As the economic and urban hub of the island of Phuket, Phuket Town is not always the major attraction for visitors. However, the town’s history and large Chinese population make a trip there a worthwhile, enriching cultural experience. Phuket Town’s Chinatown area is a melee of cultural influences, where one can see plenty of diversity, from Dutch and Portuguese buildings to Chinese temples and ornamentation.
Thailand had been a source of important natural resources, as was the rest of Southeast Asia. This meant, during the colonial period, European powers were interested in trading with Thai merchants and building up local industry.
Chinese migrants began flocking to Thailand and especially Phuket during the 19th century when tin became the island’s most important resource. The need for labour meant there were workers coming from all over the region, and especially from the nearby mainland. The island’s interior quickly became dominated by the cultural influence of the Chinese, while the coastal areas remained the mainstay of native Thais.
Today, Phuket Town’s Chinatown in the area of Thanon Thalang is a hub for Chinese restaurants and temples. This area, also known as “Old Phuket,” has houses and buildings from the time of the tin industry boom in the 19th century. In this section’s architecture, one can see European influence mixed in with Sino-Thai style. Many shops built by the Portuguese have Chinese ornamental carvings on the doors.
The food in Chinatown ranges from authentically Chinese to a fusion of regional flavours, as well as some restaurants with international cuisines. The China Inn Café and Restaurant is set in an old Sino-Portuguese building. Contrary to what its name suggests, the restaurant actually offers Thai and European food.
The interior of the restaurant houses antiques and furniture that is for sale. Look at some local treasures, and then pass through the corridor through to the backyard, to the real restaurant area. This is a charmingly tasteful area, complete with slowly rotating antique fans and elegant plants. There is
a laidback atmosphere here, and one can enjoy a good view, excellent food and a little bit of history at the China Inn Café and Restaurant.
A little further from the restaurant but still in Old Phuket, on Thanon Yaowaraj, is the China House, a teahouse and café that doubles as an art gallery. One can enjoy Chinese tea and other drinks in this reconverted shophouse while gazing at some local artwork.