I decided that when we arrived in Phuket, instead of making a mad rush for the harbour in hope of catching a ferry out to Phi Phi island, we would take it a little easier and spend the night in the main town, though that one night ended up stretching out to two, especially after I discovered a few things to go and check out while we were on the island (and in the local area as opposed to the beaches). Well, it turned out that there was much more to Phuket town than just a bird park, aquarium, and a few pubs. In fact there is a lot more history to the the town that I originally expected, particularly since the first thing that jumped out at me was the colonial architecture.
The original plan was to catch the train from Penang to Bangkok, and then fly out to Phuket, however after the suggestion by the Australian government that traveling overland to Bangkok is not the wisest of trips, we decided to fly instead (though for some bizarre reason we still flew to Bangkok and then out to Phuket when you can pretty much travel straight to Phuket from Penang – at least we got to stay at an incredibly flash hotel at Bangkok airport, and also have a red curry that was so hot that I ended up running around the foyer screaming). So, early in the morning we arrived in Phuket, and proceeded to pick up a hire car.
It turns out that you really don’t need a hire car because you can actually hire a cabbie for a day for the price of one cab ride in your typical Australian city (and that is definitely much cheaper that hiring a car for a couple of days). Mind you, when I was arranging the trip I didn’t realise that was possible, and cheap, and decided that I would try my luck with a car. Well, it wasn’t all that bad, at least where we were staying, though traffic is still pretty horrendous. However, if you head down to the beachside towns then the whole dynamic changes, and when we had a car then, I decided pretty quickly to hand it back to the hire car place so as not to have it involved in an accident.
When we arrived at the hotel we checked in straight away, which was also a bonus because most places don’t allow you to check in until something like 2:00 pm, but we were there at 10:00 and they let us go straight to our room. After a quick walk around town, and checking out a golden dragon in the park, we headed off to the first of our attractions – the bird park. Now, I might write more about these parks in another post, though it isn’t something that I am in any hurry to do because, well, I wasn’t all that impressed with them. All I can say if you are passionate about the humane treatment of animals, then you are probably not going to like this place. Mind you, the Phuket Zoo was a thousand times worse than this place.
Anyway, there are quite a few animal attractions scattered about the island, including at least two (maybe more) bird parks, the afformentioned zoo, an elephant sanctuary, and an aquarium. Oh, I probably shouldn’t forget the Tiger Kingdom and the snake park, as well as an elephant safari which also has some monkeys, and a few cats wandering around as well. Of them, the best would be the aquarium and the elephant sanctuary, the aquarium because it looked pretty much like your typical scientific set up, and quite slick as well (though it isn’t as large as some that I’ve visited). The aquarium also had a display on the Boxing Day Tsunami, though these days it is starting to seem like a distant memory.
The elephant sanctuary is basically what the name implies – it is a place where elephants go to retire, sort of. The purpose of these sanctuaries (there are a few scattered across the country) is to get the elephants out of the shows where they are forced to dance, paint, and play soccer, all for the entertainment of the tourists that pay money to see them. There are also the elephant safaris, where they are used to ferry tourists around on their backs, which they are also working against, considering that many of the elephants are literally worked to death. The problem is that they have to purchase the elephants, and they aren’t cheap (coming to around a million baht and up).
So, that brings me to the animal shows, and I have to admit that I’m not really impressed with them. There was a time when watching animals perform tricks was cool, but these days I pretty much see them as the gimick that they are. Watching a monkey ride a bicycle around a stage really isn’t all that awe inspiring, just like watching an elephant stand on its front legs and walking back and forth. Mind you, it was interesting to discover that monkeys are used to harvest coconuts, namely because they are superb climbers, and are easily trained. Oh, and the tigers, well, despite what they claim, they are drugged because having lived with animals my entire life, I can assure you that they don’t particularly like it when you force open their mouths just to take a photo of their teeth (and you’ll feel that displeasure pretty quickly as well).
The Old Town
So, after watching elephants dance, dophins jump through hoops, and monkeys riding bicycles around the stage, we headed back to town to have a bit more of a look around. The interesting thing was my discovery that Phuket used to be a Portuguese colony, which was fascinating because I never realised that any European colonial power had set up shop in Thailand. Then again, Phuket is quite a distance from Bangkok, the capital, so Siam probably didn’t extend that far down.
However, wandering around the town revealed a lot of old colonial architecture, at least in the heart. Not only that but there were some beautiful works of street art on the walls, and at night the houses are lit up in a variety of colours. I should make mention of the colours as well, because like a lot of other Iberian settlements, the buildings are all painted with a variety of bright and vibrant colours, and it is a pleasure to wander around look at them, and the architecture.
One of the reasons the Portuguese set up shop here, other than simply trading for spices, is that the island was also rich in copper. As such a number of copper mines were also established. They even have a mining museum around the place, though we didn’t end up checking it out (namely because I have little interest in mining). Actually, museums are a thing that seem to dominate these resorts, as well as other fancy things like a ‘trickeye museum’, but I suspect they are mainly there to keep the tourists happy.
Art is another thing that I encountered as I wandered around Phuket, though it was also quite noticeable on Phi Phi as well. It seems that a lot of these artists set up shop where the tourists are to sell their works off to them. In fact there were three specialist art shops within walking distance of our hotel, and while the art was really impressive, since there are a number of prints at home that are waiting for frames, and places to hang them, I decided that I would pass on them.
Oh, and what is a tourist spot without a plethora of cafes and bars. Mind you, don’t expect bars like the ones that you see on Bangala Road around here – Phuket Town is much more laid back and relaxing than the beachside resorts (though when it comes to night life, you generally find yourself heading either to Phi Phi Island, or down to Patong Beach, though many of the older people seem to avoid those places like the plague). However, what Phuket Town has to offer are some smaller, quieter bars, though you do get your fair share of live music. As for cafes, well, there is always the tent, a cafe where they have some tents set up inside that you can sit in and drink your latte. Well, it seems as if the hipster culture of Melbourne (or should I say San Fransisco) has made its way down to Phuket.
Oh, and food, now this is something that left me baffled completely – if you want decent Thai food you aren’t going to find it where the tourists hang out. Basically the restaurants have two menus – thai food and western food, and that left me confused – why do people come all they way over to Thailand just to have food that they can have at home. Well, apparently people don’t come to Thailand for the food, which makes me wonder why on Earth do they come here in the first place. Oh, that’s why, Thailand is substantially cheaper than California or Queensland.
You can’t go far in Thailand without coming across a temple, but then again it is a Buddhist country so of course you are going to find temples everywhere. The thing is that after going into a few temples they end up all looking the same, but that is pretty much the case with Churches over in Europe. Well, like the churches every temple is different and has its unique character, though I found the churches more appealing because I understood the stories behind the art and statues that I found in them – here, not knowing the mythology behind what I was looking at simply had me looking at some nice art. In my mind, art is much more appealing when I understand the story behind the artwork.
I’ll no doubt be writing more about the temples some time down the track since I did end up visiting a few of them. However, here on Phuket we only ended up visiting three – the Big Buddha (which you can see pretty much all over the southern part of the island), a random temple on the main road, and the monkey temple. The monkey temple was just around the corner from our hotel, and up a rather steep hill with a very narrow road. Actually, going up the road made me wonder how it was I was going to get back down because it is only wide enough for a single car, and I really didn’t want to crash into the sides of the road. However, once we made it most of the way up we came to a picnic spot swarming with monkeys. Well, I probably shouldn’t call it a picnic spot because you really don’t want to have a picnic here since you can be assured that the monkeys have absolutely no problem stealing your food. Oh, and another thing I noticed is that people seem to like to walk up this hill, though we ended up passing on that, preferring to use the car.
As for the big Buddha, well, I think I’ll leave it there for the time being, since after our trip to Phi Phi, we returned to Phuket and found ourselves at a beachside hotel at Patong, and it was then, after hiring a second car, that we decided to go and check out the Big Buddha.
Old Town Phuket by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.