I have a confession. I have never been inside of Nguan Choon Tong, a shop at No. 16 Thalang Road in Old Phuket Town that holds the distinction of being the province’s oldest shop for herbal Chinese medicine. Opened in 1917 by the Bumrungwong family and still operated by the grandson, Wisit, of the original proprietor. In fact, the businesses on either side of the Oldest Herbs shop have stayed in this same family — the coffee shop Kopitiam is run by the great-granddaughter, Wiwan, while the air-conditioned Wilai Restaurant is headed by yet another relative. If you are a fan of the American reality TV show The Amazing Race as I am, you may remember the episode (S14E07 which originally aired on 29 March 2009) that had the contestants looking for clues in this very shop.
While I have smelled the rather interesting aromas coming from within while walking past on my way to or from work, I have never taken the time to step inside to see the ancient weighing scales and old cabinets storing dried herbs — once go-to remedies for ailments suffered by the influx of Chinese migrants who came to Phuket during the tin mining boom in the early 20th century. It is definitely on my list of things to do but it always seems that I am on my way elsewhere whenever I am nearby. If you go, please be aware that Khun Wisit is not fond of people snapping photos of him doing his work. There are some excellent photos on the blog written by the father of some of my earliest Phuket students.
I will make an effort to visit sometime during my upcoming one-month holiday, combining it with a meal at Kopitiam which is the only place that I have found in Phuket Town with French toast on the menu (their masaman curry is wonderful as well and you must try their local juices).