Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
Phuket is one of those areas where the vast majority of it is organised to make a profit from rich tourists, through any means possible. It’s a tropical paradise where the saying ‘a fool and his money is soon separated’ is constantly put to the test. While it does contain the occasional idyllic pockets they’re inevitably crowded with loud tourists, and there’s a lot of areas where you get the impression that anything goes – where the seedier sides of life are made available for the right price.
You can’t leave Phuket International Airport and have a chance to enjoy the humidity before there are a hoard of Thai, eager to bundle you into their particular vehicle. Competition is fierce, and more than a little intimidating. Once aboard a minibus, bound for a string of hotels huddled near the beach in Patong, the ploy doesn’t stop there. The old minivan in which myself and Mrs Smith were passengers swerved sharply, mounted the kerb, and pulled up in a shop that sells tickets to shows and tours.
‘Pull up’ is probably being a bit too kind in this instance, as it actually drove in through the front door. The driver pulled the handbrake and told everyone to get out and have a look around. Once the hard sell is applied and tickets were secured for boat tours and evening shows the trip could continue, and this was all before you arrived at the hotel.
We were staying in a resort hotel in the middle of Patong called the Baumanburi Hotel. It was one of those places with slick marketing photos, a fancy moulded pool with a swim up bar, and oodles of mixed reviews on Tripadvisor. While far from new it ticked enough boxes for us to book a room for the week.
By the time the third night rolled around, I had worked out why the hotel was reasonably priced – It is impossible to sleep in Patong, as Patong doesn’t sleep. The Hard Rock Cafe is right across the road from the Baumanburi, and the establishment didn’t look anywhere near as docile as its counterparts in Australia. Home of screaming girls with microphones covered in little else but soap and foam, it kicked off its partying late with loud base music until the early hours of the morning.
Upgrading and changing rooms to the back of the hotel didn’t help either – behind it was an alley which, while quiet during the day, is filled with pop-up open-air bars and screaming girls at night. A popular pastime at these is to play a game involving bashing a nail into a piece of wood with a hammer, all the while egged on by a screaming enthusiastic local girl. I’m not sure why hammers and nails are paired with alcohol, but as the late night cacophony proved, it seemed popular. It carried on until well after the Hard Rock Cafe closed doors for the morning, and was constantly accompanied by random explosions of firecrackers.
Myself and Mrs Smith cut our losses and checked out of the hotel – settling instead for one fifteen minutes away around the point, in a little town called Kamala. While still powered by tourism it was a lot less targeted at debauchery than Patong, and we could at least get a decent night’s sleep.
If a no-limits party is the kind of holiday you’re in Phuket for, then you’re in the right place. If you’re there for cheap and dodgy tattoos, a lots of attention, low priced alcohol, and less restrictions than you would have elsewhere, again, you’re in the right place. These days relaxing in such a place is a myth.
And yet, there’s the beaches. Probably the first reason for tourism to start off proper for Phuket lies a block from the first hotel we stayed at. You can stand in the water, close your eyes and feel the sand in your toes, and relax.
Before you is a peaceful stretch of water, but turn around and you’ll find the beach cramped out by endless fields of deck chairs and local Thai’s hawking their wares. Phuket has suffered badly from excessive tourism and overdevelopment, helped along by loose laws and poor planning. And we were there for a week.