In Phuket, tin preceded tourism, and long before the arrival of beach resorts, the utilitarian mineral gave birth to a trading city, today’s Phuket Town, near Tongkah Bay. Intermarriage among Hokkien Chinese immigrants, local Thais and Malays, and expatriate British produced a unique Peranakan culture that prospered in the growing town.
Aside from developing a unique language, the Phuket Peranakan inherited an elegant urban architecture built during the 18th and 19th centuries, the peak of the tin empire. The designs are typical of Straits Settlement architecture in Penang, Melaka and Singapore. Thais often incorrectly refer to this style as “Sino-Portuguese” when in fact the Portuguese influence is virtually nil. Sinocolonial or Sino-British might be a more appropriate term, although Phuket was never under British rule like Penang,
Melaka or Singapore.
The predominant style in the old town is the “shophouse”, from the Hokkien tiam choo (literally, “shop house”), although many such buildings were designed purely as residential villas for wealthy Baba families. Each unit is part of a row of similar houses, each claiming narrow street frontage but extending away from the street along a long narrow plot.
Old Phuket has its own culinary specialities as well, including Hokkien dishes like moo hong (braised pork, served with rice) and mee hokkien (a noodle soup made with seafood). To celebrate the town’s unique history and culture, the Old Phuket Foundation sponsors an Old Phuket Festival annually. Thalang Road and Soi Romanee are closed to vehicular traffic, becoming pedestrian-only for the week-long event, which features Peranakan food and costumes, cultural shows, Chinese opera performances and colourful parades.