Friday, May 7, 2010



Some call Patong a city, we call it a sight. You say you love Patong’s frenzy of neon lights? Great! You hate it? We’re not surprised – Phuket’s capital of hedonism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You see, we measure globalisation in Patong by Starbucks rather than 7-Elevens, so that perfect slice of sandy paradise you saw on a poster on your travel agent’s wall is somewhere else on the island. But don’t get us wrong, even though this beachside wonderland is a testament to unchecked tourism instead of paradise with a capital ‘P’, it is definitely a must see. Besides the much-talked-about unsavoury tourism, Patong promises smiles with colourful cabarets , endless shopping, boisterous boxing rings, watersports, see-and-beseen resorts and amazing dining options from hot tin shacks to schmancy high-end eats.

เมืองภูเก็ต, ภูเก็ต

Long before boardshorts or flip-flops, Phuket was an island of rubber trees, tin mines and cash-hungry merchants. Attracting entrepreneurs from as far away as the Arabian Peninsula, China, India and Portugal, Phuket Town was a colourful blend of cultural influences, cobbled together by tentative compromise and cooperation. After a visit to Phuket Town you can put a tick in the culture category of your Phuket checklist. If you’re interested in staying longer, there are plenty of quality places to spend the night, not to mention a heap of great eating options if you’re spending the day.

Phuket’s historic
Sino-Portuguese architecture is the town’s most evocative sight:
stroll along Ths Thalang, Dibuk, Yaowarat, Ranong, Phang-Nga, Rasada and Krabi for a glimpse of some of the best buildings on offer. The most magnificent examples in town are the
Standard Chartered Bank, Thailand’s oldest foreign bank; the THAI office; and the old post office building, which now houses the Phuket Philatelic Museum, a first stop for stamp boffins. The best-restored residential properties are found along Th Dibuk and Th Thalang.

Phuket Philatelic Museum

Phuket’s main
day market is worth a wander and is the spot to invest in the requisite Thai and Malay sarongs, as well as baggy Shan fishermen’s pants.

The new
Phuket Thai Hua Museum, set in an old Sino-Portuguese home, celebrates the town’s Chinese heritage. It consists mostly of old and new black-and-white photographs and runs on donations.

A handful of Chinese temples inject some added colour into the area. Most are standard issue, but the Shrine of the Serene Light tucked away at the end of a 50m alley near the Bangkok Bank of Commerce on Th Phang-Nga, is a cut above the rest. You’ll see Taoist etchings on the walls, the vaulted ceiling stained from incense plumes, and the altar is always alive with fresh flowers and burning candles. The shrine, which has been restored, is said to have been built by a local family in the mid-1880s, and the sense of history is tangible.

The namesake of the Phra Phitak Chyn Pracha Mansion used to own a number of tin mines in the early 20th century. Today the ochre-tinged house sits forlorn, in need of a Thai Scarlett O’Hara (it certainly has the grounds for it). The iron gates are open, so proceed at your own risk. If you do breach the threshold, and dogs bark, don’t worry as they’re probably just growling at the ghosts.


Phuket has many centres for Buddhist worship; just remember to ditch your beach clothes before stepping on temple grounds. Donations are warmly accepted at all wát.

One of our favourite wát on Phuket,
Wat Chalong is a bustling, tiered temple with 36 Buddhas that are seated, reclining or meditating on the first two floors. Concrete serpents line the banisters and the lotus pond outside. It’s not an antique, but it does have a heady spiritual vibe, especially when worshippers come to pay their respects.

Located near Thalang Town,
Wat Phra Thong is known as the ‘Temple of the Gold Buddha’. The image is half-buried so that only the head and shoulders are visible above ground. According to local legend, those who have tried to excavate the image have become gravely ill soon after. The temple is particularly revered by Thai Chinese, many of whom believe the image hails from China. During Chinese New Year the temple is an important focus for Phang-Nga and Krabi provinces. In addition to Phra Thong, there are several other Buddhas, including seven representing the different days of the week, plus a Phra Praket (an unusual pose in which the Buddha is touching his own head).

Although the architecture is rather uninspiring,
Wat Nai Han is a working monastery, so if you show up at dawn you can watch, or even join in, as the monks chant scripture. Just make sure to ask permission from a monk the day before.

Set back from the road,
Wat Karon is a relatively new temple complex with a small shine occupied by a seated, black-stone Buddha. Behind it is the striking crematorium with its tiered roof – which only opens on ceremonial days. The grounds are lush with banana, palm and mango trees.