the years, it’s become more than just a massage spot for me; it’s a haven of relaxation.
Why Kim’s? It’s not just the quality of the fantastic massages by the way. It’s the whole package – the serene ambiance, the attentive service, and those little extras (like coconut sweets) that make all the difference. After a session here, you’ll feel rejuvenated, body and soul.
Hot tip: Don’t rush off after your massage. Take a moment to enjoy their complimentary treats – the coconut sweets are divine, and the soothing aroma of the oils they use lingers pleasantly. Sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits while you unwind completes the experience. For me, it’s these thoughtful touches, along with the skilled massages, that make Kim’s stand out. Whether it’s a foot massage after a day of exploring or a full body massage for some deeper relaxation, Kim’s Massage is a slice of bliss in the heart of Phuket.
Navigating the nightlife in Old Phuket Town has been one of my favorite pastimes, and there are a few spots that I find myself returning to for their unique vibes and experiences.
- London Bar: This music bar has a cozy, British-pub-like feel that I adore. It’s great for those evenings when you’re in the mood for a laid-back atmosphere, some great music, a good selection of drinks, and some friendly conversation.
- Club No 43: Excellent cocktails and a stunning interior, Club No 43 is a cocktail bar offering retro music and a great vibe!
- The Library: Stands out for its good atmosphere and music, making it a great location for both partying and chilling. The bar’s interior design adds to the overall experience, creating a vibe that is conducive to both lively evenings and relaxed hangouts.
- Ka Jok See: One of the most talked-about places in town, and for good reason. It offers a unique experience with its blend of delicious food, vibrant dance performances, and an atmosphere that’s full of energy. Be warned, it can get pretty racey! Doesn’t open until 11 pm.
Hot tip: Each of these places has its character, so choose based on your mood for the evening. And don’t forget to try the signature drinks at each spot – they’re part of the experience. From the cozy London Bar to the lively Ka Jok See, the nightlife in Old Phuket Town has something for every taste, making it a delightful exploration of local and international flavors.
Like I said at the start, if you’d asked me a few years back whether it was worth visiting Phuket Old Town, I would have likely said give it a miss.
But in the last few years, particularly post-Covid, it’s come into its own and is a very funky part of Phuket to explore.
Also with the new laws here around marijuana, there are plenty of shops with strains, edibles, pens, etc, if that floats your boat.
Personally, I love to wander the streets, get a massage, head to the markets, go for a nice dinner, and if I’m feeling up for it maybe a cocktail and a boogie!
It’s definitely worth a day out if you’re visiting Phuket.
Absolutely! Old Phuket Town offers a unique and enriching experience distinct from the typical beach activities Phuket is known for. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in the rich history, vibrant culture, and architectural beauty of the island.
From exploring colorful Chinese-Portuguese buildings to indulging in local cuisine and discovering quaint shops, Old Phuket Town is definitely worth a visit.
To fully experience what Old Phuket Town has to offer, it’s recommended to spend at least 2 days. This allows you enough time to explore the historical sites, enjoy the local food scene, and perhaps even participate in a cultural event or workshop. If you’re short on time, a full day may suffice to see the main highlights, but a longer stay is more relaxed and rewarding.
Patong is approximately 15 to 20 kilometers from Old Phuket Town, depending on the specific locations and routes taken. By car or taxi, it usually takes around 30 to 40 minutes to travel between these two places. The journey time may vary slightly depending on traffic conditions.
Yes, Old Phuket Town does offer nightlife, though it’s more subdued compared to areas like Patong. The nightlife here is characterized by cozy bars, live music venues, and a handful of clubs. It’s a great place to enjoy a more laid-back and culturally rich evening experience.
Old Phuket Town is easily accessible from Phuket International Airport. It’s about a 40-55 minute drive, and you can take a taxi, a local bus, or arrange a private transfer to get there. This makes Old Phuket Town a convenient destination to explore, especially if you’ve just arrived or are staying near the airport.