Thalang Road : Heart of Old Phuket Town
If you read this blog often or have dug deep into the hundreds of pages, it should be apparent that I like Phuket Town, especially the old part of town, which tends to be called 'Old Phuket Town' by most people. It's just a few streets really, though older buildings do exist in outlying areas. If you go back about 100 years the town of Phuket was much smaller. What we call the old town was built in the late 19th century and early 20th century when Phuket was already an important tin mining area. Phuket Town became the main town due to the easy access to the sea at Sapan Hin, and in those early days the Bang Yai canal which still runs through town was an important waterway. When I first came to Phuket in 1999, I would say the old town was somewhat forgotten. It's only in the last 10 years than some "old town pride" has been restored, streets have been renovated, overhead wires removed, lots of little cafes and bars have opened, and they mix with the old shops such as hardware stores, herb shops, fabric shops, printers and old noodle shops to create the unique mix of old and new that is 'Old Phuket Town'. Right in the middle is Thalang Road which is certainly my favourite street in Phuket!
Thalang Road has been mentioned on the blog many times, so this page is meant to tie everything together and show what Thalang Road has to offer. So let's take a walk .... starting on the east side, to the east of the junction with Thep Kasatri Road there's the south side of the Queen Sirikit Park, the Tourism Authority of Thailand office and the dragon statue - old Chinese legend says that Phuket island is a sea dragon called Hai Leng Ong, risen from the waters.
Walking west you cross the Bang Yai canal just before the road junction. It's a bit of a smelly canal these days, but I have read that the old town authorities are trying to clean it up. We took a ride in an olde style boat in 2012 during the old town festival ...
The main part of Thalang Road starts after the junction with Thep Kasatri Road. With a few exceptions this stretch of road, about 400 meters long, has remained very much "old style" with just a few newer buildings and with many old family businesses that have been open since the road was built. Plus a few new cafes and restaurants which for the most part retain the old shopfronts.
The intricate carving above is found on the 2nd floor of a building on Thalang Road close to the junction with Thep Kasatri road. The ground floor is a fabric shop. As you enter this part of Thalang Road you can see shops, homes and various businesses. Just about 20m along the street on the south side is a cafe called Since 1892 which opened in 2012. It's small and arty and everything inside is for sale - furniture, clothes and coffee and cakes!
Unfortunately (update 2016) looks like Since 1892 has closed down. These interesting cafes keep coming and going!
Keep walking west ... this part of Thalang road has many Muslim shops, including (just a few doors from Since 1892) a couple of Roti shops selling Muslim food - Roti (pancakes) with curry. I have been a few times to Abdul's Roti Shop - delicious!
There are lost of Muslim fabric shops along this part of the road as well as a bicycle shop and several homes. With "old town pride" being rekindled in recent years, many of the shophouses have been renovated or repainted, I especially love the 2nd floor shutters.
(above) Muslim fabric shops and the 2nd floor shutters of a building that seems to have been there since 1889 - I took that picture just yesterday (17th July 2013) ... I tend to take photos every time we walk along Thalang Road!
A new restaurant opened in 2013 called Eleven Two & Co. - some very tasty interesting food, indoor or outdoor seating. Nice place and very colourful!
(above) Looking along Thalang Road from Eleven Two @ Co.
Just after the line of fabric shops on the south side of the road used to be a bar/restaurant called Route 68 which we liked, with live music at weekends, normally just gentle jazz or blues. Unfortunately it closed in 2014, I think neighbours complained about too much noise. Old Town has quite a lot of small bars and pubs, good for a night out.
About half way along Thalang Road is a narrow road that heads north from Thalang Road and joins up with Dibuk Road. This narrow street is called Soi Romanee, and many years ago it was (so they say) lined with brothels frequented by tin miners. Nowadays it's quiet, there are a couple of small cafes and guesthouses, and it's very pretty and colourful. We used to hang out sometimes at a place called Glastnost Cafe but I have not seen the owner for ages - he's a lawyer and I think working in Bangkok all the time now.
(above) Soi Romanee
Let's keep walking west from Soi Romanee - there are quite a few real businesses here on Thalang Road, mixing with the newer cafes and shops. There are a couple of old printers, several hardware stores and some old style general stores....
The variety of business along here is great. Keep walking past the Hum Wan hardware store which has been in the same family since .. forever (and look up above the store front, WoW!) - then you see right next to each other is the Christian Assembly and the Hai Lam Chinese Shrine. Phuket is a melting pot and if you delve into the history of Phuket you can see why. In town you have Buddhist temples, Chinese shrines, a Catholic church, a Sikh Gurdwara and a Hindu shrine too!
Just after the Chinese shrine (photo above) is the China Inn cafe, and then a row of family businesses - first is the Kopitiam restaurant at which we are regulars, and next door is the old herb shop called Nguan Choon Tong, selling old Chinese herbal remedies and run by the same family since 1917. And after that is an indoor aircon section of Kopitiam, formerly the Wilai restaurant also run by the same family and a very nice family they are too!
(above) The herb shop and Kopitiam on Thalang Road
This restaurant has a little secret too - passing through the restaurant, walking past the kitchens, down a narrow passage and you are now in the Shrine of Serene Light which has it's entrance on the next road to the south (Phang Nga Road). I did ask if the shrine was something to do with their family, but it's not ... I think the building housing the Wilai restaurant was maybe owned by different people when the shrine was built in 1889.
And we're pretty much at the end of Thalang Road. There is a lot more here than has been mentioned. This is the heart of old Phuket Town. A few meters after Kopitiam you reach the junction with Yaowarat road. If you carry on, Thalang Road becomes Krabi road and there's a lot to see along the next few hundred meters including the Thai Hua Museum and the Chinpracha House.
Thalang Road is not too busy, though due to the one way street pattern in Phuket Town it can get quite a bit of traffic in the day time. Evenings are quieter and anyway the best time for visiting a cafe. I'd suggest heading to old town late afternoon, walking around a while, finding a place for a drink, finding a place for dinner, then maybe another drink. Sunday is a bad day as many places are closed. Middle of the day is normally going to be too hot. This is my favourite area in Phuket and I am glad to see the old town being renovated and promoted. Many of the places mentioned above like Kopitiam, Route 68, Since 1892 .. they only opened in the last few years. Old Town is changing, but I hope it does not become too kitsch! Right now with a mix of cafes, bars, restaurants, old businesses, shrines .. it's perfect!
(above) Thalang Road at festival time - taken during a local festival - the street is not normally this busy!
Thalang Road - Location Map
View Thalang Road, old Phuket Town in a larger map