Made famous in 2000 by its appearance in the opening scenes of the Leonardo Di Caprio cult film The Beach, is The Memory at On On Hotel on Phang Nga Road in Phuket Old Town.
Formerly known simply as On On Hotel, which in Chinese means ‘happiness for all visitors’, it was designed and constructed by Penang craftsmen in 1929. With distinct Sino-Portuguese architecture, the 2-storey building has been styled to include exposed brick walls, intricate details above the main entrance and handcrafted window shutters. Having gone through numerous renovations, today it is a charming and chic establishment that barely resembles the hotel that featured in the film.
When On On Hotel first opened, the main industry in Phuket was tin mining with the focus area Kathu, a few kilometres west of Phuket Town one gigantic tin mine with hundreds of Chinese migrants working to excavate the metal. Phuket’s Ta Pan Hin was the port from where the tin was exported by European ships. The grandfather of the current owner, a tin baron, set up accommodation for traders coming to Phuket Town.
Built under the supervision of an architect from Penang, the original hotel had five rooms, eventually expanding through the years to reach over 40. On the ground floor are two large rooms, two courtyards, and two sets of impressive wooden stairs – one takes you to dormitories and the other to the Deluxe Rooms and Suites. It’s a little like stepping into a private world that is stuck at the end of the 19th century with colour themes ranging from the dark brown of the wooden furniture to the pale green and grey of the walls.
This Sino-Portuguese building was entirely restored in 2012 and occupies a focal position in the heart of Phuket Old Town. Likely the most striking feature is its central courtyard that opens up to the sky to let in natural light, an original design element that’s been skilfully renewed to become an attractive focal point of the On On. The adjacent reception area has Sino-Portuguese tiled flooring scattered with old travel trunks and antiques dating back to the hotel’s 1920s glory days. The lobby hosts a museum and collection of old photographs hanging on concrete walls, and there is a welcoming restaurant and cafe.
The On On’s rooms range from four to six-bed dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms, to superior and deluxe rooms with private bathrooms, and suites. There’s also a female-only dorm with its own bathroom. All the private rooms have cable TV, a kettle with tea and coffee, a mini-fridge, safety box and a rainfall shower in the bathroom. The superior rooms have come in three options; double, twin, or a triple.
The communal areas are inviting, colourful and modern, with the blue sala lounge on the first floor giving those staying in the private rooms an additional place to relax in addition to the ground-floor lobby, while the dorms open out to a large common space that has a TV lounge, a dining area and full kitchen facilities.
Phuket Old Town has become a vibrant attraction in itself with the opening of many restaurants, cafés, as well as antiques and textiles shops. The distinct architecture and storefront houses are being restored to take Phuket Old Town into a new era, and there’s no doubt that burying the electric cables in the historic streets has helped bring back its original appearance.
The On On’s location is ideal for anyone interested in exploring Phuket’s Old Town and its current pricing marks it as an affordable and charming option. It is perfect for an immersive and stylish stay in the Old Town.
The Essential Information
Located in the heart of Phuket Old Town, The Memory at On On Hotel features 24-hours reception and a tour desk to help plan your days. Located just 5km away from Central Festival Phuket Shopping Mall, Patong Beach is a 20-minute drive away and Phuket International Airport a 30-minute drive from the hotel. For reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to their website. Address: 19 Phang-Nga Rd., Talad Yai, Muang, Phuket 83000 Thailand.
** I visited the Memory On On Hotel with Amazing Thailand, South Africa.
** Photos are partly mine and some off the Thailand Authority of Tourism website.