Khuong Nha

There’s much more to Phuket than just beaches

Despite having visited Phuket’s vibrant blue sea and white sand several times, my latest trip showed the island in a whole new light. There was much more to discover – such as the Old Town, which brings back memories of the past, and God’s Cape – one of the best places in the world to watch the sunset.

Sunset at Promthep

The golden age

At the end of the 19th century, Phuket’s Old Town was bustling, thanks to local tin mines. When mining gave way to tourism and Phuket emerged as a beach paradise, the Old Town gradually fell into oblivion. Until this day, Phuket’s Old Town has preserved traces of a golden age in Southern Thailand.

Setting foot in the Old Town felt like traveling back in time to revisit old ways of life in these proud streets. Behind intricately-carved wooden doorways lay unique cultural traits of the Tholonga people. Phuket’s Old Town features colorful – and sometimes quirky –  Sino-Portugese architecture. There are row houses with moss-covered yin-yang tiled roofs and complex neoclassical and Renaissance-style stucco facades. The front verandas join up to form charming domed walkways, as seen in ancient European cathedrals.

A traditional house in the Old Town

The lifestyle here is a mix of East and West, as shown through interesting contrasts in the streets. You can easily find lively, funky Western-style bars and restaurants behind seemingly quiet, well-aged walls.

I fell silent when Louis Armstrong’s unmistakable low, deep voice reached my ears. He was singing a classic jazz tune, played from an old speaker in a house owned by people of Chinese heritage. Across the street, a middle-aged Malay woman was meticulously polishing an intricate pearl-inlay jewelry box. Just a few steps away, the invigorating fragrance of freshly brewed coffee seemed to pull travelers back to the present.  All of these contrasting activities combined into a perfect rhythm of life that would be hard to find anywhere else.

As you wander around town, you will find abundant surprises behind colorful wooden doors. There are galleries, bakeries, fabric shops, Chinese pharmacies… and even small eateries that serve secret family recipes.

Elegance lives in the little details. With close attention, you will discover that all the walkways in town are paved with patterned ceramic tiles. The townspeople take pride in this design feature, as it is proof of the town’s opulent golden age.

A colourful street

God’s Cape

I spent an afternoon walking up Promthep Cape to watch the sunset, as recommended by a local friend. The pristine and majestic landscape becomes spectacularly romantic at twilight. People in local villages call Promthep Cape “God’s Cape”, and consider it a sacred landmark in their spiritual life.

The peak of Promthep is undeniably one of the best spots on earth to watch the sunset. In the final months of the year, thousands of tourists flock to this landmark each day. I found a peaceful spot, sat down, and waited quietly for the most beautiful moment of the day.

At four pm, the sun started to fade as the coconut fonds swayed gently in the breeze. The atmosphere was tranquil and pleasant. Some singers sang along to melodious background music, in harmony with the whispering waves.

The setting sun fired up the horizon, turning the sky golden, deep orange, and fiery red as the sun touched the ocean. Speckles of light formed a wavering line on the water, sparkling as the small waves chased each other ashore. The spectacular show went on for half an hour.

If you have watched the sunset at the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, or Bagan, you have enjoyed a similar sense of tranquility, majesty, fantasy, and a contemplative air that is hard to define.

With more free time in hand, I walked along the path leading to the beach. There stood a lighthouse built in 1996 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of King Rama IX’s reign. Inside the lighthouse was a small nautical museum displaying historic artifacts. From the top of the lighthouse, visitors have panoramic views of the stunning surrounding islands. My trip ended on the shore of Nai Harn Beach, in a local restaurant with a view of the boat dock as it lit up. Phuket, seen in a different light, made my heart sing with joy.