After 16 months in Thailand, I finally made it to perhaps the most well-known destination in the country outside of Bangkok. Phuket is an island (Ko in Thai) in the south of Thailand that is connected to the mainland by just two bridges. Phuket is a very large province — it is about 13 miles wide at its widest point, 28 miles long, and contains 210 square miles. For perspective, the land area is about 75% of that of Singapore, about 85% of Cozumel, equal to that of Guam, and larger than many Caribbean nations including Curaçao, Barbados, Grenada, and Aruba.
The oldest reference to the island dates back to a book written in 157 A.D. by Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek philosopher. For centuries, the harbors of Ko Phuket offered welcome protection from high winds and monsoons for merchant traders sailing between India and China. Dutch, Portuguese, English, and French ship logs dating from the 16th century also reference the island, known at the time as Jung Ceylon.
As I was planning my three-day holiday, I quickly realized that there was no way that I could possibly see all of Phuket with such a short visit. In fact, as I looked at the map above, I wasn’t even sure near which of the many beaches I should stay. Starting from the north and working south, the choices were (A) Mai Khao Beach, (B) Nai Yang Beach, (C) Nai Thon Beach, (D) Bangtao Beach, (E) Surin Beach, (F) Kamala Beach, (G) Patong Beach, (H) Karon Beach, (I) Kata Beach, (J) Nai Harn Beach, (K) Ya Nui Beach, (L) Rawai Beach, (M) Chalong Bay, (N) Panwa Beach, or (O) Ao Yon Beach. Almost all of the major beaches on the west coast of the island suffered major damage from the December 2004 tsunami that killed over 5,000 people.
After some research on the internet, I decided that I wanted to stay near Patong Beach since this is where the notorious Phuket nightlife is centered. While I did not want to stay in the middle of this debauchery, I did want to be close. I found a very nice hotel, the Amari Corel Beach Resort (point A on the Google satellite image below) in what seemed like the perfect location — outside of the busy center but close enough to get there easily.
So, last Saturday morning, I left my apartment at 8:30 a.m. for a 9:30 a.m. flight from Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport (Point A on the map below) to Phuket International Airport (point B). By 10:30 a.m., my Nok Air flight was touching down after the 430 mile journey. I found a metered taxi outside the terminal for the 25 mile drive to the Amari. About 1 hour and 500 baht ($16) later, I was checking in at my weekend home.
I was delighted with the hotel. My room was in a building that directly overlooked the Andaman Sea and I could hear the waves crashing against the beach. The hotel is separated from the highly congested Patong Beach Road strip by a bridge that runs over a small river, but it is still just a mile from Bangla Road. With just a 10 minute walk, I could leave the serenity of the hotel and be amid the hustle and bustle of Patong Beach.
I took an afternoon walk down the beach and along the Beach Road. Patong is a popular destination for foreign tourists and there were a lot of Aussies, Europeans, and Russians. Indeed, quite a few of the vendors had signs not only in Thai and English but also in Russian. If you didn’t already know that Patong is clearly not the most wholesome resort area, the Russian signage would be a pretty good clue. Indeed, Patong Beach is very much like Pattaya — an interesting place to visit but not necessarily the place for the family vacation. Somewhat surprisingly, however, there were a large number of families here, so go figure.
Patong is a typical beach resort area with a large number of women in bikinis (and men in speedos) who ought not to be. There are vendors ready to satisfy your basic needs — people who rent chaise lounges and umbrellas, purveyors of all types of food and beverage, and entrepreneurs offering jet ski rentals and para-sailing. Typical of Thailand, the beach also has a large number of masseuses ready to provide a one hour massage right on the beach.
The Beach Road is packed with touts trying to get people to buy watches, lighters, t-shirts, sandals, custom-made suits, tuk-tuk rides, etc. The stores are jammed with merchandise yet mostly bereft of customers; I really wonder how they turn their inventory and, more importantly, how they make any money.
Patong Beach comes alive at night even in the low season. After sunset, Soi Bangla is closed to vehicle traffic and becomes a 1,000 foot long party zone. Bars, discos, go-gos, and restaurants line both sides of the street and music blares from all of them as well as from the smaller side-streets including Soi Easy, Soi Gonzo, Soi Crocodile, Soi Lion, Soi Tiger, and Soi Vegas. Enterprising young (and not-quite-so-young) women and ladyboys dance (or at least sway) to the music and most appear ready to entertain anyone with the right amount of money. As the locals say, “No Money, No Honey!’
The chart on the left below was in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. If President Obama really thinks that his stewardship of the economy has been a success, I wonder what he imagines failure would look like?
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.