Saturday, June 26, 2010

Phuket -- Beach Paradise or Banana Republic?

I spent the last six days in Phuket, Thailand, an island nicknamed "The Pearl of the Andaman Sea", in search of a rest stop on the halfway point of my global journey. Rest was found, though not in the way I expected.

I couldn't wait to get to Phuket. Singapore bored me and I needed to get away from city life. I had visions of long, idyllic sandy beaches with endless sunshine and beautiful days of laying down for cheap massages, breathing in sea air, and eating delicious Thai food.

And the journey started off alright. I arrived at a beautiful resort hotel up the hill (read: tsunami-proof) from the island's Karon Beach, and after a nap, a long shower, and a relaxing cup of tea, I sauntered down to the resort's restaurant for a feast at their wonderful buffet. I finished the night with 5 Chang beers as I watched the painful US-Slovenia World Cup match, and not able to take any more heart-wrenching excitement I dozed off for an early 11PM bedtime.

I woke up the next morning with a deep soreness in my neck and shoulders. This should have been my first sign of trouble, but instead I took it as a sign I needed my first cheap Thai massage! After digesting the resort breakfast buffet, I wandered down the hill to the beach road, and a 300 baht ($9 USD) 60-minute oil massage was easily found. I felt pretty good on the massage mat but not great afterwards. Using some twisted, unscientific logic I convinced myself that this must be my body's way of "releasing toxins" and I decided to recover by sitting at the resort pool drinking large bottles of water while catching up on my blog. I could not stop sweating in the tropical heat but at least I had a productive afternoon.

By evening, however, I felt awful. I stumbled down the hill for some cheap Pad Thai and a Coke (115 baht/$3.50 USD) and I stumbled back to my room for a night watching TV. At least I felt better after taking some Advil.

Sunday started better and I thought Saturday's malaise had passed. I went for another 300 baht body massage and walked along Karon Beach for awhile. Really beautiful, a couple miles long and not crowded. It's remarkable how Phuket has recovered from the 2004 tsunami. There's no sign of it's devastation anywhere; I couldn't even locate a memorial.

I tried working on the blog some more and reading a book, but I felt awful so I retreated to the air conditioned comfort of my room. I thought the cheap massages might be to blame, but I took my temperature and it was 99.8 degrees, so I think there was more to it than that. Just as a precaution, though, I decided on no more massages in Phuket! My evening ended with a poor Tom Yum Kai (hot chicken soup), some more Advil, and another early bedtime.

It may have been a mistake to come to Phuket during the rainy season, but I was promised at least that it wasn't typical for there to be rain for an entire day. Well, Monday proved the exception to the rule...nothing but rain for the entire day. And when it rains in Phuket, it pours. The day alternated between light rain and torrential downpour. Given that I had come here as a beach getaway, I didn't know what to do with my time. Plus a throbbing headache didn't help matters. It was a dull day of sitting indoors, reading, and wishing for the whole thing to be over.

Tuesday began without rain, and despite still not feeling my best I forced myself out of the resort after spending all of Monday hunkered down. My body's general malaise and the persistent rains had already shattered my dreams of cruising the island on a motorbike, snorkeling over pristine coral reefs, and riding longtail boats to remote uninhabited beaches. Instead I settled for taking the bus to Patong Beach, Phuket's most developed.

People might think that the US is overly capitalistic, and that everyone there is too focused on money, but these people probably have never been to Asia. Most places I've been here I feel that the people give me a quick glance, see that I'm a white person, and therefore view me as a big fat ATM. One needs to be very persistent here in saying "no" and avoiding eye contact with merchants as much as possible. Sometimes pretending that my English is poor helps, particularly with pushy tour operators -- they can't tell that I'm not German! Now certainly I have felt this effect in some places more than others but I've observed it in every destination. All these pushy marketers make me a bit homesick, as I long to once again walk along a sidewalk without being bothered.

The Patong Beach area had hawkers to the extreme. The whole road along the beach seemed to be an endless procession of trinket shop, massage, tailor, massage, restaurant, pirated DVDs, fake sunglasses, massage, etc. No, I really don't want a taxi. No tuk-tuk either. I like my sunglasses and my watch just fine, thank you. And ich bin sorry, I cannot go on your tour as my English is nicht so gut, I am German!

Plus Patong Beach itself was filled with litter. Lots of it. Even sitting on the beach didn't bring peace as the hawkers would just come to you. Patong is supposed to be "more lively" for the single man, but I'm really glad I didn't have my hotel there. The place was sketchy.

Back in the family-of-four haven of Karon Beach, I started feeling dreadful again. I hadn't enjoyed my lunch of Tom Yum Kung (hot shrimp soup), and I don't think the Tom Yum series of soups are for me.

After a great night's sleep, Wednesday started with sunshine and whatever ailed me had finally lifted. It was a wonderful day on the beach, enjoying the waves, a pineapple shake, watching wild beach dogs, and sun sun sun!

I finished my great day of laziness with a red snapper at a local restaurant. Unlike China the fish weren't swimming in tanks outside the restaurant, but I did get to pick my meal from an outdoor stand filled with snapper, lobster, crab, prawns, and squid. My fish emerged from the kitchen whole, fried in a heavy amount of garlic and onion, and stuffed with vegetables. Delicious! I will admit it was a little creepy eating a fish still with a head and an eye staring at me, but at least it was dead! Plus if you enjoy childishly playing with your food, making Flounder sing "Under the Sea" as you eat him, then it's a fun meal! Fortunately for the squeamish I don't have any photos of my feast.

I didn't get a chance that evening to see the US-Algeria match as bars in Phuket only have one TV and that TV was showing England, but the channel was changed as the US was celebrating Landon Donovan's amazing winner...I just missed it! What drama! I cannot wait for the Saturday match with Ghana, though it will make for another very late night in Asia, this time in Kuala Lumpur.

1 comment:

  1. We're known in Phuket and especially the Chalong and Rawai regions to be exceptional hosts for the traveller looking for a relaxing tropical getaway! Many a tourist book a villa here just to lie and bask in the sun all day!