Somewhere in time along Thalang Road in Old Phuket Town
One of my fondest memories during our recent Media Education Trip to Phuket, Thailand organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand was a Sunday stroll down Thalang Road of Old Phuket Town.
Old Phuket Town is the old part of the city around Thalang, Dibuk and Krabi roads which showcases its Peranakan heritage from a century ago with beautiful architecture from its Portuguese and British forebears at the height of the island’s tin industry.
Peranakan is the common term for the descendants of late 15th and 16th-century Chinese immigrants toIndonesia, Malaya, Singapore and Thailand. They were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because many were English educated and usually spoke two or more languages. As they intermarried with the locals, many lost the ability to speak Chinese started to speak the local dialect. Most are Buddhists free thinkers.
It was a treat for an amateur history and heritage buff like me to revel in the shophouses,
cafés and print shops from another time. I read from various online sources how the Old Town was built by riches from its tin industry when the metal still played a key role in world trade.
Although it was Sunday afternoon and most of the shops were closed, it somehow added to the charm of the place as one felt transported in time to how it actually was here during the tin boom.
Due to time and weather constraints (there was a slight drizzle so it was cool though humid), we mostly strolled along Thalang Road, the old commercial center and it was a blast taking in the shophouses looking just like they were from way back with their traditional Chinese medicine, textiles and tailors, beauty parlors, little restaurants and hostels
Fortunately for us, the owners of one of the residences which has now been converted into a hostel, graciously allowed us a closer peek inside. Now known as 99 Oldtown Boutique Guesthouse it was once the residence of a wealthy Hookien merchant and had all of 14 rooms have been converted into rooms to let. Their ancestors were originally from Penang, Malaysia belonging to the Khoo clan. The hotel opened for business only two years ago with room rates ranges from BHT 999 to 2,000 with breakfast.
From the traditional wooden furniture in what passes for its lobby in the first floor to the center court where the cool breeze drops in to cool its interior, the guest feels right at home and how it was to live in this part of town a century ago. There are two small round wooden tables with wooden chairs where the guests can enjoy their breakfast next to the kitchen and the cool center court which also has a small pond that further helped cool down the interior.
A quick look inside one of the rooms showed a spare but comfortable abode with modern amenities like wi-fi and a modern hot and cold shower and bath.
A small billboard sporting a traditional red mailbox also shows a 2013 Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.
Many of the shophouses and residences along this section share many of the same architectural features such as the cooking and bathing area at the back of these buildings, the open air center court for ventilation and rain for the in-house ponds which often containing exotic fish. Many old town roads and streets have covered arcades (‘noh-kaa-kee’) or archways that join shops together and provide shelter for passersby.
Like our gracious hosts from 99 Old Town Boutique Guest House, the old town’s tin mining was dominated by Hookien Chinese whom we understand were mostly responsible for building much of the city’s older sections.
Like many of the ancestral homes of the Filipino-Chinese, many of the shop-houses were also residences cum business places, with trading done at the first floor and living quarters in the second. Which should not be surprising since many of the Chinese immigrants to the Philippines were also Hookien.
These shop-houses were usually constructed in rows called tiam choo (row of shop houses) by the Hookien merchants. Our online sources tell us they are usually standard sized at five meters by 50 meters long, could accommodate a large family, and an arcade in front. Mostly done in Sino-Colonial architecture, they were many times longer along their length than their frontage.
The houses typically have four parts: a living room where guests were received, an open court with a well, with a kitchen at rear and living quarters at the upper floor.
The center court was considered the heart of the house where the women folk usually did their cooking and washing while sharing the latest gossip. Together with the thick, insulating walls, the center court was also the progenitor of today’s green architecture, cooling the house with breezes and the rain especially during the hot summers where temperatures have been known to hit 30 degrees Celsius.
The best time to enjoy a wander around Phuket’s historical streets is from 8:30 am onward. There are many coffee shops serving local breakfast as early as 5 am, with affords visitors the opportunity to go for a fine filling meal with the locals. Most shops close at around 6 or 6:30 pm and most are shut on Sundays.
When planning itineraries to Phuket, visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand website at http://www.tourismthailand.
The Philippines’ leading low-cost carrier, Cebu Pacific (CEB) flies direct from Manila to Phuket every Monday,Wednesday and Friday for as low as P999. It operates the most extensive network in the Philippines forconvenient and easy flight connections to Manila.
For flight schedules and bookings, visit www.cebupacificair.com o