Phuket is very very quiet, as you have observed. But while everyone is crying on each others shoulders and blaming SARS and IRAQ, no-one stops to ponder their own behaviour for a millisecond. The usual reaction of businesses here, faced with a sudden downturn in trade is to increase prices, thinking that way they will get the same profit from their fewer customers. This week there is a sign outside Scruffy Murphy's in Patong advertising 'Breakfast' at 249 Baht, like it is a great deal.
I have had a few wonderful breakfasts in Thailand, never more than 150 Baht, that should fill all but the biggest glutton. At that price they usually offer free refills of Tea and Coffee, Scruffy's board does not even offer that.
Some bars in Patong now charge as much as 150 Baht for a ladydrink, I am talking about outside beer bars, not even a-Go-Gos and the drink being a splash of orange 'pop' or 'soda' as the yanks call it, on a couple of ice cubes.
In the last couple of months I have spent 50% of my time in Pattaya. What a difference! Sanuk Sanuk. A go-go bars in the afternoon, and at night showing, dare I say it, 'buttocks', occasionally SSH! 'Boobies', and at night full nudity can be found. Prices are Soooo much lower for drinks, lady drinks, baht buses and even fees for company. The last time I went into a Phuket a-go-go, and bought a drink for a lady, at a hefty 110 Baht, I was not allowed to as much as touch her thighs, the bit I could see below her skirt. Needless to say, in Pattaya, that sort of thing is not only allowed, it is generally compulsory.
Tomorrow I set off again for Pattaya, I will not be so quick to buy a property again, lest the same calamity befall it as has befallen Phuket. I am of course speaking about the 'Social Order Clampdown'. The 2.am closing rigidly enforced, except for a few 'special bars who manage to stay open all night', 'go figure that one.' and the also strictly enforced 'No tits no bums' in the a go-go bars. Granny bras and short skirts OK.
While the aforementioned clampdown is just a distant memory in parts of Bangers and Pattaya, it is still full on here.
Now, I will let you and your readers into a little secret that no-one in the administration of Phuket has ever known, or at least considered.
Are you ready? Shush. " Tourists do not generally decide to hop on a plane today or tomorrow and sit 12 hours to get to the other side of the world" There, I've gone and let the cat out of the bag.
Rather, they plan, and indeed book, their trips many months, even years in advance. So when the clampdown started, and in a couple of months the authorities were saying, "See! the figures are still up" well of course they were, people were still arriving on the bookings they had made in the old fun days that they had experienced, or their friends had told them about.
Even when they arrived and found what had happened, most of them, especially the regular visitors, assumed that it would be short lived.
Now that realisation has dawned, that the Phuket clampdown is not a flash in the pan, but is here to stay, who wants to come?
There are so many places in the world where girls put on clothes to go from their bars into the street, and where an adult person can decide for his/herself when they want to finish drinking. So until the powers that be stop blaming SARS, US wars, terrorist bombs and anything else they can blame, and look at their own policies, little is going to change.
Of course they will argue that they do not want the seedy guys who are only looking for the nightlife, they want the rich families, the yachties etc. But the infrastructure in Phuket is sadly lacking, broken pavements, (being replaced slooooowly) power cuts, water shortages. There is too much competition from much nicer places for that business. "I say old boy, me and the missus are off to Cannes next week, then we thought we would stop off at Mustique en route to Hawaii and then Mauritius, What are you doing?" Well, I thought I would take the family and head for Patong, now that they have cleaned up all that nasty drinking and sex nonsense, and take in a few temples". Sound like a plausible conversation in a London gentlemen's clubs to you? Me neither.
Next year, 2004, if everything goes as planned, the new Bangkok International Airport will open, within 1 hours drive of Pattaya, straight down the wonderful new expressway, cutting about 50 minutes off the journey, with equivalent cost savings..
Meanwhile, Phuket has plans for improvements to the road from the Airport to Phuket Town, (who wants to go there?) A new Cyberport, whatever that is, but I don't think it means anything that tourists would travel half way around the world to see. Patong, which has been the bread and butter of the Phuket economy for so long, seems to be getting increasingly sidelined in favour of 'Dream Schemes'. Well, good luck to them, I hope that one day I can come back to visit and view all their successes.
Phuket is fast becoming a lesson of how a tourist resort area should NOT be run.