Wander with Me: Phuket
August 3, 2007
Because the tourist visa was unexpectedly free and because it costs only 70 ringgit to get from Penang to Phuket by mini bus, I couldn’t resist. My friend, D, who was in Bangkok visiting his sister, also decided to meet me in Phuket for the weekend.
I left Penang early Saturday morning and spent the next 11 hours on the road to Phuket. It was interesting how the mini buses operated. They were like a well-oiled and structured crime syndicate. I thought I was going to take the same mini bus all the way to Phuket but apparently I was wrong. I was dropped off in some dodgy looking travel agency in Hat Yai where I was told to wait with no further explanation. I sat there for an hour and a half, unsure of what it was that I was supposed to be doing. The driver didn’t give me back my receipt and I was afraid they were going to charge me more just to get to Phuket. Eventually, I was ushered into another mini bus that took me all the way to another tiny travel operator in Krabi. This time, they stuck a sticker on my chest that said “Phuket” so I definitely knew I was going to get there. I finally did at around 9 in the evening.
D wasn’t arriving in Phuket until Sunday morning so I had the entire Saturday night all to myself. I decided to wait for him in Phuket Town so we can head to Patong Beach together in the morning. I needed a place to crash that was cheap and clean. I ended up sharing a room with a Swedish guy I met on the mini bus at the Holiday Plaza Hotel on Phuket Road. There was absolutely nothing holiday, plaza, or hotel about it. It was just a fan room with a bathroom, and it reeked of pesticide. They were charging 300 baht a night, though, and since I was keen on saving a bit of money, I took a leap of faith and took the Swede’s offer of sharing the room. He seemed like a nice guy and he was rather skinny, so I figured I could take him if I had to.
We had dinner at a little café that advertised wireless Internet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t free and that really pissed me off. The food was good though, albeit a tad bit too spicy. The Swede insisted on paying for dinner, which was probably a lame effort at buying the requisite meal before trying to get a girl to bed. That was not going to happen, however, so I offered to pay for breakfast. We wandered around Phuket Town for a bit, watched a cultural show at a park, and he had a beer at an Irish pub while I did some writing. I think I was pretty boring company, but I didn’t want to give him any ideas.
I was getting really sleepy so I decided to head back to the hotel. I was settling down on the bed when he strode out of the bathroom in nothing but a t-shirt and briefs. If he was trying to entice me, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t about to be seduced by a man who wore briefs. Not many people know it, but I have an aversion to briefs, especially the cotton bikini ones. I prefer boxers.
But I digress. I pretended that I was already asleep. He tossed and turned for a few minutes and eventually went out. I must have really fallen asleep because I didn’t hear him come back. Sometime in the middle of the night he was spooning me, so I just sort of thrashed around a bit like I was having a nightmare, which in essence I was. I suppose that scared him off because he practically scampered off to his side of the bed and stayed there for the rest of the night. D called me around 6 AM the next morning. He was already outside the hotel. I showered and was out of there in record time. Of course, I didn’t have time to buy the Swede breakfast so I paid for my share of dinner, gave him a quick hug, and said goodbye.
When I saw D sitting outside the hotel, we were both overcome with a fit of hysterical giggles. We had come a long way from our local islands. We were in Phuket! It was totally exciting. We were both starving so we tried looking for a place to eat. Unfortunately, everything was closed. The sleepy town was still very much asleep. We had no choice but to feast on cup noodles in a Family Mart.
After breakfast, we needed to figure out how to get to Patong Beach. Taxis in Phuket were much too expensive, but I knew that there were songthaews that went that way. The problem was I didn’t know where they were. We just walked around the town for a bit until we arrived at the bus station. There was a songthaew bound for Patong Beach, alright, and it only cost us 30 baht each.
It was drizzling again when we got to Patong Beach. Finding a place to stay and stash our bags was first priority. The night before, the Swede gave me a business card for a guest house on Nanai Road. It was a long walk from the beach, but it was cheap and had free wireless Internet, which was becoming a dire necessity for me. We did spend some time looking for a guest house around Bangla Road, which was closer to the beach, but they were either too expensive or too ugly. We decided to find the one on Nanai Road instead.
As it turned out, the guest house on the business card he gave me was closed, but there were other guest houses in the vicinity offering the same prices and the same service. We eventually settled on a place called Game Mansion and it was very impressive for 400 baht a night. It was also quite close to Jungceylon Mall. D and I were quite happy about it. We initially planned on staying a couple of nights in Patong Beach, and we weren’t exactly sure why, but we decided to pay for just one night, just in case. It turned out to be a wise decision. We were thriving on spontaneity for the moment and we decided to take a trip to the Phi Phi Islands and Krabi the next day before heading back to Bangkok. Anyhow, D rested for a bit while I did a bit of writing. We then slipped into our beach wear, had lunch, posed for the requisite photographs, and headed for the beach.
Patong Beach was super crowded, noisy, and much too commercial for my taste. The beach itself was lovely, though, even with all the hawkers and tourists. The sand was soft and the water was great, but to be perfectly honest, Boracay and Bantayan Island back home are so much better. Still, we had a great time swimming, chilling by the beach on the lounge chairs we rented for 40 baht each, eating fruit, and napping.
I would’ve stayed in the water longer, but the current was quite strong, and because I’m not a very good swimmer, I stayed close to the shore. D went parasailing. I didn’t because it was much too expensive. I got conned by a hawker to buy a dress for 300 baht. She initially offered it to me at 650 baht and I was quite proud of myself for haggling, until I saw the same dress on Bangla Road being sold for 199 baht. That really, really pissed me off. Lesson learned: don’t buy from the beach hawkers.
In Boracay back home, you can see the people, locals and tourists alike, doing their best to preserve the beach. Nobody littered. Locals combed the sand several times during the day. In Patong, however, it made me sad how the people were steadily ruining such a beautiful beach. Rubbish was everywhere, and the locals didn’t seem to care. They were too busy hawking their wares and making money. The tourists were worse. They had absolutely no qualms about littering on the sand and in the water. It made me sick. We were in one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The least everyone could do was show some respect.
We headed back to the guest house by late afternoon. We got the tickets for Phi Phi and Ao Nang in Krabi en route for only 700 baht each. D slept while I wrote some more. I woke him up around 10 PM so we can go get some dinner. I was starving. I found that the only thing worse than Patong Beach by day was Patong Beach at night. Rowdy tourists, lady boys, and hawkers were everywhere. It was garish and all so worldly that I found myself thinking if the tsunami was like a modern day Sodom and Gomorra and if so, it didn’t seem to work because everything was back to normal in Patong Beach.
I did think that maybe could stay in Phuket (definitely not in Patong Beach) for a couple of months or so. I missed being so close to the beach the way I always had been back home, but I decided against it. I’d be too scared of tsunamis and earthquakes and stuff. And it didn’t help that D kept sporadically screaming in my ear that a tsunami was coming. I often wonder why I have such crazy friends.
I actually planned to meet up with the Lost Boy in Phuket. Unfortunately, he had other plans that night and I was leaving for Phi Phi in the morning so there was just no time get together. It was just too bad because I would’ve loved to pick his brain.
So D and I have seen Phuket and our friends back home were green with envy. I spent a total of 2,500 baht, including the mini bus fare from Penang and the transfers to Phi Phi and Krabi. Though I’m not quite finished with the entire task yet, I was able to start doing one of the things I came to Thailand to do – compare the beaches. I could safely say that I was neither impressed nor disappointed with Patong Beach. What I do know for sure is just being there in Phuket was quite a high in itself.
Next stop: Phi Phi Islands and Ao Nang (Krabi)!