Reflections of Phuket
It's time to move on. After 8 years I’m leaving Phuket, the “pearl in the Andaman Sea” and moving to…
Samut Prakan, a busy, polluted and non-descript town (without a farang in sight), 30 km or so south-east of Bangkok. My reconnaissance visit revealed a place with all the disadvantages of Bangkok, and none of the pluses!
So why, I hear you ask?
(For those who know their English geography, it is, after all, akin to moving from Cornwall to Slough!)
Well partly because I feel it’s time for a change, and partly because my 31-year old girlfriend of nearly 2 years has just started a teaching job there. Nok is attractive (though not stunning), intelligent, (she can find Udon Thani on a map of Thailand, and Thailand on a map of the world!) and has a great sense of humour.
For better or worse, I have decided to follow her there. I have friends in Bangkok and Pattaya so the lack of farang company in Samut Prachan will be alleviated to some degree, but it is a move I am making with some trepidation and concerns. Perhaps my experiences that will make for another submission in a few months' time…
My prime reason for writing this article, though, is to reflect on my time in Phuket, a personal recollection of the bad, the good and the memorable.
What will I miss?
Phuket, in contrast to the adverse publicity and despite the huge amount of development that has gone on over the last decade and more, remains a beautiful island. It is also surrounded by spectacular scenery. The beaches along the Western coastline of Thailand up to and beyond Khao Sok rank with the best in the world, and the mystical splendor of Phang Nga Bay and the Khao Lak national park is something that I have never tired of. Sure, Patong and, to a lesser extent, Karon are no more than tourist locations similar to those in Spain or Italy, and have lost all of the Thai charm they once had. However, north of Patong are some of the finest, natural beeches to be found anywhere – places such as Kamala, Laem Singh and Surin. (I live in Kamala, 10 km north of Patong, and only visit Patong when friends arrive on holiday).
Friends. Throughout my adult life my social life has tended to revolve around sport. Rugby in my twenties / early thirties, then squash, and now golf. This has resulted in a large circle of acquaintances and a few true friendships. I have a good social life here in Kamala, and 2 or 3 very good friends, who I will miss when I move. That said, it is a short and relatively cheap air journey away, and I’m sure we will stay in touch.
Golf caddies! Despite playing 2 / 3 times a week, I remain a very average player. For me, though, the pleasure is the exercise and the banter with playing partners and the caddies. There are some great girls at my club, a good proportion of who are very attractive. Many will admit to taking the job to be exposed to farang (after all, why else slog round 18 holes dragging a trolley, in tropical heat or, sometimes, monsoonal downpours, for 500 Baht / day?), and not a few have been successful in their quest. Just one more, non bargirl, source available for those seeking the “right” girl!
The local people. The residents of Kamala are in the main, the Thais we all want to meet, not purely intent on extorting the last baht from our pockets (unlike their brethren 10 km down the road). My landlord, for example, is one of the nicest people I’ve met. Nothing is too much trouble for him, including accompanying me to Immigration when I had a visa problem and spending a day with me at the Traffic Department when I was taking my driving test. Add to that the fact that he hasn’t mentioned rent increases in over 5 years, and I know I will do well to find as good again.
What won’t I miss?
The opportunistic greed that seems to manifest itself whenever a Thai in business meets a farang. This, I know, has been the subject of many submissions over the years, but I do believe it is particularly bad in Phuket. Things that come to mind include the 200 baht I had to pay a taxi driver to start my battery-flattened car at the airport (this was a demand without which he wouldn’t have helped), and the 800 baht for EACH of 4 beers that a “naughty show” bar in Patong tried to charge a mate of mind and 3 holidaying friends of his (fortunately my mate has been here for some time, and got the price down to 180 baht, prior to the bottles arriving!)
High, and escalating, prices. Food and drink in Phuket is, I think, the most expensive in Thailand. Golf in Phuket, for non members, is twice the price of the equivalent in Pattaya. Property rentals are 50% higher than in Pattaya. I’m told that property purchases are the most expensive in Thailand. The list goes on…
Transport mafia. The lack of meaningful public transport options in Phuket together with the resultant extortionate prices for private transport is an absolute disgrace. There are no buses linking the West coast resorts, and few meter taxis other than at the airport. Tuktuks charge a fortune for the shortest of journeys and drivers become loud and abusive when their demands aren’t met. Every Governor of the island has promised “change”, we still wait with bated breath….
What will I remember most?
My house is about 2 km from the beach, which was fortunate for me when the tsunami hit the island. Many words have been written about this tragedy more eloquently than I possibly could, so I will not attempt to do so. Except..
My best memory of Phuket is of the way in which the whole island community – Thais, farang residents, holidaymakers
– bonded together in a way I’d never seen before (nor since), to help the homeless, to care for the orphans, to repair the damage, and to restore the island’s infrastructure.
My brother and his wife came to Phuket in the April following the tsunami. He called me a number of times questioning whether or not they should make the trip. I persuaded them that they would have a great time. This they did – the smiles of welcome and expressions of honest gratitude that they received made their holiday very special. Just a shame this hasn’t continued…
So, I will leave with mixed emotions, but am looking forward to a less aggressive, friendlier environment that I always seem to find in those parts of Thailand not reliant on the farang dollar.
I’ll let you know how I get on!
It's nice to read this as my original plans were to relocate to Phuket. That never happened and while I have no regrets choosing Bangkok over Phuket, I sometimes wonder how things may have turned out if I had stayed in Phuket…