Phuket Town in 2021 turned out to be a bit of a surprise, in a good way.
We’d previously visited Phuket Town while staying on the island back in 2014 as slightly overawed holidaymakers on our first trip to Thailand. We were staying in a tiny boutique called Silver Sea on the jungle-covered Ko Sire flung out on Phuket’s east coast.
It was a classic Thai teak house and the family home of the guy who location-scouted The Beach, English-educated and now well into old age, who enjoyed sitting in a throne-like driftwood chair, watching the sea, reading his paper and chatting to us about his career in film and his time at boarding school.
The place was run with distinction by his daughter, Patta, and ably assisted by his equally aged but amiable wife who seemed genuinely thrilled to play host.
I’m not sure where they got ideas about western appetites from, but breakfast every day would consist of a full cooked American breakfast (inc. cubed freezer vegetables), a selection of Thai curries and dishes, then a groaning fruit platter. Easily enough to feed 8, we ploughed diligently through it while host-mum watched, smiled and occasionally clapped.
Silver Sea isn’t there any more, I hope that Patta got her dream of moving back to Bangkok after the guesthouse wound up.
This was the last time we had visited Phuket Town, and it was a flying visit at that. Our hotel host had recommended the market for a cool dinner, but had said that otherwise Phuket Town wasn’t up to much.
I’m not sure how much has changed between 2014 and now but I’m going to assume a lot, because Phuket Town in 2021 is an absolute gem and well worth at least a day trip.
Phuket Town: a food extravaganza
As we are currently staying in the Phuket Sandbox, we (I) decided to spend a birthday day exploring the highly-rated food spots of Phuket Town, and we were lucky to have a beautiful day to do it, no guarantee in rainy September!
The advantage of it being my birthday was that I got to set the agenda. Mostly.
While I sadly couldn’t convince our motley crew of Frankie and some friends to leave Mai Khao at 8am to start the day with a dim sum breakfast at Boonrat Dim Sum, I did manage to get us into Phuket Town to enjoy the breakfast of champions: roti and curry.
There are a few notable roti shops on Phuket Town that were recommended to us – Roti Chaofa, Aroon and Roti Taew Nam. We opted for the latter and could not have picked better.
As a rule in Thailand if a restaurant is peeling, faded and looks like the decor has been solidly in place since the 70s or earlier, yet is still rammed to the hills with punters, that’s a great sign.
Roti Taew Nam was all of these things, perched on the corner of the main Thalang Road: ancient fixtures and fittings, faded signs, a thick smell of charcoal smoke, patrons of all ages tucking into crisp, fresh roti and long, long cooked curried of beef and chicken.
The art of roti-making is quite a skill, and each roti cook I’ve seen uses a different set of tools. At Roti Taew Nam the chef had gone completely in his own direction – a Kiwi knife for scraping the bench clean, a fork to chop bananas and a metal plate to cut grilled sandwiches.
He looked and sounded like he’d spent a life over a charcoal-fired roti grill, twirling and shaping dough effortlessly while keeping a flurry of husky conversation going with any and all passers by and customers.
What emerged from that grill and from the curry pots out back was, for me, a little slice of heaven. Two rotis per head, crisp-fried and then artfully smashed to smithereens, alongside unctuous curries for dipping, plus the obligatory sweet Thai tea or Olieng black iced coffee.
Two rotis will set you back a grand 20 baht, curries are 50 a plate. 3 of us are and drank a memorable brekkie for 215 baht, less than a fiver in the Queen’s pounds.
We were off to a good start.
Next up was a coffee at one of the many cool new shops that are popping up in Phuket Town, we plumped for Ryn drip coffee and weren’t disappointed.
In the mood for snacks, we sauntered towards Ah-pong Mae Sunee for taste of a legendary but rare Phuket snack.
The eponymous (ahpongymous?) ahpong is a crispy rolled pancake with a lightly spongy centre cooked in a metal bowl over charcoal, and I’ve never seen these snacks before. They’re sweet, slightly tart and very moreish – we bought one each in the morning and went back for more in the afternoon. A better description than I’ve just given is here.
One will set you back a mighty 3 baht or 7 for 20 baht.
Much like the roti shop, there’s a mesmeric quality to watching someone who does this for a living churn out these pancakes six at a time.
The stall was popular with locals all day with many driving up to the stall, winding down the windows and ordering from the comfort of their Aircon, like a McDonald’s drive thru.
The stall is located on the corner of Krabi road and Trok Soonutis, Google thinks it closes at 2pm but I suspect it’ll be whenever they run out.
Next stop was back up the other end of Thalang Road and slightly up to One Chun Restaurant, an acclaimed Southern Thai restaurant. A lot of their menu descriptions involve the words ‘thick and creamy’ which is always a promising sign.
With quirky decor that majors heavily on clocks, One Chun served up some truly delicious Southern dishes. A must is Moo Hong, a Phuket speciality of whopping stewed belly pork pieces in deep, rich, almost gravy-like soy and peppercorn sauce. I could probably eat it everyday and be happy (yet fat), and it’s quite a different flavour from many Thai dishes.
Also great were the classic Southern Thai crab curry with khanom jeen noodles, and the fiery but flavourful kua kling, minced meat locked in a battle between chilli, lemongrass and turmeric.
A meaty pork rib panang curry rounded off a good selection, and 5 of us ate well for a shade over 1,000 baht. Phuket may be expensive, Phuket Town doesn’t have to be.
It was a hot and sunny day and so after spending some time perusing the old town, more on which below, we stopped in for an ice cream at Thaivetro – Tom Yum Goong ice cream anyone? – and a drink at the lovely little Eleven Two cafe with its hidden courtyard on Thalang Road.
Our final stop for the day was at John Donut at the China Inn. We got there late in the day and selection was limited, but I enjoyed the rocky road donut, less so the fact they microwaved it first. Maybe ask them not to do that if you’re going!
We had an excellent day of varied eating around Phuket Town and I feel like we barely scratched the surface – there were 10 other places on my list that we didn’t even get to, so we will definitely be back to Phuket Town and I’ll update these recommendations as we do!
Phuket Town 2021: a feast for the eyes
Phuket Town is very compact in the centre, and we walked around all day exploring.
I felt shades of Songkhla, another of our favourite places in Thailand, in the architecture, bright colours, relaxed vibe and blend of old and new in Phuket Town.
Thalang Road certainly has a riot of brightly coloured old buildings on the main drag and side streets, with many small shops to peek into. They’ve done a good job of blending the new in with the old while keeping the historic feel. I hope that the old restaurants and stalls I’ve mentioned survive long into the future and Phuket Town isn’t overwhelmed with the new and shiny.
There’s a lot of street art around the town on and off the main street which is worth wandering to see.
There are also old buildings aplenty in varying states of repair, plus a number of nice shrines marked by lanterns.
We were definitely pleasantly surprised by Phuket Town. Even in 2021 with minimal tourism, there was a nice buzz and atmosphere around town, most places were open and a though there weren’t throngs of visitors on the streets, there was a good bustle of daily life happening around us without it feeling hectic.
The central location of Phuket Town also means it’s easy to get out to the coast, and we ended the day on the beach at Bang Tao enjoying a beautiful sunset and the local surfers taking on the waves. Rather them than me.
As we plan to stay in Phuket a little longer, I’ll update this post with more places to see and – most importantly – delights to eat, as we explore a bit more.
While Phuket is known for its beaches and bars, Phuket Town is absolutely not to be missed if you’re visiting the island!