Thalang road, the historical heart of Old Phuket Town, has saved most of its old Sino-Portuguese houses and is now the best known street in town. Many shop-houses and mansions got refurbished, repainted or entirely rebuilt. Travelers find Thalang road and Soi Romanee real nice, but you’ll find many little gems hidden here and there in the streets around.
Even though I do appreciate the effort of renovation, I still prefer old houses in their state of… old houses. You can feel their story, how many lives they witnessed and how many little secrets they are hiding. Soi Romanee for instance was once the naughtiest area in town, and not where the sophisticated girls were. Today it is the trendiest and most renovated street… nice, but soulless.
“It costs a lot to make a nice new house from an old house. It cost a lot more to make an nice old house out of an old house”. China Inn is only house applying that idea. It takes is more than just fresh paint to preserve the spirit of an old town, just walk in front of China Inn and you will instantly know what I am talking about.
Phra Phitak Chyn Pracha Mansion (top and last photos), known today as the ‘Blue Elephant‘ restaurant didn’t see it this way. This huge Mansion has a long history, it was once a trader’s house and was abandoned, surrounded by a very large grassy park and giant trees. I could never walk by this house without staring at it, imagining all the history and stories hidden behind these closed wooden windows. It was fascinating and a bit eerie at the same time, but I really loved it. It was grand.
And I was not alone, a lot of people unsuccessfully tried to buy it. Recently, what I thought would never happen finally happened, renovation works were starting. It took a while, and to their credit, they did their best to preserve the architecture, features and colors, but just like I anticipated, they lost the soul of the house. It’s now ‘just’ a beautiful restaurant…
Having said that, these old renovated streets still provide countless angles and lights to satisfy any photographer’s itchy finger. Among the well known Sino-Portuguese houses are the beautiful ‘Thai Hua museum‘ and Pirrera Cafe. Thalang, which was the first to bury its ugly electric cables underground, is built with the typical archway to protect the walkers from rain and sun. All the shop-houses are more or less built around the same layout: three floors with small windows in the front and the back to preserve the cool air and with bars to protect from bad guys.
Noticeable shops in this street are the old Chinese pharmacies, some hairdressers coming straight out of a 60’s movie and plenty of fabric shops. If you want to take photos in there, get ready to be told off, these people are running a business and they seem to have more photographers than buyers. Many shop-house along the street are privately owned and hide their pretty renovated facades behind ugly thick bars. Maybe they also had enough of the thousand people taking photos of their porch.
You’ll find plenty of small cafes and restaurants all along the street, China Inn, which is also a shop, is the most attractive one but it’s a bit pricey and seats are limited. Next to it is the humble but popular Wilai, serving Hokkien fried noodle, their specialty. Raya House, is one restaurant you absolutely must try. It’s an amazing old house, run by two old ladies and serving excellent Thai food. What they did is even better than a good renovation: they didn’t renovate at all. Maybe some fresh paint once every ten years, but the house is exactly as it always was. Despite being hidden behind an ugly ‘club’, the place is becoming extremely popular. Thai celebs coming from Bangkok often eat there. Try ‘yellow curry crab with Kanom Jeen’ (rice noodles)’
Once or twice a year, a town festival will pack the streets with thousands of tourists and each shop will open up to the street, mostly selling all kinds of foods and sweets. It’s always fun to blend with the locals, but it can get seriously crowded. Don’t miss the new Sunday Walking Street on Thalang Road and our Phuket Town Walking Map!
Useful Tips: There are some fascinating ‘not yet renovated’ mansions in the streets around… Click here to see the “21 Amazing Mansions in Phuket Town”