The Memory at On On Hotel was made famous in 2000 because of its appearance in the Leonardo Di Caprio film The Beach.
Located along Phang Nga Road in Phuket Old Town and formerly known as On On Hotel (in Chinese, ‘un un’ means ‘happiness for all visitors’), it went through a complete renovation in 2012 and 2013. Rather than the dingy and depressing hotel it represents in the movie, it is now an attractive and chic place.In 1929 - when On On Hotel first opened - the main industry in Phuket was tin mining. The area of Kathu, a few kilometres west from Phuket Town, was one gigantic tin mine, with hundreds of Chinese migrants digging to excavate the metal. In Phuket Town, Ta Pan Hin was the port from where the tin was exported to all around the world, mostly aboard European ships. The grandfather of the current owner, a tin baron and trader, had the idea to set up accommodation for other traders coming to Phuket Town. The first On On Hotel had five rooms which cost approximately 80 satang (not even one baht) a night!
Originally built under the supervision of an architect from Penang (Georgetown shares very similar architecture in its historical district), On On Hotel’s number of rooms eventually expanded through the years to reach 49. The external architecture is typical Sino-Portuguese in style but, as we’ll see, this is just a tip of an architectural iceberg.
The exterior of the hotel has not changed much but its freshly painted white facade makes it stand out slightly more so than in the past. The interior is indeed the underwater, hidden part of the iceberg: when you step inside the place you realise that it’s huge and lends the feeling of rediscovering a glorious past. On the ground floor there are two large rooms, two courtyards (one with a fountain), and two sets of grandiose wooden stairs – one takes you to dormitories and the other to Deluxe Rooms and Suites. It’s almost like arriving in a small village 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 with a shaft of light from the sky in the two open courtyards. It’s really something.
Despite an increase in its room prices, the hotel is still very affordable and aims to remain a base for the many backpackers and budget travelers who have been the majority of guests since the ‘70s. The dormitories (there are four- and six-bunk rooms available) offer communal areas with a kitchen, washing machines, and a living room with flat-screen TV. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.
Phuket Old Town has become a vibrant attraction in itself lately with the opening of many restaurants, cafés, as well as antiques and textiles shops. The architecture and houses may be old, but the spirit of the new generation, the grandchildren of the wealthy tin barons, is taking Phuket Old Town to a new era and there’s no doubt that the burying of electric cables in its main historical streets has helped start the move back to its original appearance. The electric cables may not yet have been buried along Phang Nga Road, but still The Memory at On On Hotel is the perfect place for those who want to explore and get back in time.