Secrets of Phuket Old Town
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.

Thailand, Phuket Guide (A): Secrets of Phuket Old Town

This guys offers you a look at beautiful Chinese Shrines and Buddhist Wats, as well as a taste of trading of Buddhist amulets and mixing of Chinese traditional herbs. Chinese Phuketian Culture, the original Post Office, the first hotel – and much, much more.
This article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play. You can download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the attractions featured in this article. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Walk Route

Guide Name: Secrets of Phuket Old Town
Guide Location: Thailand » Phuket
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 2.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Pud Jow Chinese Shrine / Jui Tui Chinese Shrine   Sanjao Sam San Chinese Shrine / Thye Guan Tong Chinese Shrine   Chinpracha House and Mansion / The Blue Elephant   Phuket Thaihua Museum   China Inn   Wat Mongkol Nimit   Romannee Soi   Golden Sea Dragon / Hai Leng Ong   Philatelic Museum / Old Phuket Post Office   Old Chartered Bank   Thavorn Hotel and Museum   Amulet Alley   Guan Choon Tong Herbal Store   Shrine of the Serene Light   On On Hotel  
Author: tim laven
Author Bio: I have lived with my family in Phuket for the last ten years and I love to explore things which are not always on the map.
Author Website: http://timinphuket.blogspot.com/
1
Pud Jow Chinese Shrine / Jui Tui Chinese Shrine

1) Pud Jow Chinese Shrine / Jui Tui Chinese Shrine

Here are two beautiful examples of Chinese Shrines. Their architecture is magnificent and the attention to detail is breath taking.

Pud Jow is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy and Jui Tui Shrine is dedicated to the Vegetarian God, Klu Wong.

Please note that on entering all shrines, it is necessary to remove your shoes as a sign of respect for the Gods.

In front of the shrines there is a bowl with joss sticks and close by is a small flame that you can use to light the joss sticks. If you light one, you can then place it carefully in the bowl and complete this with a wai.

There is also a bell adjacent, that you may ring to tell the Gods that you have come to pray.

Behind the bowl there are usually a number gifts from the people who have visited.

Inside the Pud Jow shrine there are some numbers on the walls, these indicate the order you should follow while visiting - please do. Adjacent to the main shrine, there is a smaller room, here look very closely at the figurines that adorn it. They are beautiful and each figurine tells a story.

At the Jui Tui Shrine you can receive an answer, if you have an unanswered question - move to the main 'altar' and take a tube with a number of wooden sticks in, shake the tube until one of the sticks falls out. Pick up the stick and look at the number on it, now take the corresponding piece of paper from the large wooden cabinet – it will tell you the answer.

Please leave a small donation as a sign of respect.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
2
Sanjao Sam San Chinese Shrine / Thye Guan Tong Chinese Shrine

2) Sanjao Sam San Chinese Shrine / Thye Guan Tong Chinese Shrine

Sanjao Sam San Chinese Shrine was built in 1853 and is dedicated to Tien Sang Sung Mu, the ‘Goddess of the Sea’ and ‘Saint Mother Protector of Sailors’.

The shrine is another example of magnificent Chinese architecture found throughout Phuket Town. This particular shrine is special because the Chinese believe that by bringing a new boat here to be blessed, it will be protected; I have never seen a boat here however.

Thye Guan Tong Chinese shrine is next to the larger Sanjao Sam San Shrine, but Thye Guan Tong Shrine is set next to the pavement and feels much more personal.

If you do enter, please remember to remove your shoes and leave a donation for the upkeep of the shrine.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
3
Chinpracha House and Mansion / The Blue Elephant

3) Chinpracha House and Mansion / The Blue Elephant

Chinpracha House (also known as Baan Chinpracha) is at the end of a winding dirt road. Mr Tan Ma Siang, who was locally known as Praptik Chinprach, built Baan Chinpracha in 1903. His home was built in the “Angmor Lounge” style – it was the first house in Phuket built in this style.

His family and friends brought many of the pieces for his home from Europe, for example the ceramic floor tiles were imported from Italy and the fence was imported from Holland.

Chinpracha House was used by Oliver Stone in his movie ‘Heaven and Earth’, there is a signed thank you note on the wall in one of the rooms. The house still has a lot of charm and is wonderful to walk around – this is a special place to visit. For only 130 Baht, it is a treasure not to be missed.

The Phra Piak Chinpracha Mansion is located right next to Chinpracha House, but it is no longer the mansion it once was. Tan Ma Sieng, a Chinese gentleman who made his fortune from tin mining in Phuket, originally built it as a residence, but it is no longer a home.

The property was built in a Sion-Portuguese style and was know by the locals as “Ang mor lau”, which meant the ‘house of the red monkey’.

After a number of years of falling into disrepair, the descendants of Mr Tan have leased it to the Blue Elephant for 30 years. The Blue Elephant is a world established restaurant brand and the mansion is now a restaurant.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
4
Phuket Thaihua Museum

4) Phuket Thaihua Museum

Phuket Thaihua Museum displays information and gives visitors an insight into the Chinese Phuketian Culture. The building was originally a Chinese school (Phuket Hua Bun) which opened in 1934 and it is now a renovated beautiful building.

The Chinese were drawn to Phuket because of it's convenient location for trade and of the rapidly expanding Tin Mining Industry. This led to the increase in Chinese laborers and subsequently a drop in need for the French companies. The Chinese chose to manage it all, which they did, until the 1960’s when the ecological impact of tin mining was recognized.

The influence of the Chinese people is felt throughout Phuket and gives Phuket Town a lot of its character. The Por Tor Festival and the Vegetarian festival are the two largest examples of Chinese culture in Phuket that spring to mind.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
5
China Inn

5) China Inn

You enter into what looks like a front room of a home, but it is devoid of technology – on closer inspection there are Buddhist figurines and old photographs displaying the Chinese Heritage of this property. As you walk through the shop-house, the walls are adorned with Chinese fabrics and figurines – the atmosphere is truly special.

As you continue towards the back, you will find yourself in an immaculately managed garden – which is also a restaurant. The food is great – paradise in Phuket Town.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
6
Wat Mongkol Nimit

6) Wat Mongkol Nimit

The architecture of the Wat is what attracts many people here. The Wat has the traditional high ceilings that are common to all Thai Buddhist temples, but what is most alluring here is the use of glass. There is glass throughout the temple and the Wat looks different depending on the time of day and the weather. This is not common for Thai temples and as a result the Wat Mongkol Nimit is very popular with photographers.

But the beauty is not limited to the glass – inside there are white pillars, carvings on the walls and golden arches. On the outside, the gates are also worth a look, and there is also a Chedi at the back.

Please remember that it is still a temple for Buddhist prayer and please remove your shoes if you enter the Wat.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
7
Romannee Soi

7) Romannee Soi

This small Soi, located between Dibuk Road and Thalang Road, has recently experienced a resurgence of popularity. Thirty or forty years ago, it was seen as a dark-side of Phuket Town – this was where you were able to get all manner of intoxicants and could ‘hang out’ all night.

It is a very short street, but the Sino-Portuguese buildings are slowly being restored to their previous state and now the Soi is no longer one with a bad reputation.

There are a number of small shops, cafes and hostels along this Soi. Every day there is food sold along this street and it is known as the ‘Street of Happiness’. There is also a Jazz festival each year when the Soi is filled with musicians, all trying to be heard.

Despite this ‘introduction’ to the modern world, there are still Chinese families and their businesses here. The most fascinating place to visit however is the Chinese shrine that is actually the front part of someone’s home.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
8
Golden Sea Dragon / Hai Leng Ong

8) Golden Sea Dragon / Hai Leng Ong

There is a large Chinese community in Phuket and there is a Chinese legend that says Phuket Island is actually a dragon that has risen from the Indian Ocean. This belief is held in high regard in Phuket and so a large monument of a dragon was built in 2004 to commemorate Queen Sirikit’s 72nd birthday, the statue is the main attraction at Queen Sirikit Park.

Looking closely at the stone inscription surrounding the Golden Sea Dragon, there are some similarities to the shape of the island and the shape of the Sea Dragon. Laem Phromthep is equivalent to the nose of the dragon, the East coast represents the legs, the West coast the spine and it’s tail Baan Tacatchai.

The Chinese believe that the Sea Dragon will protect them and the people who choose to have their businesses in Phuket – the Chinese dragon has a duty to protect Phuket and it’s visitors. Following a recent tsunami, these beliefs have grown even more in popularity and respect.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
9
Philatelic Museum / Old Phuket Post Office

9) Philatelic Museum / Old Phuket Post Office

The Philatelic Museum is actually the old Phuket Post Office. This was where the mail was sorted and distributed throughout Phuket and it’s districts.

On entering, you immediately get a feeling of history and then by taking a step closer you are immediately enveloped by it. There is a great deal of original equipment, as well as collections of stamps that date back to the time when Thailand was referred to as Siam, telephones, uniforms, desks and much more.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
10
Old Chartered Bank

10) Old Chartered Bank

In the early 1900’s tin mining was at its peak and this led to the opening of the first foreign bank in Phuket. However, the bankers worried so much that they insisted there was a police station nearby – which was built across the road.

The bank (and the police station) are no longer being used and the Thai Treasury Department has given the buildings to the Phuket Municipality. A museum, which celebrates the culture of Old Phuket and honors HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, is now planned in their place. Refurbishment will start in 2012 and it will be known as the Phuket Provincial Baba Museum and be managed by the Phuket Peranakan Association – at the moment however, the buildings are crumbling…
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
11
Thavorn Hotel and Museum

11) Thavorn Hotel and Museum

The Thavorn Hotel is located in the heart of the Old Phuket Town and was built at the beginning of the twentieth century by an established Chinese family, the Thavorn Wong family.

It is not strictly a museum, the hotel still operates. I advise booking in advance during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

Take a look at the lobby and the attached museum that showcases the history of the hotel. These two rooms are filled with an eclectic mix of artifacts - from clothing and swords to a piano and slippers and my favorite - a ceramic pillow for smoking.



Another interesting fact I discovered was that the Thavorn Hotel had the first elevator in Phuket.



Definitely worth the 30 Baht entrance.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
12
Amulet Alley

12) Amulet Alley

This is an alley opposite the Chinese Shrine called the ‘Shrine of the Serene’ and next to a lovely restaurant called Siam Indigo. In fact, the alley can easily be missed – be careful when you step over the open drain.

The alley is a peaceful place and is usually frequented by people who are interested in particular amulets for their own protection. Initially, these amulets were only available from a Wat, but as the demand grew for particular amulets (some are more highly prized than others) so did the locations where you could purchase one.

Thailand is still predominantly Buddhist and many of its inhabitants believe that wearing specific amulets will bestow upon them a degree of protection – maybe that is why there are so few who wear motorbike helmets?

Amulet Alley is an interesting place, but please always be respectful to the images, locals take them quite serious.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
13
Guan Choon Tong Herbal Store

13) Guan Choon Tong Herbal Store

As you wander around Phuket Town you become aware of it’s Chinese Heritage BUT unless you've seen some of the recent "kung-fu" films, you will not have experienced a place like this store.

Mrs. Sodsri Bumrungwong is the head of the family that still manages the Herbal Store and has lived there for the last 70 years. The atmosphere is overwhelming – the smell of the herbs and a variety of herbal products is mind-blowing.

I can only imagine what is in the row of small wooden boxes with roots, tree bark, rose petals, dried insects (including frogs and scorpions) but that is only what I have read, never seen.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
14
Shrine of the Serene Light

14) Shrine of the Serene Light

Here is an example of a beautiful Chinese Shrine, it was built in 1889 by a local Hokkien Chinese family. The entrance to the shrine used to be very unassuming, even hard to spot, but recently two pillars were erected to mark it clearly. Pass through the pillars and down a very unassuming passageway and into a very special part of Phuket.

The path takes you into a courtyard with the shrine at the end, a pagoda for burning on the right and on the left a part of the original shrine on display. The shrine has a plethora of interesting things to view. The most interesting is the mural of “Si-in-Gu’ – a legendary Chinese Folk Hero.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.
15
On On Hotel

15) On On Hotel

The On On Hotel was established in 1929 and has been described as a ‘maze of battered rooms’ – I would be a little more forgiving, but the property does look a little dilapidated.

The Chinese and Portuguese architecture is not new, but the building is brimming with culture – surrounding it are smaller buildings and shops. Have a coffee at the Kopi coffee shop, but do it early in the morning when breakfast it served as it does not always smell like a coffee shop.

The location is in the heart of Phuket Town which is wonderful if that is where you want to be – privacy is not your main concern if you choose to stay here!

The On On was used as a set in the film that made the beginning of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hollywood career – ‘The Beach’. Interestingly in the film the On On Hotel was supposed to be in Bangkok.
Image by timinphuket under Creative Commons License.