On the walls of Phuket old town’s wonderful dilapidated buildings striking images can be seen depicting the local food and culture and they offer a unique take on what makes this island so different - its ability to reinvent itself through the vagaries and vicissitudes that fate throws its way.

The artists have taken advantage of the dilapidated condition of most of the buildings to offer passers-by a perhaps fleeting glimpse of their skill and artistry, as no one really knows how long their works will remain on display, something which offers a temporal dimension to reflect on.

Indeed, at another time in Phuket’s history these works of art might never have been permitted to remain long after their discovery and it’s perhaps the strongest testament to the artists’ skills and ingenuity that they have received official tolerance and a great deal of public approval.  

In loving memory of Thaialnd’s much-loved former king Bhumibol

Although Phuket is justifiably known for its glorious beaches, distinctive island cuisine – made a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015 – and boisterous Patong nightlife, many people, tourists and locals both, are beginning to become aware of Phuket’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic makeup and its colourful and often tumultuous history.

Charmingly whimsical and original

As you wander through the old town of Phuket, taking in the distinctive architectural styles of shophouses, temples, mosques and shrines, something of the flavour of the those days lingers. Most of what we see today is the product of the tin mining boom that changed the face and outlook of the island so dramatically. 

Once the boom was over and the buildings began to decay through neglect, people forgot the past and looked to a more prosperous future through tourism. Today, though, a new appreciation for those bygone days of entrepreneurial tin barons and the architecture their ambitions brought about has led to an increased urgency to maintain what remains of these splendid edifices.

A giant mooncake

As a result of the UNESO award the Phuket Initiative was launched and twelve graffiti artists were asked to work together on a series of murals depicting the local food and culture. At first, there were some voices raised in protest, but by and large the project has been very well received by both locals and tourists.

Much of the old town’s buildings have undergone restoration and many more will follow, so by and by, these artworks are likely to slowly disappear over time as more of the town is given a facelift. Take a stroll around Soi Romanee, once the naughtiest street in town, where gambling parlours, opium dens and brothels used to be located, which was a few years ago a ghostly relic of its former heyday, and experience its marvellous revival. 

A joyous riot of colour

The styles of art are different and highly individualistic and the artists show a deft touch in handling the tools of their trade, but all exhibit a profound understanding of Phuket’s unique place in that part of the Asian experience that thrives at the crossroads, where cultures meet and meld, fuse and reinvent themselves - always changing, adapting but clinging to the traditions that inextricably bind them together.

The walls have eyes…

Wander through the streets of the old town and savour the distinctive Sino-Portuguese architecture and the art that adorns its crumbling masonry while you can. These works of art have drawn attention to the plight of the buildings and may indeed lead to their restoration as has already happened with so many other fine old buildings in the vicinity. This in turn will likely result in these paintings removal from the walls, which though a great shame, might just be the inevitable fate of all street art.