Our one day in Phuket Old Town itinerary provides a plan for a perfect day in the capital of the Southern Thai island, kicking off with a quintessential Old Town breakfast – or two – and taking you through snacks and lunch, punctuated by market walks and museum visits, and ending with a must-do dinner.
Most travellers to the island of Phuket in Southern Thailand are there for the beach and water-based activities. Too few see it as the food destination that we do, spending most of their time on the beach and at resort restaurants and bars. And who can blame them? Phuket is home to some of Thailand’s best beach resorts.
If visitors to Phuket do make it into the island’s capital, they tend to do little more than linger at the weekend market in the late afternoon and then stay on for dinner. We reckon Phuket Old Town with its wonderful Sino-Portuguese architecture, distinct Peranakan culture, and delicious Phuket-style Thai cuisine warrants a full day of your time and this is how we think you should spend it.
Here’s our one day in Phuket Old Town itinerary to guide you to the must-do experiences in the island capital. A warning: many of them involve food!
One Day in Phuket Old Town Itinerary for a Perfect Day in Phuket’s Capital
Where To Stay In Phuket Old Town
If you’re only allowing one day in Phuket Old Town, we suggest scheduling it at the beginning of your Phuket trip and staying a night in Phuket Town so you don’t waste a second. When you need to retreat from the heat or require a short siesta, it means you won’t have far to go for a quick nap or cool-down.
Check into one of the charming boutique hotels in Phuket Town in heritage buildings, such as The Memory at On On or Casa Blanca. Built in 1929, The Memory at On On is one of Phuket’s oldest hotels. It starred as the seedy backpackers in the movie The Beach before extensive renovations in 2013.
Book one of the lovely mid-range rooms with balcony, although note that most of the charm lies in the public spaces, which are furnished with vintage pieces, such as antique wireless radios, and the light-filled courtyards and tranquil nooks.
Casa Blanca is a comfortable boutique hotel with a feminine sensibility – pastel colours, pretty furnishings, fresh flowers – and a well-travelled, English-speaking Thai owner who is a passionate baker and foodie and generous with dining tips. Both are centrally located and handy to markets, shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars.
And when you are ready for some sun and sand, see the Phuket beach resorts we recommend.
Breakfast In Phuket Old Town
With only one day in Phuket Old Town, breakfast must be one of the quintessential Phuket Town breakfasts, khanom jeen or dim sum (siao boi). Whatever you decide on, you’ll have to wake early to join the locals for breakfast, which starts around 6am and is done by 8am or 9am.
For khanom jeen – freshly made, lightly fermented rice noodles served with curries, aromatic fresh herbs, and raw and steamed vegetables – make a beeline to Pa Mai Kanom Jeen on Satun Road (if it’s closed, try Mae Ting Kanom Jeen up the street toward Thungkar Road).
If there’s a lady behind the table laden with pots of rich curries (along with plates of fried chicken, grilled fish and hor mok, a steamed fish curry), let her know what curry you fancy and she’ll ladle it onto a dish of noodles. Otherwise, snag a table and a waitress will take your order.
For dim sum, try century-old Juan Hiang (18 Phoonpon Rd), where owner Yaowamal Woaranopakul offers some 50 different types of siao boi, including an array of seafood and pork dumplings, fluffy steamed buns, deep fried snacks, fried tofu, vegetables, and Portuguese egg tarts.
Grab a table then wait for staff to drop by with small plates of dim sum. Accept what you think looks good, politely decline what doesn’t, and wave when you’re ready for more.
Coffee In Phuket Old Town
Kickstart your one day in Phuket Old Town with coffee at Kopitiam by Wilai. Phuket Old Town has much in common with the ports of Penang, Malacca and Singapore due to the historic maritime trading routes. One aspect of everyday culture they share is the ‘kopitiam’, a type of old-school Chinese coffee shop originally established by Hokkien immigrants. ‘Kopi’ is Malay for coffee and ‘tiam’ is Hokkien for ‘shop’.
Many of Phuket’s Thai-Chinese locals are of Hokkien heritage, which explains the red Chinese signs and the Chinese temples peppered around town. Furnished with antiques and bric-a-brac, with old black and white photos on the walls, Kopitiam by Wilai is popular with Thai tourists as much as foreigners, for its old-world atmosphere and traditional Thai coffee, made with robusta beans, and served with sweet, creamy condensed milk. Opt for the iced coffee if it’s a steamy day.
A Morning In Phuket Old Town
With only one day in Phuket Old Town you’ll only have time for a few sights. Start exploring the streets and then when the heat gets too much for you retreat indoors. For us, mornings in a Thai town mean market time.
In the centre of Phuket Town, Central Market (Ranong Road) is the main market in a big modern building, however, cross the road and head down Soi Phisai Sapphakit and you’ll find a small but busy market with stalls selling fresh farm produce, much of which comes from around the island, along with perfumed herbs, aromatic spices, pungent chilli relishes, fermented fish pastes, and dry and smoked fish.
Vehicles come and go, delivering and collecting goods, so there’s always something happening. If the food has made you peckish, make your way to lunch…
Lunch In Phuket Old Town
Elsewhere on the island, Thai food means food from central Thailand or the north-eastern Isaan region, which is different to Phuket cuisine, which has been influenced by historical connections to China and Malaysia, resulting in Peranakan or Baba Nyonya cuisine.
So with only one day in Phuket Old Town we recommend tasting Phuket-style street food at Lock Tien Food Court (corner Dibuk and Yaowarat Roads), a 1950s-era hawker centre. The ten or so stalls have been operated for about five decades by the same families dishing up their Phuket specialties.
Start with the Phuket-style popiah, char siu pork, grated turnips, bean sprouts, and peanuts rolled up in wheat-flour wraps roll and doused in a sweet and sour tamarind sauce, which hailed from China’s Fujian province but are also found in Singapore and Malaysia.
Then order the “ancient noodles” listed on the laminated menu: mee hoon pah chang, fried noodles with pork bone soup, and mee nam Hokkien, Hokkien-style prawn noodles.
If you had more than one day in Phuket Old Town, we’d also be recommending this Phuket Old Town 15-taster food tour for a comprehensive introduction to Phuket’s culinary history and culture.
Afternoon In Phuket Old Town
If it’s too hot for you, it might be time for that siesta back at the hotel. However, as you only have one day in Phuket Old Town, if you can cope with the heat walk off lunch and work up an appetite for your next meal on a wander around Phuket Old Town, dropping into a temple or a museum or three when you’re in need of some air-conditioning.
Scattered across Phuket Old Town are ornate incense-filled Chinese temples and grand Sino-Portuguese mansions built from the wealth of Phuket’s tin-mining boom and long history of trade. Many of them are now dilapidated with peeling paint, others transformed into fascinating museums.
Early Evening In Phuket Old Town
With only one day in Phuket Old Town, if you’re here on a Thursday or Friday, you must make a beeline for the casual, cool little Indy Market (beside Limelight Avenue, Dibuk Road; 4-10pm), where young Thai designers, artists and makers sell handmade crafts, art, jewellery and accessories, along with vintage clothes and kitschy-cool gifts and souvenirs.
You can also get a tattoo, mani-pedi or your portrait sketched. Stalls serve up street food snacks, from burgers and barbecue chicken to som tam and ‘Thai tacos’ (khanom buang). There’s live music and small bars selling coconut water, sugar cane juice, cold beers, and cocktails.
Sundowners In Phuket Old Town
Unpretentious Quip Sky Bar (Quip B&B, 5th Floor, near corner of Phuket and Rasada Roads; 4pm-midnight) is the spot to head for sundowners if you only have only one day in Phuket Old Town.
It was the Old Town’s first rooftop bar and it remains popular with artsy young local Thais as much as travellers of all types and it’s easy to see why once you’re reclined on cushions sipping something cold as you watch the sun set over the Old City rooftops.
Dinner In Phuket Old Town
With only one day in Phuket Old Town, dinner must be at Raya (48 Dibuk Rd) in a grand yet faded century-old Sino-Portuguese mansion house with stained walls with peeling paint and worn antique floor tiles.
Arguably serving up Phuket’s finest local food, Raya is still ran by the elderly daughter of the original owners, who checks every plate as it leaves the kitchen – if she’s not working the woks herself of course.
Order the nam prik goong seab (spicy prawn chilli dip), pad bai liang (stir fried bai laing leaves), moo hong (stewed pork belly), and the fiery gang poo bai chaplu (crab meat curry with betel leaves).
If you can’t get into Raya, head to One Chun restaurant (48/1 Thepkasattri Road, near the corner of Dibuk Road), which is popular with Thai tourists and also does a great gaeng poo, although it doesn’t have the lethal heat of Raya’s, restaurant’s gaeng poo, which Central Thais sometimes struggle to eat.
Spread across a couple of Sino-Portuguese shophouses, it’s delightfully decorated with retro pieces, including old suitcases and record players, antique clocks, and even a vintage film projector. If downstairs looks full, there are often tables free in the courtyard garden.
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