On my last couple of visits to Phuket, I've come away with a slightly negative impression of the place. This beautiful island is in danger of becoming over-developed, many of its tourist attractions are bordering on the tacky, and some of the people in the tourist industry have been a little on the aggressive side. But, after a very pleasant day spent in Phuket Town, my faith has been restored somewhat.
Even the taxi drivers weren't as horrible as normal. Of course, the guys in the gate tried to charge ridiculous prices ($70 for an 8 mile trip to Phuket Town? Get Lost!). Instead we just walked round to the port gates, and met a nice guy who would do the same trip for $15 – still over the odds I'm sure, but not quite the same rip off.
We did a self-guided walking tour around the historic streets of the old town, and in spite of the heat, we had a lovely time – there was plenty of interesting architecture to discover, and the whole place seems to have had a bit of a makeover since our last visit here. Actually, the place had a fairly "genuine" feel to it – there were plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops aimed at tourists, but nothing was aimed at the mass market.
Some of the grandiose 19th century mansions left over from the island's tin boom still need to be done up, but the whole place seems to be going through a gentrification process. But, there's still a distinctly Thai character to the place – particularly in its busy market. When you see the stalls of delicious fresh fruit and veg on offer, you think that you could live pretty well here.
For lunch, we had a recommendation of a place that was very popular with the locals, but was spotlessly clean and had air-conditioning to satisfy us foreigners – Tu Kab Khao, on Phang-nga Road. The waiting staff were lovely, and I had the best Thai Green Curry I've had in a long time.
So, today proved that Phuket can still offer local culture, interesting sights and classy service - as long as you're looking in the right place.