Playing the Tourist in Phuket – Part 3
When I last posted, an ungodly amount of time ago, I left the story of my long weekend being a tourist in Phuket on the drive back from a cruise around Phang Nga Bay. The minivan dropped my friend, Malinda, and I at my apartment at about 6 or 7pm. We decided to immediately go and look for something to eat.
It being a Sunday evening, the choice of where to go looking for a meal was obvious. I was still playing tour guide for Malinda and the weekend markets in Phuket Town are among the star attractions of the island. There are a few good ones to choose from, but I started with the Phuket Walking Street Market on Thalang Road, in the heart of Phuket Old Town.
Phuket Walking Street Market
Both Malinda and I lived in Pattaya for a while – that’s actually where we met. There, “Walking Street” has a very specific and actually quite unique meaning. In most of Thailand, a Walking Street is a street market which takes over a road that’s normally open to vehicle traffic. It generally takes place once a week; often a Sunday. In Pattaya, Walking Street is the main nightlife area, which is pedestrianised every evening of the week to allow people to safely go between the many nightclubs and go-go bars. Phuket has the Bangla Walking Street in Patong (often known just as Bangla Road or Soi Bangla), which is kind of the same thing, only about half as long and nothing like as extreme.
Phuket Town is a distinctly “local” place and the Walking Street here is the typical market. The setting is quite unique, though. The island’s Old Town was mostly built during the tin mining boom at the end of the 19th century, when there was a huge influx in Chinese immigrants. These immigrants often came by way of Penang in what is now Malaysia, picking up some Portuguese colonial influences along the way. The result is a distinctive architectural style known as Sino-Portuguese. It’s very reminiscent of George Town in Penang and is found nowhere else in Thailand.
The colourful houses along Thalang Road are beautiful, but a surprising number are empty. The reason I’ve heard is that most are owned by only a handful of dynastic Sino-Thai families who made their fortunes in the tin mining days. Reluctant to part with such valuable properties, many are left vacant but generally remain well-maintained, with a few notable exceptions.
The market itself is one of my favourites in Phuket, mostly because the wares on offer are usually unique and handcrafted, not imported in bulk from China. I bought a painted postcard and Malinda got some lovely silver earrings. The overwhelming majority of the stalls sell street food, though. Malinda being a vegetarian, nothing particularly caught her eye. In the end, we just walked the length of Thalang Road and back, admiring the buildings and taking a brief detour down Soi Romannee. I told Malinda what I’d been told about this particular side-street – that it is said to be the oldest on Phuket and was once the main red-light district. It has since become the home of several coffee and ice cream shops.
Phuket Weekend Market
Also known as the Naka Market, after the area towards the southern end of Phuket Town where it’s found, the Phuket Weekend Market is undoubtedly the largest and most popular of the night markets in Phuket. It takes its more common name from the fact that it runs on both Saturday and Sunday night. This one isthe kind of place that just sells cheap trinkets, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. On a previous occasion, I went in looking for one specific Christmas gift and came out with about six or seven because I kept finding interesting stocking-fillers.
In this case, Malinda and I went in looking for three things. Firstly, Malinda wanted a dry bag. She’d seen that I’d started using one as my day-to-day bag (like a slightly more masculine version of a handbag, if I’m being honest) and thought it was a great idea, especially as she’s a keen surfer and traveller – activities which both often end up with her soaked to the skin. We quickly found a good-sized bag for a good price.
Secondly, we wanted something to eat. The western end of the Phuket Weekend Market has about three rows of food vendors, from those selling simple snacks on sticks to a few places resembling full restaurants. We found a place specialising in Phad Thai and we ordered a couple of dishes. At the time, Malinda lived in Bangkok, and she was a little surprised by the price – virtually double what she was used to. That, I explained, is Phuket.
Finally, we wanted a drink. The weekend market has an excellent bar in the middle. Rather bizarrely, it’s combined with a leather goods store. They do pretty good (if ludicrously expensive) cocktails and play cool music. We had a couple of beers before heading home and, being comprehensively exhausted, straight to bed.
The Final Day
The final day of our break was a very simple one. The previous two days had been fairly hectic and had, in all honesty, covered the majority of the key tourist attractions. All that remained was to enjoy the beaches and, if possible, get a bit more surfing in. We headed to Nai Harn Beach because it’s a personal favourite of mine and the surf isn’t bad there. Malinda’s leg still hurt from the injury she suffered on the first day and we were unable to find any boards for rent, so it ended up being a day of relaxation, watching the people who’d brought their own boards and occasionally nipping to the nearby store for a couple of bottles of Leo beer.
As evening rolled in, I had a very specific place I wanted to go to watch the sunset. Without a doubt, the best place in Phuket is Wassa Homemade Bar in Patong. The only problem is getting there. My motorbike was, by this point, really struggling with hills. It took one look at the slope up to Wassa and immediately ground to a halt. Even at full throttle, it would not move an inch with both of us on the back. Me being the heavier (and least injured), I jumped off and told Malinda I’d meet her at the top. I immediately regretted it because that is nota fun hill to climb, but I made it in time to have a cold beer pushed into my hand before we found a seat and enjoyed the show.
After that, we nipped down to Patong itself for another dinner of street food, this time from Malin Plaza, at the southern end of the town. Finally, we headed for home, Malinda packed the last of her things and I drove her up to the airport. In total, we covered about 500 km on my motorbike alone, not counting the minivan ride and the cruise. More importantly, we covered almost all that Phuket has to offer as a tourist destination, and I had a very enjoyable time. As an expat, it’s very easy to become so used to your exotic surroundings that they cease to be remarkable. With Malinda’s help, I broke that conditioning for a while and was able to really appreciate the beauty of the place I was calling home.