This isn’t the first time I’d been to Thailand – I visited Bangkok for a couple of days back in 2013, namely to go and visit the Tiger Temple – however this is the first time that I have been to a dedicated resort town. The thing is that I’m not really the type of person who simply visits a place to relax – I like to go and see things and experience a different cultural landscape, and while you can do such things at resorts, I tend to find them rather boring and bland. With so much to the world to go and see spending a week hidden away in a luxury resort, to me, is simply a waste of time. Mind you, it’s not as if you get to relax all that much to Phuket, simply because there is so much going on, and forget trying to have an early night because you can be assured that your hotel room will be bombarded with loud music (though maybe it was just my hotel, considering it was across the road from the Hard Rock Cafe).
I must admit that I have a funny relationship with Thailand. After spending two nights in Bangkok I could not wait to get out of there and back onto the plane to Hong Kong. I had the same experience in Phuket – though that came about after the third night. However upon returning home and thinking back on the experience I feel oddly drawn back to the place. In fact a part of me really wants to return to Bangkok for a few more days (though I have to say that I can really only handle Thailand in small doses). Thailand is what one would refer to as a developing country (I really don’t like to use the term ‘third world’ simply because that belongs in the cold war era) so it tends to be a lot dirtier and more chaotic than places like Australia. Also diseases that one would not be exposed to back home tend to be more prevalent here. In a way I actually like the feeling of being in Thailand, particularly since it gives me a much more realistic experience of what the world across the moat is really like (though there are places in Australia, such as the aboriginal communities, where poverty is still a very big issue).
A Touting Culture
One of the big differences between Australia and Thailand is that in Australia you generally don’t get touts – people who rush out of a shop, grab your arm, and attempt to drag you inside and sell you stuff that you don’t really need. It is much more subtle in Australia – it is called advertising and marketing. Okay, they have advertising in Thailand, but you also have quite a lot of touts – its the main way a lot of these shop keepers get people into their stalls. This is particularly the case with the suit sellers and the bar girls. Okay, you do get touts in Australia, but they tend to stand outside strip clubs in Brisbane and Sydney (though you do find that a lot of charity collectors resort to this tactic as well), and while there was a time when they would be much more in your face, these days they simply hand out flyers that offer non-existent discounts (present this flyer for free entry – when in reality entry is free anyway).
The best way to deal with touts is to politely tell them that you are not interested – it is best not to get aggressive because you can find yourself in a lot of trouble – the Thai people generally look out for each other. However you can have a lot of fun with them as well (and I find the suit salesmen can be the funniest: ahh sir, you said that you would come and meat me here today). In fact there was one conversation that I had that I must say was particularly amusing:
Tout: Ahh, sir, where are you from? (their English is actually really good).
Tout: Westeros? Which part?
Me: King’s Landing.
Tout: King’s Landing? Then you are going to need a suit!
Me: We don’t wear suits in Kings Landing (I somehow doubt he had ever heard of Game of Thrones).
Another thing about Thailand is that road rules tend to be optional, even if they exist. In fact there seems to be only one road rule that people follow – don’t hit anybody else on the road – and that seems to work quite well. In Australia if somebody believes that they have the right of way they will simply barge through everybody else, even if it means causing an accident. However in Thailand, despite the fact that most people ignore the road rules, and the speed limits, they seem to be able to get by without having any major collisions. Mind you I’ve only been in Thailand a grand total of five days, and to be honest it is quite easy to spend five days anywhere and not witness a road accident.
Another thing that I would suggest is that it is very much a cash based economy, at least where I was. Okay, there is probably a very good reason for that – using your credit card like you were in Australia is probably not the smartest of things to do. In fact when I am overseas I hardly ever use my credit card (though I occasionally will purchase something that way, but usually in the more advanced economies such as Singapore, Germany, and Great Britain). While Thailand may be somewhat more developed than other places, he rule of thumb generally is to keep your credit card in a safe place, only use it to withdraw money from an auto-teller, and basically make a bulk of your purchases with cash. These days though you can get reloadable gift cards (such as the one I got from Virgin Australia). With these you can load it up with a set amount of money, and if the card is compromised, you aren’t in danger of having your bank account drained.
The thing about Thailand is that it was the only country not to be colonised by a European Power in the 19th century (though that is probably incorrect because I believe that Tibet, Mongolia, and Japan also fall into that category, though in the case of Tibet and Mongolia there is nothing there except for mountains and tundra respectively – though that never stopped anybody before, as was the case with the French Colonising the Sahara Desert). However, in Thailand you do not see any of the trappings of the colonial powers – in a way it is all authentically Thai. Mind you, even though they managed to avoid being colonised through shrewd negotiating, that is not necessarily the case today. As you wander through the streets of Patong (and other parts of Phuket) you cannot help but see signs of modern corporations everywhere. While you can still wander through the bazaars and street stalls, you will also walk past the trappings of the west such as McDonalds and Starbucks. They made have escaped colonialism in the past, but they have not escaped neo-colonialism.
The past brings up an interesting thing about Thailand – you will not see any churches anywhere. Okay, that is also the case in many other countries across the globe, however unlike China and the Middle East where Christianity was expelled and the churches torn down, Christian missionaries never managed to penetrate the Thai interior. Sure, you will still find some churches scattered about the place, but they tend to be few and far between. This is not like Hong Kong or Singapore where you will find Christian Churches next door to temples. A friend of mine who was travelling to Thailand to work once told me that the reason for this is that the Thais are very suspicious of Christianity – to them it is a sign of Western Imperialism and they are very proud of the fact that they managed to avoid being colonised by the Europeans. As I have said though, despite escaping the colonial movement, they have not escaped the neo-colonial movement.
Another thing that I saw when I arrived were the number of dental and plastic surgery clinics. The reason for this is that medical treatment in Thailand is really, really cheap. In fact the Thais happen to be very good at plastic surgery – the fact that tourists (especially male ones) are constantly fooled by the ladyboys is testimony to that. As for other treatment, as I mentioned, Thailand is really cheap, especially when it comes to dental treatment. In Australia you might be paying upwards of $1500.00 for a crown and you are unlikely to get change from $10000.00 for a dental implant (and that is a single tooth). However in Thailand a crown costs around $200.00 while an implant is around $1000.00. Even taking into account the airfares, if you need such treatment it is much cheaper to get it done in Thailand than it is here in Australia (I wander if my work will allow me to take sick leave to go and get a dental implant?), and you get a holiday to boot. Mind you, Dentists in Australia warn you about travelling to Thailand for dental surgery, but that probably has more to do with them losing out on business as opposed to dodgy work (though the risk in Thailand of the work being dodgy is probably a lot greater, and I doubt you would have the same recourses as you would here in Australia – one of the reasons why dental surgery is so expensive probably has something to do with the fact that dentists have to have some form of insurance to be able to practice).
The Airport Experience
I must say that as the plane was approaching Phuket, the view from my window seat (I have to have a window seat because I love looking out the window, however it wasn’t until I started taking long hall flights that I realised the other benefit – you can lean against the cabin wall when attempting to sleep) was nothing short of amazing. The sight across Phang Na Bay from the air was incredible. In fact as we flew over Phi Phi Island you could see the wakes from the speed boats leaving the island. Even though I probably wasn’t supposed to do so, I ended up taking a video as we passed over the bay:
The thing with Phuket airport is that there is only one way you can go – out. From the minute you leave the plane you seem to be constantly moved towards the exit and it quickly becomes impossible to turn around and go back. This was a bit of a problem because as I was heading towards passport control I passed a stall that was offering free sim-cards. I looked at it for a moment and quickly decided that anybody offering free sim-cards are probably up to no good – until I realised that they were doing it in the airport. However, by the time I realised that it was too late – I couldn’t go back and get one. I also started worrying that if I got a sim-card from elsewhere the store assistant probably wouldn’t know how to set my phone up (while I am a bit of a techie, I still haven’t worked out how to activate a sim-card). As it turned out I was worrying about nothing because the assistant in the store where I purchased the sim-card managed to set it up with no problems, which meant that I was able to check into Facebook at the airport.
Also, when I hit customs I remembered that I had an unfinished packet of chips in my bag from Singapore, so I declared them to which the custom’s official indicated that he didn’t particularly care. I guess it has something to do with me coming from Australia which has a very strict quarantine regime. However I suspect that the only thing that the Thai authorities are interested in are cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Mind you it always baffles me as to why they even bother with cigarettes when in Thailand you can get a packet for about $1.50 Australian, though it may have something to do with people bringing them in from countries where they are something like $0.50 Australian. As for drugs, I highly doubt anybody who is carrying drugs is actually going to declare them – yeah, sure, I have 15 kg of heroin in my bag.
Once outside the airport I was immediately confronted with a bevy of touts, either trying to get me to ride in their cab or on one of their buses. The cabs charged ฿900 to go to Patong Beach while the buses only charged ฿150. I decided to catch one of the buses, though the trip took around an hour, but half of the reason was because we had to stop off at their office and record the names of the people who were on the bus, and this was exacerbated because one of the passengers threw a tanty simply because she never had to do that before and she had been to Phuket heaps of times – sorry miss, that may not have been the case before, but it is the case with this bus company at this time. After she relented and sent one of her servants into the office to record their names, we then continued our journey (she also refused to get out of the bus because it was raining – didims).
One thing that I noticed when I got onto the bus was the sticker on the side indicating what was prohibited. I wasn’t really sure whether the ‘no sex’ symbol was a joke, or whether they actually had problems with people having sex on the bus. I suspect it was a joke, but then again this is Thailand so I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t (though the next symbol suggested that attractive women were more than welcome on the bus – did that mean that they didn’t have to pay?).
So, we then headed off towards Patong Beach, and as we were travelling along the road I noticed that Phuket could hardly be considered a tropical paradise. In fact most of the island appeared to be built up (and I noticed a similar thing when I went to Bangkok – despite being out of the city, the main road to the Tiger Temple seemed to be built up for the entire length). Okay, there are areas which are still untouched, which includes the hills surrounding Patong Beach, but for the most part there seemed to be buildings everywhere. However I suspect, much like the road to the Tiger Temple, when you pass the buildings that line the road you will find yourself in the country.
As I mentioned, there are areas where there is jungle, and we happened to drive through one of the sections. As it happened the driver of the bus offered me the front seat, which meant that I got some pretty decent pictures.
Another thing that I noticed is that there were billboards everywhere. In fact it seemed that you simply cannot avoid seeing billboards.
We drove past the Tiger Kingdom on our way to Patong, however I had no intention on visiting the place. Sure, you can get up close and personal with the tigers, however a part of me preferred the experience at the Tiger Temple – at least I was assured that the tigers there weren’t drugged.
Anyway, we finally hit Patong Beach and our bus suddenly slowed to a complete crawl, which is not surprising considering the amount of vehicles that were on the road.
I finally arrived at my hotel, and upon getting out of the bus noticed that the area was chock full of bars. However I decided against going for a drink because I wanted to dump my bags in my room first.
Time for a beer
Unfortunately it took about fifteen minutes for them to check me into my room, and while I was waiting they gave me a drink with some ice in it. I looked at it and pushed it aside. Sure, the ice had a hole in it (which apparently says that it is okay) but I have been told that in Thailand you should avoid drinking water from the taps at all costs, and this includes ice. You will notice that all of the bottled water in Thailand are sealed, and I made sure that I had some bottled water on hand for when I was brushing my teeth.
Anyway, I finally got the key (or should I say key card) to my room, and went upstairs and unloaded. I took the elevator but discovered that it was incredibly slow (I would later try to avoid the elevator as much as possible, though the thought of walking up four flights of stairs wasn’t the most thrilling). When I got into my room I noticed that there was a opening in the wall of the shower that allowed to you look out into the room, as well as another one that allowed you to look into the cupboard. I though that was a little odd (though you could slide a roller door over the opening to give you some privacy) until I realised that this was probably so you could keep an eye on any guests that you brought back to your room (though it was pretty clear that the Centra Ashlie really didn’t like people bringing guests back to their rooms – they allowed it, but really didn’t like it, so would charge you extra in such an event – I suspect this has a lot to do with such guests tending to be more trouble than they were worth).
So, after freshing up and unpacking my bags, I decided to go downstairs to one of the bars or a beer. As I said, there were heaps of bars just outside the hotel, which meant that I was spoilt for choice. I also noticed that all of these bars either displayed an Australian flag, had an Australian name, or both. I suspect that get an awful lot of Australians here.
Anyway, I picked one of the bars and went and ordered a beer. The first thing that I noticed was that there were four bartenders (all of them women) behind the bar. They warmly welcomed me and were more than happy to sell me a beer. However they then invited me to sit at the bar. I never sit at the bar, and anyway I simply wanted to go and read my book, so I politely declined and said that I wanted to sit at one of the other tables.
Anyway, I sat down at the table and immediately one of the girls ran out from behind the bar to the other side of the table and began asking me my name and where I was from. I was a little taken back especially since in Australia I have never had a bartender offer me anything more than small talk while pouring me a beer, and the especially didn’t come and sit at the table and begin talking to me. Then I realised that it was one of THOSE bars. Anyway, I politely indicated that all I wanted to do was read my book and drink me beer. She was somewhat confused, but returned to the bar. I suspect that she was just as mystified as I was – people simply didn’t go to her bar to read a book.
Realising that I probably wasn’t going to get much peace and quiet here, I returned to the hotel and decided to go can check out the roof. It wasn’t all that hot, so I really didn’t want to go for a swim, but they did have a bar there. So I decided that I would have a drink up there – at least I wasn’t going to be disturbed. I must admit that the view from the roof, and the bar itself, was pretty cool, and I probably could have stayed up there for much longer, but I really wanted to go back to my room and do some writing, which I did.
Anyway, I’ll leave it here for now, though my adventures in Phuket will continue.
Phuket Phenomena – The Thai Experience by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.