Renewing Phuket’s Old Charm
Phuket still dwells on its past and in a good way, with the presence of a true heritage town of mansions, colourful shophouses, street food and charming wall murals.
Words Chusri Ngamprasert
Information & Photos Courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand
On Phuket’s west side, spectacular beaches attract holidaymakers and sun worshippers who luxuriate in the resorts and beach clubs that reflect the modern face of this tropical island paradise. But the island also smoothly integrates with a past that’s still evident in its heritage town. A mere ride away from the bustling beaches lands you in Phuket Old Town on the island’s south side. The area is a reminder of the complex history and culture of this exotic island that raised itself in relevance, all generated from trade and tin mining.
You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy Phuket Old Town. This heritage and historical block has Sino-Portuguese mansions aplenty, street art by skilled artists and fabulous foods that’s uniquely Phuket. Phuket Old Town transformed since its designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015. The vibrant dining scene, together with its fascinating Peranakan culture inspired a group of Phuket descendants called So Phuket to F.A.T (Food Art Old Town) Phuket in 2016. Talented Thai and international graffiti artists like Alex Face and Rukkit Kuanhawate collaborated on a series of murals reflecting the food, traditions and culture of Phuket in the old town.
Hungry travellers and foodies alike can stroll along and follow a food graffiti trail to alleys that spring to life with the aromas of cooking. There is nothing better than eating local food such as barbeque of freshly caught seafood served with a spicy dip, crispy fried pork ribs and mouth-watering noodles as heritage buildings rich with architectural details compliment the vibe.
One of the most photographed spots sits at the junction of Romanee Road and Thalang Road. A striking character known as Mardi, has the face of a child with three eyes. wearing a rabbit-eared hoodie, Mardi is artist Alex Face’s signature work while Ang Ku Koe, features Mardi in a red turtle cake dress, representing the longevity cake commonly eaten during festivals like Por Tor or the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Another colourful mural shows a vendor cooking the traditional street food O Tao, a favourite of deep-fried pork rinds and tiny oysters in an egg mixture with taro in a gooey, spicy batter – sure to make passersby want to have a bite. Other murals depict festivals in Phuket like the Vegetarian Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year and the custom of Dern Tao where people pack dinner and head to the beach to collect turtle eggs from evening until daybreak. This is sure to trigger thoughts to bring tasty vegetarian fried noodles and street foods ideal for a picnic on the beach under the moonlight. These head-turning murals brighten up the Sino-Portuguese quarter in Phuket’s old town, in turn creating memorable moments for the islanders.
Following the success of F.A.T 2016, So Phuket and 4Studio launched the “F.A.T Street Art Season 2” in the year 2018 encouraged a more active art scene in Phuket. Twenty local artists and art students were invited to create new murals portraying childhood memories and their Phuket sentiment emphasising its multicultural culinary heritage, traditions and cultures.
Highlighted in each and ever new mural is pride of the island showcasing the mix of different cultures and beliefs. Some artists build on old works. A wall painting of an old yaya or elderly woman sits with her food carrier is now a livelier depiction, joined by a girl and a boy by her side. Adjacent to the portrait of the yaya, a customer holds a plate while a dog looks up in anticipation, adding to the painting of the street vendor cooking O Tao.
If you happen to check out the street art on Sunday, you can shop ‘till you drop from 4pm to 10pm at Phuket Walking Street or Lardyai (Talad Yai). Lardyai, meaning ‘big market’ in the southern Thai dialect sets up right in the middle of the historical Sino-Portuguese district of Phuket Town. Jolt your taste buds with various southern Thai culinary specialties and continue your shopping spree at local handicraft and gift stalls. Enjoy many street performances while strolling along this vibrant walking street.
Chim Jae Walking Street also is an ideal place to get handmade crafts that are also stylish. This newly-opened market comprises of two connecting houses resulting in a 130 metre covered walkway from Thalang Road to Dibuk Road. So come rain or shine, more than 80 food and handicraft stalls await your visit. Phuket Old Town still retains its charms through the years, capturing it just requires walking.
Street Art Route
More than 20 wall murals are right in Phuket’s Old Town, starting from Thalang Road to Dibuk junction and Patipat Road via Phang Nga Road.
Phuket Walking Street: Lard Yai
Location: Thalang Road, Mueang, Phuket
Telephone: +66 (0) 81 677 9851
Every Sunday from 4-10pm
Chim Jae Walking Street
Location: Thalang Road, Mueang, Phuket
Telephone: +66 (0) 91 454 4249
Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm
Sunday from 10am to 10pm