A Phuket Town Walkabout (Part One)

A couple of years ago, I had the idea of filming walking tours around my neighborhood in the heart of Phuket Town, Thailand, and dreamt of having a successful YouTube channel. I planned to call it Phuket Walkabout and spent more time trying to design a logo than I did learning to make good videos. I quickly abandoned the idea after a couple of shaky-cam videos that got flagged for using copyrighted music. I also felt that most of my “cinematography” fell far short of conveying how much I love living here.

Even before my failure as a Ken Burns (or, better, Anthony Bourdain) protégé, I had always wanted to properly photo-blog the area. The sights and sounds seen every time I venture out of my tiny apartment have never ceased to enthrall me even after nearly a decade of living in the same space. This is a real milestone for me as I have always tired of living in any given location after just a few years. In the five years prior to moving just a short walk from the historic center known as Old Town, I had changed my home in Phuket three times. The fourth came about towards the end of July 2010, a few weeks after starting work at the company which still employs me. Unfortunately, my meagre photographic skills never really portrayed the strong feelings that I have whenever I wander around the small downtown area and adjacent streets and alleyways.

I am also just plain lazy. I would rather sit on my bed doing a variety of “work” on my laptop. On any given day that includes reading an eBook, researching and writing about new stamp issues, perusing social media, doing online shopping, watching the occasional TV show or movie and, yes, devouring YouTube videos which lately are mostly travelogues about places nobody can visit at the moment. Sometimes, I may even force myself to create a lesson plan or several for my classes at school.

My task list for Friday, the first day of the New Year, included an emphatic “Afternoon Walk!!” that I kept delaying until it finally began to rain. The only times I had ventured outside since our school closed last week due to a COVID scare was a shopping trip to 7-Eleven and another to the Mini-TOPS. Oh, I suppose descending (and ascending) four flights of stairs to retrieve a pizza delivery counts as well. Unless I really have to go somewhere (work, for a non-food related example), I have gotten to the point that I really do not like going outside.

Yesterday (Saturday), I had to force myself to take a little walk around the neighborhood. I am so glad that I did!

I consider most of the area around “downtown” to be my backyard because it’s all rather close together. There is always much to see (and do and eat, if I am so compelled). Phuket Town is indeed thriving despite the huge economic disaster that has gripped most of this tourism-reliant province. While a few old favorites are closed-off with sheets of corrugated tin or gated with ominous signs, there are many new businesses that seem to be doing well and others that are opening soon. I counted three restaurants and two bars completing construction or remodeling within less than a kilometer from my front door.

It was a nice day — a bit of a breeze cooling down the typically scorching January — and there were loads of people out, also enjoying themselves. A good number were tourists from other parts of Thailand but the clear majority were local people, perhaps from elsewhere on the island, just trying to get some fresh air and do some shopping in these uncertain times.

For a change, I was pleased with quite a few of the photos I took. Here are my favorite sights seen on what ended up more than two hours of Phuket Town walkabout.

Soi Rommannee was once a notorious red-light district, full of brothels frequented by the Chinese migrant workers who filled the local tin mines. This was Phuket’s main industry before tourism took hold in the 1970s. Rubber-tapping was second place and I suspect that it still is. The large pink building was a brothel a hundred years ago where a notorious murder took place, the disposal of the body still talked about in local whispers.

Currently, the narrow and short lane is experiencing a vibrancy that I have not seen here in a very long time. While the southern end has long been popular with the wedding photographers and selfie mavens, there are many new places to eat and drink just a few steps away. One even features a queue number announcement system similar to those in banks or government offices due to its popularity (the loudspeaker mars the otherwise peaceful nature of the alleyway). One of the excellent local ice creameries located here has expanded to have an outlet on opposite sides of the soi. There is a dog café that goes nicely with the cat café not far away.

The symbol of Phuket Town is the “clock tower building” which was the municipalty’s first police station when built in the 1910’s. They put it on the street corner opposite of what was the first foreign-owned bank in all of Siam (the country didn’t become Thailand until the 1930’s).

The clock has a long history of mishaps starting when the ship carrying the original from Penang in the Straits Settlements (present-day Malaysia) sank while en route. The replacement stopped working soon after delivery. It was finally replaced two or three years ago but it, too, stopped working earlier this year. It seems to be working once again now.

Today, this is a hugely popular spot for selfies and graduation photos. It can be difficult to walk around the corner without getting into somebody’s shot and drivers need to pay special attention as many people love to be filmed while attempting to cross the road. I always take great care so I do not spoil somebody’s photo or video (the person with the camera tends to “hide” in the arches but often somebody will bump into me when I stop as they aren’t paying as much attention.

There are a few bars along the north-south oriented Yaoworat Road but restaurants have changed numerous times over the years. The fancy ice cream place is still around (and smells wonderful whenever I walk by due to the fresh home-baked cones) but two hamburger joints have failed on the southern stretch of the road in as many years and the pizza place looks gone for good as well. The big electronics showroom on the corner has been completely gutted; I cannot tell what will replace it but it will probably be yet another restaurant. More failures than successes in this area. I might have to try out Hog’s Head Tavern before they succumb as well.

I then turned back onto Krabi Road, heading east. I passed my favorite piece of local street art, a lobster climbing a restaurant’s wall, and the beautifully restored Kasikorn Bank building which has the most wonderful postal pillar box in all of Phuket sitting outside.

I will leave you here today as I turn south towards Ratsada Road which contained the first real signs of economic trouble including one real shock! I will put together Part Two of my walkabout around Phuket Town later in the week.

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