When I first arrived in Phuket, the Old Town area was a much different place. Very few non-Thais ever ventured there outside of one or two festivals each year. The throngs of Chinese tour buses were in the distant future, the number of outdoor cafes and interesting restaurants was virtually nil. The old Portuguese-Sino buildings were often neglected and crumbling as were the sidewalks. Most of the famous five-foot ways were blocked, usually bricked- and stuccoed-over. Facades were hidden behind a myriad of cables.
Over the past few years, there have been many improvements – largely cosmetic but others I would group as “promotional” simply because they have resulted in Phuket Town become a very popular destination amongst locals and tourists alike. In the latter category I would include such events as the weekly “Walking Street” along Thanon Thalang (called Lard Yai in Thai), and the nightly multicolor light-show highlighting the wonderful Sino-Portuguese facades of the buildings lining the same street. In recent months, there have also been a number of new coffee shops and cafes that have opened in the area, making an increasingly expanding variety of choices.
The two improvements I’d like to highlight here today are the new looks for two of Phuket Town’s oldest icons.
The former Standard Chartered Bank has sat on the corner of Phang Nga and Phuket Roads since its construction in 1906 as Phuket’s first foreign-owned bank. Amazingly enough, the Bang Yai canal across the street was once the community’s waterfront (the main pier for passengers, cargo and mail was at the current location of the Tavorn Hotel). The bank paid for the construction of the bridge across the canal as well as the neighboring police station (the symbol of Phuket Town); this was built in 1914, partly as security for the bank.
The bank had been showing its age for years with its once gleaming white stucco marred by corrosion from the monsoonal rains when it was encased in the ubiquitous green netting seen on construction sites throughout Asia. I believe this occurred about a year-and-a-half ago. The exterior remodeling was finished in March when the green covering was removed revealing a striking new paint job. The interior still has a little ways to go before it reopens as the Phuket Baba Museum, highlighting the unique culture of the Straits Chinese.
It makes you wonder what they’re doing to the old police station across the street. I imagine the green netting will be removed that that iconic building in another six months or so.
Continuing south along Phuket Road towards Saphin Hin will bring you to the Surin traffic circle with streets merging from five different directions. I recall seeing an aerial photo of this roundabout from the late 1950’s when the circle contained a transmitter tower. I have no idea when the current clock tower was constructed (perhaps the plaque is in English; I really need to have a look at that someday) but it has become yet another iconic symbol of our community. Indeed, it is my favorite spot to observe the grand finale of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival each year with the processions converging into one huge blazing mass while the spectators throw fireworks at anything moving on the roads.
I noticed the new paint job during a recent walk to Phuket Immigration Office. It was still the original creamy painted stucco as recently as late February when last I passed by.
I really like the blue with white trim, much more than the previous light pink. I imagine the change in color is due to the celebrations for HM the Queen’s 83rd birthday in August. By the way, does anybody know the story behind the mounted motorized paver on the east side of the roundabout?