Whilst staying at Paresa in Thailand, we took a day trip to the old Phuket Town in the heart of the island. We set off at 6.30am for the 30 minutes drive on winding streets covered with snoozing dogs, roadside markets and cliff top bar shacks, small families squeezed onto scooters, trucks with half a dozen people on the back, barefoot monks dressed in orange and the odd elephant trundling alongside the cars. The crickets came alive with the sunrise, as we were approaching the colourful, cosmopolitan town.
Old Phuket Town has a vibrant past, with beautiful Sino-Portuguese and British colonial architecture and quaint streets filled with Buddhist and Chinese temples, shrines, ornate buildings and serene gardens. Our tour guide Tam took us for dumplings for breakfast at Boonrat Dimsum which at 7am was heaving with a hungry crowd collecting plates before we did a little walking tour. We saw the Sang Tham Shrine, made with traditional Hokkien terracotta roof tiles and decorative symbols, the bustling market stalls sell colourful lace and swathes of textiles, all sorts of food and amulets to protect its wearer, passed grandiose Sino-colonial mansions, old school tailors and an ornate, defunct bank.
We dropped by Phuket's oldest herb shop, Nguan Choon Tong, which mixes Chinese herbs, roots and weird and wonderful natural ingredients from a wall of wooden drawers and the famous On On Hotel (featured in the movie The Beach), which opened as Phuket's first hotel in 1929, popular with Chinese traders and European sailors visiting the island for its tin mining industry. The nearby Soi Romanee street was once a red light district and now has colourful houses with red Chinese lanterns outside and our last stop was for pancakes and iced coffee at a little cafe before jumping back into the air-conditioned car and heading back to the hotel for lunch and a day at the pool. If you're visiting Phuket or island-hopping, I can't recommend a day trip to Phuket Old Town enough to see the charming streets, bright buildings and insight into real life in Thailand, as between 6-10am there wasn't another Western tourist in sight.