The Delights and Delicacies of Phuket Old Town
With some of the best beaches in the world, Phuket is undoubtedly one of Thailand’s most popular destinations for sea and sand, and yet only a short drive inland from the coast there’s plenty to discover, including Phuket Old Town, the old quarter of Phuket City.
First recorded in the travelogues of 16th century Portuguese explorers, the island of Phuket was a key port for vessels on Chinese and Indian trade routes during the 17th century. However, by the second half of the 19th century, these shipping routes were bringing large numbers of Chinese migrant workers to Phuket via Singapore and Penang to work in the tin mines.
Thailand’s tin mining industry is now long gone, but the legacy of this era and the wealth it generated are still very much alive on the streets of Phuket Old Town. A large number of the old quarter’s residents are of Chinese ancestry, while European colonial influences have also merged with Chinese customs to produce a unique cultural identity that has influenced Old Phuket Town’s food, architecture and traditions. Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese also make up a part of the old quarter’s residents. Referred to locally as ‘Phuket Babas’, their ancestors came to Phuket from Penang and Malacca and have had a strong influence on many aspects of Phuket life, particularly its cuisine.
The colorful Sino-Portuguese architecture of Phuket Old Town’s buildings and the arches of the covered ‘five-foot way’ sidewalks, gives the old quarter a charming ambience harking back to a time when Phuket was the wealthy administrative center of Thailand’s southern tin-producing provinces. Khiri Travel’s guide to the old quarter knows this area intimately and will guide you down tiny alleyways to quaint little shops, like an old Chinese medicine shop, where the elderly proprietor still uses a pestle and mortar to grind and mix his traditional remedies.
Phuket Old Town also offers an eclectic mix of eateries and street food stalls many of which have been run by the same families for generations. Look out for such local specialties as mee Hokkien, stir-fried Hokkien noodles, or siew boi, Phuket-style dim sum, served early in the morning. Our guide will bring you to try some of these delicious dim sum dishes at a restaurant where everything is still made and prepared by hand. Other attractions include an amulet market specializing in Buddhist talisman; a hundred-year-old shrine; and on Sunday afternoons Phuket Old Town’s main street, Thalang Road, becomes a walking street with food vendors from local island communities.
Phuket was named by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network as a ‘City of Gastronomy’ in December 2015, honoring the island’s rich culinary history and its unique Baba cuisine. Phuket Old Town is also currently being evaluated by UNESCO for listing as a World Heritage Site, a seal of approval that would undoubtedly increase its popularity among visitors to this island haven.
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