We spent a total of 6 nights in Phuket, staying in a small town called Patong. And we achieved
.. almost, absolutely nothing..
Well, for one.. We didn’t really feel like there was a huge amount to do in the area which we were staying in..
Patong is one of those ‘typical’ Thai towns, which has completely succumbed to tourists demands… It is a town committed to providing the masses with all of the alcohol, clubbing, sex shows (amongst which the most popular is ‘Ping Pong’ shows.. Google it yourself for more information..), cabarets, strip clubs and drugs that they can take. I might even go so far as to say that it’s a town which is obsessed with the sale of sex and alcohol.
And outside of all of the toxic revelry… There’s not too much else..
Oh, unless you want to go shopping, or you want to go and watch some poor tortured elephants dance, or some beaten tigers submissively sit..
And strangely enough, it is both deeply disturbing and also, a little exciting to visit Patong and realise this (although there’s nothing exciting about animal cruelty.. just the revelry part..).. To walk down Bangla Road at night (the main strip of Patong) and take in the huge, clustered number of bars that are there and see all of the crazy things that are going on.. and to realise, that it’s all for the benefit of foreigners.. foreigners who will ultimately, corrupt and consume all that they want and then leave.. and leave the locals to deal with the aftermath.. It’s terrifying… but it’s also exciting.. in the most primitive, destructive kind of basic human way.. and that innate excitement, I suppose, is exactly what draws the crowds.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. Maybe I need to provide a clearer image of Bangla Road before I pass judgement.
Bangla Road is literally a whole road of bars next to bars next to clubs next to bars. In most of them, young girls (many who look younger than myself) can be clearly seen from the street, gyrating on the bar tops, dressed in little other than too-tall heals. Bright lights and loud music flash and scream from every establishment, and TV screens flicker brightly – projecting a multitude of international sporting events out to the masses.
Store front signs tell tales of happy hours, cheap drink specials, ways to win free drinks and the availability of ‘strong’ cocktails served in buckets.
And the street itself is filled with salesmen and women out trying to draw in any one who passes by.
It’s extravagance of incomparable quantity. And it’s an atmosphere of complete over-stimulation.
And how do people handle all of these simultaneous inputs?.. They drink, and they dull there receptors.. and so as each night draws on everything around them is turned up more… It’s a fascinating cycle.
But wait! There’s more! …
All along the street itself there are promoters who shove leaflets and lists in your face (like, literally every few steps you take down Bangla Road you are forced to encounter these ‘promoters’ – some of whom are not too shy to grab you, and most of them more than happy to block your path and redirect you completely) don’t just offer you ‘stock-standard’ sex shows – they offer you a whole lot of choices. You can quite specifically choose what you want to see. For example you can choose from long lists which objects you might wish to see a woman… pop… out of her body.. You can choose whether you’d like to go to a club which will allow you to hit the dancers (with polystyrene tubes.. I think)… Or you can choose to watch one of many shows that have titles such as “shower” or “monkey sexy”..
And most of it… doesn’t cost a thing… So long as your buying drinks, the entertainment of your choosing comes free..
The foreigners hold all of the power..
Actually an interesting fact here… it is illegal in Thailand for people to sell tickets to some of the shows you that you find on Bangla Road.. for example the notorious ‘ping pong’ shows.. this is because such shows have been deemed potentially ‘demeaning’ and ‘misogynistic’.. Therefore, club owners can no longer legally sell these tickets.. But the shows must go on… So instead, they very simply demand that a compulsory (and overpriced) drink is bought at the door… an easily achieved loophole, to get around a flimsy law…
And when it comes down to considering the rights and dignities of the performers involved in these shows… all in all I can fully accept that for some, this is a lifestyle choice. One which an individual may even enjoy..
But for how many.. is it not a choice? How many are forced into these situations by poverty, through desperation, or through sex trafficking? How many are unaware that a world exists outside of this one? How many do not know or do not feel like they do have a choice?.. Because when the ‘wealthy west’ come, and demand such degrading services, their money speaks much louder than any words. And where the money is offered, businesses spring up, locals oblige, and more jobs are created in an industry which revolves around meeting the needs of foreigners, than in any industry which could actually help Thailand to develop and protect it’s people and it’s environment in the long term.
And why do people come and demand such things anyway?!
I mean, I guess…to get caught up in it all and forget the worries of the modern world would be an easy task here.. But I really have no idea how this little micro-world came to be as it is – existing around such narrow minded and basic desires..
And joining the masses was not what we chose to do..
I don’t know if I’m older or more mature than I used to be.. Maybe I’m simply more boring.. Maybe I wasn’t holidaying with the ‘right’ people, maybe I just wasn’t in the ‘right’ mood.. Maybe I was too confused by it all to allow myself to become part of such a mass movement… But for what ever reasons.. A few walks straight down the middle this hectic street were more than enough for me..
And after several ‘middle of the night’ walks down Bangla Road.. I decided… I was unsure.. unsure if it was all a form of senseless self destruction. Or if, conversely, it was some kind of self preservation mechanism… One working in response to an increasing international awareness of mental illness, inequality, pollution, global warming and the seemingly endless list of problems we have found ourselves dumped with in the 21st century…
Does all of this come about from people drowning out the terror of the modern world? Or is it just completely random?… Why is it that given the chance so many people are fleeing toward this kind of atmosphere? – This crazy, artificial, money driven override..
Is the human race rewarding, or punishing itself?..
Oh! And…There was another reason we achieved very little in phuket…
Sickness hit.. And it wasn’t a simple ‘cold’ type of sickness… It was the type of sickness that you get from extreme changes in your diet, or perhaps, from food poisoning.. The type of sickness which one should perhaps expect to have to suffer through at some point, having travelled from the Western to the Eastern world.. The type of sickness that forces you to spend half of each day in the bathroom, waiting for the worst to happen.. A consuming kind of sickness.
And, (I have to admit I’m a little but glad to say.. ) although it was Sam who felt the effects of this ‘sickness’ the most severely – it none the less meant that we both spent 3 full days waiting around the hotel room, hoping for it to clear..
So all in all, for the large part of our trip to Phuket… We very simply, sat around waiting… We finished watching Breaking Bad, we started watching the final season of How I Met Your Mother, we completed a lot of crosswords, and we did a lot of reading. We sat in bars drinking fruit shakes and Sprite and, when it felt safe – beer. And we periodically wandered down to the beach to touch the sand (a short 5 minute stroll away from our hotels front door).
I guess I would say that we well and truly saw Patong (even if it’s offerings were limited). But not much of Phuket otherwise..
And after 6 nights, we gladly left for a little Island called Phi Phi!