Phuket Old Town – The cultural gem of Phuket

What to see in Phuket Old Town, Thailand

Jewel of the Andaman sea.
A world-famous playground of white sand beaches, blue skies, and crystal clear water. Resplendent with every modern amenity a tourist could desire.
Welcoming over 20 million visitors per annum Phuket is well and truly on the tourist trail.
But how many of these visitors make it to Phuket Town?
Judging by our recent visit, I’m going to say not many. And let me tell you, they are missing out.
Missing out on the best food.

Braised Pork and Crab Curry at One Chun Restaurant
Braised Pork and Crab Curry at One Chun Restaurant

Missing out on the best architecture.

Baan Chinpracha Phuket Town
Baan Chinpracha

Missing out on the real Phuket.

Phuket Old Town was built on the riches of the tin mining boom. Beautiful Sino-Portuguese buildings house chic coffee shops, boutique stores and excellent restaurants. The mining industry also attracted a large population of Chinese immigrants whose influence is evident. Shop houses and intricate shrines add to the splendour of the town.

Despite being the provincial capital of an island slap bang in the heart of Touristville, Phuket Town is remarkably laid back. A beautiful place to amble around and marvel and the stunning colonial mansions and elegant temples hidden around every corner.
And when it’s time to refuel an extensive array of dining options await. Everything from food carts to opulent restaurants serving 5 star cuisine from around the world. Mostly at very reasonable prices.

On Sunday the main street, Thalang Road, hosts a night market. Closed to traffic this usually sleepy street suddenly becomes a hub of activity. Stalls offering food, beverages, clothing and all sorts of Knick-knacks throng with tourists who materialise out of nowhere to create a cacophony of noise and bustle. Fortunately this burst of life soon subsides, and long before midnight the peace and tranquillity of Phuket Town is restored.

Once adequately nourished by the culture, heritage and remarkable food that old town has to offer don your comfortable shoes and take a trek up Monkey Hill for some great views of the city, and some interesting company…..

And if you still have the urge to dip your toes in the Andaman you can reach some of the most beautiful beaches that Phuket has to offer for just 40 baht from the South Bus Station conveniently located at the edge of Old Town.

Monkey Hill – Phuket Town

Toh Sae Hill in Phuket Town also known as Monkey Hill

A short but steep walk from Phuket Old Town, Monkey Hill Viewpoint offers impressive views over the whole of town and out to sea. But it’s not the vista that draws people here. It’s the large troupe of cheeky macaques that are the star attraction.

From the Provincial Hall, Toh Sae Road climbs sharply. The road has plenty of shade and a couple of decent look out spots, as well as more than it’s fair share of sleeping dogs. (Just let them lie)

There’s a little Chinese shrine and a small shop about half way up. A good place to take a short break in the company of more dogs, now joined by goats and roosters.

The monkeys have commandeered a small exercise park about 1km up the hill and appear to enjoy using the cross trainer as a swing.

It’s said that several hundred macaques inhabit Monkey Hill and though I can’t vouch for that what I can say is they were certainly not in short supply during our visit.

Monkey Hill Phuket Town
Stacks of Macaques

I’d read some older articles that said that the monkeys were quite shy. Clearly constant human contact is having some impact on this. Though certainly not as boisterous as the muggers at Monkey Forest Ubud, they are far from shy, and will approach you even if you do not have food and think nothing of stealing your bottle of water. Little ******’s.

A little further up the hill just before you reach the TV & radio stations you will see the viewing platform. There’s little point progressing any further as this spot offers the best views available.

Monkey Hill Viewpoint
Monkey Hill Viewpoint

If you are visiting Phuket Town, we would certainly recommend a trip to Monkey Hill. Although the climb is steep, it’s a pleasant walk with plenty of opportunities to rest along the way. But be warned local dogs have already taken all the best spots to relax in.

Kata Beach Phuket in Rainy Season

Kata Beach Phuket - The danger of snapshot reviews

We arrived in Kata Beach on the 1st October. We were aware we were visiting Phuket during the rainy season and were happy to take our chances with the weather. A reasonable trade-off for a quieter resort, and cheap accommodation we thought.

Kata Beach sounded very much like our kind of place. A good choice of restaurants, and somewhere to get a drink, but unlikely to attract the party crowd, particularly in off-season.

We had also read that it hosted one of the best beaches in Phuket.

Our room, at Phuket Kata Resort, was an absolute bargain at 600 baht per night. Hardly luxury accommodation, but a large clean room, with 2 showers???, for that price, who can complain?

Well OK. I’ll give it a shot. The bed was rock hard and the traditional wooden doors made a right racket when anyone on the block entered or left their room.

Also there was no net curtain on our window. As we were at ground level, we could have the curtains open exposing ourselves to the entire complex, or have the curtain closed, in effect condemning ourselves to a windowless room. We chose the latter.

On our first day we won the weather lottery and headed down to the beach. A little earlier in our travels we had visited Koh Samui which was fantastic. We had read that Kata Beach was as good if not better than anything Samui had to offer.

What the……………….

Kata Beach Phuket

To say we were disappointed was an understatement.

I actually felt quite angry.

We had walked onto an extremely narrow band of dirty sand crammed with pale bodies jostling for position, reminiscent of the seals at Pier 39 in San Francisco.Seals at Pier 39

What there was of a beach was being lapped by a foamy, oily brown sea. Apparently this is a regular occurrence in Kata at the end of the Monsoon Season, as reported in Phuket News.

Kata Beach Brown Sea

Hardly the stuff of postcards!

We chose to walk the length of the beach along the road shouldering it, as this was much cleaner.

It did not improve.

During the following week as well has returning to Kata Beach we also visited Karon beach, and Patong beach.

Both were better, but not much.

We were well-informed that the weather would be changeable, and the sea may be rough if we visited during rainy season. What we hadn’t read anywhere was that the beach disappears and the sea looks like an oil slick.

It’s fair to say had we only been in Phuket for 7 days, this post would be far from complimentary.

But, as it happens we were in Kata for almost 2 weeks.

And by the end of our stay things had changed dramatically.

Kata Beach

Kata Beach

The brown oiliness of the sea had almost cleared up.

As the rough sea had settled, a beautiful wide beach of soft golden sand had emerged.

And the tractors had been out clearing up the rubbish.

The majority of the beach was still red flagged due to strong tides, but considering how much the water had settled over the past 10 days, I suspect these will soon be gone, leaving the type of beach we had expected to see when we originally arrived in Kata.

I must admit, this experience has made me a little reluctant to make sweeping statements. Based on the first week, I would have been warning against visiting Phuket in the rainy season. Had I arrived a week later I would have been singing it’s praises.

And I guess that’s the problem with any review. It’s a snapshot of a single experience. To get a balanced perspective you have to do your homework.

Or experience it for yourself, of course.

Have you visited Phuket during the rainy season?

We’d love to hear what you thought of it.