June 26, 2013 00:00
By Phoowadon Duangmee
Phuket's oldest hotel offers everything from bunk beds to suites in an old-world atmosphere
Crouched on the Phang Nga Road in the heart of Phuket’s Old Town, The Memory at On-On Hotel lets you sleep in an ambience reminiscent of days long gone. Leonardo DiCaprio slept here, at least, in his role as Richard, the American college student hero of “The Beach”, as he strove to save an idyllic island and its marijuana plantations. Today, tourists can thank – or perhaps, blame – popular culture for the considerably more stylish yet pricier edition.
Better known simply as On-On Hotel by the locals, The Memory at On-On Hotel was originally established in 1923 as a five-room inn for the foreign traders who came to Phuket for its tin. As the island became more known for its beaches than tin, On-On enjoyed a new life as a hostel. Young backpackers, drawn to Phuket by sun, sea and sand, converged on the cheap guesthouse with historical significance. That young student portrayed by DiCaprio would probably have been paying Bt250 a night for his bunk bed.
Today, On-On is enjoying a lavish life as a boutique hotel.
Right in the heart of Phuket Old Town, The Memory at On-On Hotel occupies two, long Sino-Portuguese-styled shophouses at the T-junction of Phang-nga and Takuapa Roads. Enter through the huge arched entrances and you find yourself in the airy lobby giving out on to a long courtyard. Two pink sofas, make-believe timeworn concrete walls, a vintage typewriter and antique wood furniture give it a chic, antique look. Young travellers, especially the arty types, will fall in love with this cheeky decorative touch at the first sight.
Two wooden staircases wind their way up to the second floor where a winding maze of teeny rooms await their guests.
My room is 211 – a few steps away from Room 204, where DiCaprio allegedly bunked.
When “The Beach” was being filmed more than a decade ago, Richard and his friends would probably slept on a flimsy sheet of foam and relived themselves in a “quaint” squat toilet. I am luckier than Leonardo.
A timeworn hardwood floor, cream-coloured wall and old-fashioned pastel-blue door make the teeny room unusually cosy. Two small single beds, with clean white bed sheets and white blankets, fit perfectly. How small is my single bed? I can manage to roll around once. Twice would have me crashing to the floor. There’s no view and it’s only on my second night that I notice there actually is a small window beyond the curtain. My only “views” of the world come from the flat-screened TV hanging on the wall.
But On-On is definitely much more comfortable than in DiCaprio’s days. There’s even have a coffee-making machine plus a small fridge to stock the cold drinks you bring back from the convenient store.
The restroom is clean and basic, with a bath gel set and glass wash basin. The good news is you don’t run the risk of arthritis. The squat potty is out, and the pedestal edition is in.
In keeping with the hotel’s youthful attitude and spirit, there are still a few dorms and shared bathrooms. The hotel also has two spacious common living rooms, with long table, microwave oven, toaster, coffee machine and washing machines, on the second floor. Wi-Fi Internet connectivity is included. Soda, cold drinks and local beer at reasonable prices are available on the ground floor.
The Memory at On-On is an affordable hotel that’s well situated and has a cheeky, hip and historical aesthetic that will please the young travellers. It might be far from Patong and Phuket’s famous beaches, but it meets the hankerings of anyone wanting to stay in Phuket’s old neighbourhood in a heritage building.
At a Glance
High points: It was good enough for Leonado DeCaprio.
Low points: The hotel is far from the beach. Getting to the sand and sea takes about one hour by bus.
Pay for it: Accommodation in a dorm with bunk beds and shared bathroom starts at Bt400 per night, while twin Superior Room costs around Bt1,600. A suite goes for Bt3,000 per night.