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Phuket old town

Sino-Portuguese Houses
A must-do in Phuket is a walk in the old part of Phuket City, around Thalang, Dibuk and Krabi roads. The beautiful architecture along these roads will take you back the charm of a century ago. According to Pranee Sakulpitpatana, a lecturer at Phuket Rajabhat University and one of the island’s premier historians, the architecture is a reflection of European influence on the island. Europeans including the Portuguese and the British, had been interested in Phuket’s tin wealth since the 16th century.

Unique style
In the 18th century, much of the island’s tin mining was carried out by Hokkien Chinese who became the big players in building the old part of the city. In the early 20th century, under Governor Phraya Rassada Nupradit, major European mining companies were invited in, and the major public infrastructure such as roads and canals was built.

No one knows exactly when the first building in this style was constructed, but old photographs from the reign of King Rama V (1853-1910) show that it was already well established by then. Two styles of building in particular stand out: the shop-house (Sino-Portuguese style) and the big mansion (Sino-Colonial style).

The Sino-Portuguese shop-house in Phuket
The shop-house was a place for a family to both live and do business, using the front of the building for trading and the remainder, including the upper floor, as their private home. Businesses in those days included banks, general stores and tin mining offices. Shop-houses are usually found built in rows, giving rise to the Hokkien Chinese term tiam choo, meaning a row of shop-houses.

The floor plans of all these shop-houses are very similar: five metres wide but as much as 50 metres long, creating a very spacious living space for an entire family. Across the front of each, along the edge of the street, is an arcade, offering shade and shelter to the public. Behind this, the house is usually divided into four parts.

Inside a house (Baan Chinpracha)
There is a living room for general purposes and for receiving guests, followed by a space, open to the sky, with a well. At the rear is the kitchen. Upstairs is the family’s private area and bedrooms. In the old days, the central open area was often the heart of the house. It was here that you would find the women of the house chatting while cooking or doing the washing. It was also, in a sense, the lungs of the house, allowing air to flow through, even in the hottest month, April, when temperatures in Phuket can rise to 38 degrees C. Also contributing to the cool atmosphere were the thick, solidly-built walls.
Some good examples of recently renovated Sino-Portuguese shop-houses that you can visit are:

The China Inn Cafe' & Restaurant
The China Inn Cafe' & Restaurant on Thalang Road, open Monday to Wednesday from 11 am to 6 pm and on Thursday to Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, and from 6 pm to 11 pm, closed on Sunday. Tel: 076-356239.

The House of the Beautiful Images on Soi Rommanee, a cafe' with exhibition space for photography, open from 10 am to 9 pm every day except Wednesday. Tel: 076-214207.

The Dibuk Grill and Bar on Dibuk Road, open from Monday to Saturday from 11:30 am to 3 pm and again from 6 pm to 11 pm. Tel: 076-218425.

Phuket Restaurant

Radsada Road
For a more upscale experience with nicer ambiance and a wider variety of international foods, check out the area just east of the Song Thaew (local bus) station. This is rapidly becoming the most fashionable area of Phuket City, with numerous specialty shops and several classy and delicious establishments within an easy walk of one another.

For some of the best authentic Italian food around treat yourself to Salvatore's which serves fantastic pizza from it's wood-fired oven. Next door is Anna's, a popular Bangkok chain which has finally made its way to Phuket. For Indian there's Kannasutra, which is a lavishly decorated spot that hosts several parties each month. For a little bit of everything there's The Taste, Indigo Siam and the casual Circle Cafe' all of which have a good mix of Thai and international favourites. And let's not forget the long-time favourite Ka Jok Sii, which becomes a lively dance club after 22:00.

Around Town
Aside from these areas you can find lots of good food at the market near the local bus station, and tucked a short distance away you'll find the uniquely decorated Tammachat, aka the Natural. This is some of the best value and tastiest Thai food going.

Near Robinson's department store there are a few gems such as Uptown, as well as a number of western fast food chains like McDonald's, KFC and The Pizza Company. Central Festival Mall has lots of upscale eateries serving all sorts of international foods, as well as a few familiar favourites.

Phuket Night life

The nightlife scene in Phuket City is certainly different from the all-out assault on the senses of Patong. If Patong is Rocky Road, with everything sweet crammed in willy-nilly, then Phuket City is Green Tea: a distinctly Asian flavour that's an acquired taste, but a delight once you get used to it.

Rather than being an animatronic, Disneyland-ride version of Thailand, Phuket City is a great window into the life of real, everyday, modern Thais. The scene in Phuket City's nightclubs and bars is very indicative of Thai culture: it's fun, slightly corny and no one is taking anything seriously.

What to Expect in Phuket Town at Night
The big draws in Phuket City are the Thai-style night clubs - cavernous rooms packed wall to wall with people drinking, dancing, shouting and laughing. The main entertainment of these joints is usually a live band playing a variety of music ranging from western favourites (usually about three years out of date) to Thai folk music that's been amped up. There is rarely an actual dance floor as locals prefer to cluster around standing tables. Although the crowds are mainly Thais, there are plenty of foreigners scattered about, mostly expats who live and work in Phuket.

There are plenty of regular pubs around, as well. Many of these are run by and for foreigners and are popular meeting spots. Most of these bars are frequented by long established Phuket residents who gather after work to have a laugh and let off some steam. A few beers liberally spread around will get you the best inside information on the island. One such bar that is good for happy hour is Dorn's on Vichit Songkran (the road leading out of town to Central).

Partying Thai Style
When in Rome, do as the Romans do; when in Thailand, BYOB. It's common practice for the thrifty Thais to drink their whiskey by the bottle rather than pay by the glass. Most nightclubs will happily sell you a large bottle for slightly more than the price you'd pay in the shop. Ask or look for a 'set' that includes spirits, ice and mixers (Coke or Pepsi and soda water).

Split it between a few people and you can get well lubricated for a few hundred baht. Make sure to spread the love around and invite fellow patrons to join you. Generosity is one way Thais earn status and it's a great way to make friends.

Zeed - a dodgy place on Mae Luan Rd You may be wondering, "What about the girls?" Well, in Phuket City there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that you really don't find much 'ready company' there; the good news is that you will find plenty of normal Thai girls. Thai people, young and old, love to have a good time and there are plenty of single Thai girls who go out just to have some fun with their friends. Some of them are curious about foreigners and may be interested in sparking up a conversation, or something more, with you.

Remember, though, these are not bar girls, they're everyday, working people and you should treat them as such. Despite the impression that you get from heavily tourist places like Patong, most Thais are actually fairly reserved and old fashioned. If you're interested in a genuine relationship with a Thai, be prepared to put in some real effort and be very patient. Don't expect every Thai girl (or boy) to go home with you just because you flash some cash.

Where to go
Unlike Patong, there isn't one 'strip' of pubs and party spots in Phuket City, rather, the bars and nightclubs are scattered all over the city, although there are some areas with a few places close together.

One of those areas is the section of Yaowarat Rd between Old Town Phuket and Tesco-Lotus. Coming from the Old Phuket roundabout the first place you'll see on the right is Rockin' Angel, a must for music lovers and artists. The owner is a guitarist and singer and impromptu jam sessions are the norm, just don't sit too close to the drums!

Across the street you'll find Suea Saming, known to locals as 'The Bar with the Big Blue Doors'. This is a swanky place with a fine selection of imported spirits and energetic music courtesy of the DJ.

Live music at the Timber Hut Timber Hut, a mainstay on the Thai pub scene that attracts its fair share of westerners, is just up the road. Timber Hut features one of the best bar bands in Phuket and the place is jumpin' almost every night, albeit later on. An upstairs seating area is available if you get claustrophobic.

Carrying on further up Yaoworat Road, adjacent to the Phuket Merlin Hotel is Blue Marina, which, with its basement location and exposed ceiling, is reminiscent of a hip underground music club, an impression which is borne out by the regular crowd of Thai university students.

Continue down Yaowarat and you'll spy E-Sarn Terrace, easily recognized by the giant projection TV. No live music here but a lovely outdoor setting, good food and a cool bar area with billiards and a large selection of downloaded music serving as a jukebox.

9 Richter on Rasada Rd Just a little ways farther lies Idea Bar, which has the coldest beer in town. The help isn't bad to look at, either. Sprinkled in between these bars are a number of restaurants large and small offering some excellent food at reasonable prices.

The other area with a good concentration of bars and pubs is Rasada Road, near the large roundabout in the middle of old Phuket. This area has really improved recently, with a number of high-end restaurants and shops moving in, including an all-out dance place opposite Phuket Shopping Centre called 9 Richter that features a hopping DJ and a quasi-Vegas live band.

Michael's Bar on Takua Pa Rd Michael's Bar, on Takuapa Road off of Rasada, is popular with expats and features a pool table, sports TV and Internet connections.

Next door is Kana Sutra, a very good Indian restaurant that hosts regular singles' nights and parties.

Continue down Takuapa Road and you'll find half a dozen places featuring an all-Thai crowd. One such place is Fever Corner – a Thai beer garden. The end of Takuapa Road is the party frontier. Round the corner things get markedly seedy.

Kor Tor Mor on Nimit Circle Aside from these areas there are plenty of hot spots scattered around town. Balika and Oasis (Mae Luan Road), Ozone (Thalang Road) and Kor Tor Mor and a large new place next door with Thai script (translating to Akeakanekeng) (Nimit Circle) are all very popular with Thai youths.

They all have live bands and Ozone features a multi-level dance floor and scantily clad singers. On Phang Nga Road there are a number of pubs, clubs and bars, none of which resemble each other. Roxy is a bar run by two friendly Turkish lads; Fantasia may look like a large club from the outside but is really a glamourised knocking shop and the Pink Lady Caf?s are pretty much in the same ball game and certainly not cheap.

The Bar Coyoty (sic), on the left past the bus station, also features girls, girls, girls with drinks at almost reasonable prices and things are handled with a bit more class there.

O'Malley's on Suthat Rd Inevitably, there is an Irish bar and it's called O'Malley's. O'Malley's (Suthat Road) has occasional live music and deals on beer.

A good place to watch some sport is Lemongrass (Luang Pho Wat Chalong Road). The TV isn't great but they stay open late and there might be someone around to make watching the game a little more interesting.

For the best Mojito in town check out Music Matter (Tilok Utis 1, near Ocean Plaza) which also has a live jazz jam every Wednesday night.

Good to know
Patong seems purpose-built for pub crawling, but the bars in Phuket City are a different story. A few are within walking distance of each other but you'll need some sort of transport for serious bar hopping. Driving a motorbike is dangerous enough while sober; don't even think about it after you've had a few. Your best bet is to engage a taxi for the night. Most tuk-tuks will be willing to ferry you around the hot spots and then back to your hotel for a flat rate (usually around 1,000 baht). Although this may seem a little steep, it's not bad if you split it between a group and it's a lot cheaper than a hospital stay.

Fantasia - "a glamourised knocking shop" While there aren't nearly as many ladies of dubious reputation in Phuket City as there are in other areas of the island, they can still be found, especially in bars with a mixed Thai and western crowd. It's difficult at first to tell a working girl from a normal Thai girl who just wants to get to know you. The rule of thumb here is if she's provocatively dressed and assertive she's looking for money. The advantage is that she's also a freelancer so you won't have to pay a 'bar fine'.

Thais have a strong tradition of bringing their own bottle and paying for the mixers, with many leaving their marked bottle at the bar. Indeed, Kor Tor Mor has a garbage can specifically for whiskey bottles' cardboard containers! Mixers generally cost about 200 baht.

No one smokes inside anymore. Some places will have a designated outside smoking area while others are more haphazard. Open-sided bars and restaurant are generally more tolerant of the evil weed but in air-conditioned establishments smoking is a big no-no.

Unless you're 15 years old you won't get asked for ID as a foreigner (and maybe not even then). Similarly, cover charges are unheard-of at Thai nightclubs. Bars in Phuket City, like the rest of the island are allowed to stay open until 02:00 but some of the smaller places are likely to bend the rules.

Drink price guide
Prices vary slightly from place to place but are always a little more expensive in nightclubs (places with a live band) as opposed to bars (places with a pool table).

•Local Beer (Singh, Chang, Leo, Tiger, Cheers): 60-90 baht, more in nightclubs
•Imported Beer: 20-30 baht more than the local beer.
•Spirits: 100+ baht including mixer.

Phuket Shopping

Shop a holics and bargain hunters should not miss Phuket City. The historical downtown area, 'Old Phuket', has some of the most interesting shops for traditional Thai crafts and textiles, as well as antiques, clothing and souvenirs -- with the beautifully restored Sino-Portuguese buildings and exotic sights and smells, the busy streets are a fascinating place for a stroll.

The best finds are found along Yaowarat, Dibuk, Thalang, Phang Nga and Rassada roads -- good places to satisfy your hunger too, with everything from basic noodle shops to trendy Thai cafes to classy Italian restaurants lining the streets. High-quality shops with collectables, art and antiques such as Baan Boran and Soul of Asia are among the highlights of a shopping tour here.

Ranong Rd has a colourful early morning and night market, selling mostly fruit, vegetables and fresh meat -- you might not find much to buy but it's fun to see a lively Thai market in action. There are also a few little Chinese-style Mom and Pop shops loaded to the brim with all sorts of cheap household items such as baskets and brooms, as well as some inexpensive vegetarian restaurants near the Jui Tui Chinese shrine.

Robinsons and Ocean department stores, just a few minutes from 'Old Phuket' on Tilok-U-Thit 1 Rd, have a good mix of name brand and handicraft shops, plus numerous stalls selling bargain clothing and shoes. Next to Robinsons, a fresh food market sets up every evening -- a great place to take in the sights and smells of a real Thai market even if you're not inclined to eat there.

The bypass road, just outside of the city, is the place to go for shopping in air-conditioned comfort in Central Festival department store, Big C Supercentre or Tesco-Lotus Supercentre -- all of these noisy and very busy shopping centres feature large supermarkets, drugstores, electronics outlets, local handicrafts, name brand and bargain clothing shops, bookstores, fast food restaurants and specialty shops. Central Festival also has a movie multiplex that shows English-language films daily.

Chatuchak Phuket, a weekend market modelled after the famous bazaar in Bangkok, has sprung up along Phang Nga Rd, near the long-haul bus terminal. All kinds of clothing, shoes, knick-knacks, jewellery, live fish, plants and more, plus offerings of fresh and tasty local food, are found in the many stalls lining the market. Best to go in the evening to avoid the heat.
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