Phuket is not all lady boys and doof-doof music, but you might have to leave the beach to see its more authentic side, writes Steve Madgwick.
Ninety per cent of Phuket’s tourists want to know where the beach is and a large proportion of them are willingly funneled into notorious Patong, known for most of the Thailand clichés, good and bad.
The whole island is painted with Patong’s reputation: lady boys, raucous nightlife, scooter accidents and ‘designer’ fakes. But stroll away from the party and head in to Old Phuket Town and you have a chance to experience the everyday flavour of Thailand, sans chaos and tackiness.
Its compact town centre offers plenty of understated places where you can eat, shop, and, most importantly, pay prices like the locals pay.
The town, on the east side of the Phuket – separated from the noise of Patong by a mountain range – is peppered with pockets of 200-year-old vibrant architecture, reflecting the island’s 50 per cent ethnic Thai-Chinese heritage.
The highlight of a city trip is a visit to the intimate and laid back Thalang Road Market.
On Saturday evenings the narrow road is closed to traffic, and the distinctly local market offers homewares, clothing and food, far removed in philosophy and execution compared with Patong’s tacky knock-off shops.
For simple food in the true Thai style, head to Patiphat Road, where you’ll sit with Thai families eating out in humble a la carte restaurants.
These establishments don’t Westernise their menus; choice is limited and servings are moderate, just the way the locals prefer it.
Leave the cook to make the choice for you, order a dish off the board and you’ll pay only around 50 baht for the authentic culinary journey.
If you fancy something fancier, head to the Blue Elephant Restaurant and Cooking School just around the corner or simply admire the majestic centuries old building that houses it.
To get a proper perspective of the area, head up the steep and windy road to Rang Hill, which offer views across the town and out into the Andaman.
That’s what Old Phuket Town can offer, perspective, and a link with Phuket before the doof-doof music of Patong became its yardstick.