International Writers Magazine:Thailand
Phukets Shophuse Architectural Masterpieces
from the sandy beaches and sometimes seedy nightlife of Phuket's
tourist hotspots, its well worth spending an hour or two wading
through the wok smoke and dodging a few speeding mopeds to discover
a refreshingly non-pretentious un-preserved architectural gem -
even if youre not into architecture.
Park yourself down
on one of the few benches in Phuket Town centre and youll notice
one thing. Its hot! Morning, noon or night its hot!
Its noisy too. Fast and furious. Like all over Thailand, mopeds
partake, in what to outsiders might seem, a magical two wheeled version
of dodge ball, carrying their poker faced riders (sometimes 4 to a machine),
ghost like, as they weave through endless cues of menacing pick up trucks,
blacked out windows, overloaded with anything from the contents of a
house to a team of construction workers or playful children and solitary
buddhist monks, all seemingly oblivious to each-others existence! Maybe
its to get out of the heat or just good manners but no ones wasting
time on road rage or insulting hand gestures here!
Add to the heat, a few street cafes, the chilli fumes (still lethal
at 40 yards), literally taking your breath away and making you hungry
at the same time, woks-a-flying, steam-a-rising,
voices-a-shouting - and your sort of feeling the pace of
The people are nice, but everyone says that about the Thai's. Walk into
the epicentre of the town and the architecture is even nicer. Rows of
Sino Portuguese Shop Houses sell their wares or leave doors open inviting
you in - in to what? Sure tourism has created a demand for cafes, gift
shops, art galleries, but the more traditional traders are also here,
textiles, sewing, more food, Thai, Chinese, Muslim, Farang (local word
for foreigner) everyone is here and everyone seems to get along.
The concept of the Shop House is as relevant and practical today as
in the 18th century, a place for work and a place to live. And if your
open until 10pm every night it makes perfect sense!
A closer look at the Shop House will reveal mostly tired and dirty ornate
plaster work (blackened by the exhaust fumes) and you will see basic
structures, corrugated roofs, no side windows, shuttered frontages.
Look inside and you will find courtyards, wells (yes inside the house),
ornate carved wood, windowless windows. Reminiscent of a wild west saloon
town most of it is tired, bare and dirty, people live simply here and
thats what makes it so special. Its like youre the
first to stumble across it, the first to have seen it for 100 years,
a secret that youve discovered, a magic garden without the flowers
and concreted over!
Alleyways reveal disused villas, buzzing overhead cables reveal you
should wear rubber souled shoes, renovated mansions sit alongside art
galleries and old ladies make children's school wear with a sewing machine
my Gran had in 1955. Some people smile at you interested, some just
ignore you as though you are an everyday item. One friendly café
owner, on leaving his café, gave me a banana (not bad seeing
the meal cost less than a £1 including a coke), well I guess they're
used to foreigners here or at least the buildings certainly are.
The designs stem from the Asian tin mining immigrants from Malaysia.
Penang is the same and that's where the Portugese plaster work comes
in as well as British influence. You can thank the Dutch for the shape
where your shop would be taxed on its frontage width. So these are small
on the outside and big on the inside (some being up to 50 meters deep)!
But hey, this isn't Dutch or British, Portuguese, Malaysian or Thai
come to that - it's Phuket - 'Phuketish', and its somehow managed
to create its own look and feel in a small tightly cropped area.
Which is another thing what makes it so special, theres not to
much to walk around yet plenty to keep you interested.
Its a culture shock away from the corporate logos of normal
high streets. Its cool, no its hot, its different,
its the best of Barcelona, its the best of Bath, its
the best of Paris, but 20 years ago, smaller and a bit shitty
in a good way.
© Steve Tothill May 2008
a Long Walk Down a Short Pier
Rawai Pier - Function over Form
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.