Bedbugs, Empty Restaurants, and Friendly Dogs: Wandering Phuket Town (Matt)
Aug 5, 2007
|I pull our bags from where they are jammed behind the rear seats of the minibus. We drag them over the curb and into the hotel lobby as the bus pulls away. The place had been suggested by the man who sold us our bus tickets on the ferry from Ko Phi Phi.
The hotel turns out to be too expensive and not interested in negotiating something lower. I glance at a map in the lobby and memorize a route to our next best choice. Back to the street we go.
Streets in Thailand were not built with the need to drag backpacks with wheels along their sidewalks. Over grates and curbs, through racks of clothing positioned to block passing pedestrians, around shoppers, and across roads filled with erratic drivers who look everywhere except where they are going. We carry, wheel, bounce, shuffle, and teeter our bags along behind us, resisting the impulse to "convert": our shorthand for strapping the bags to our backs instead of pulling them behind us.
We arrive, sweaty and tired, at the Talang Guesthouse and are shown to a huge room with three beds and room for two more. It smells of old dust and mice. The small fan spins rapidly on the high ceiling doing little to cool the large, stale room. Its a change from the posh resort we just left on Ko Phi Phi. I guess my birthday is officially over.
We walk toward the night market in the late afternoon. The old town where we're staying seems filled with jewellery shops and stores selling clocks or sunglasses. We pass stalls selling rubbery-looking fishballs and congealing vats of curry in which meaty bits float amid the oil. Not especially appealling; even the locals seem to stay away.
The night market has the usual line of food stalls, but its early and not many people are around yet. There is no English anywhere and we walk past without being called to by any of the vendors. Ordering might be a problem and I suppose I'm in the mood for something easy: a menu, a calm place to enjoy our meal, and knowing what we'll be charged beforehand. We keep looking and end up, sadly, in a chain pizza restaurant for tourists. Oh well.
The next day we take a local bus to nearby Patong beach, running the gauntlet of taxi and tuk tuk drivers offering rides to the same place for 10 times the cost. We arrive to a long beach rimmed with warm turquoise water and the rythmic sound of waves crashing against the sand. We walk the length of the beach past the calls of chair renters (sir! chair sir!) and beach food vendors (sping wolls! sping wolls!) while paragliders sail overhead. We watch as a Thai man fastens a tourist into their harness, the parachute billowing above them. Then, incredibly, the Thai man pulls himself into the parachute rigging, hanging upside-down briefly as the parachute rises into the air, then clambours up into the rigging above the tourist. He pulls ropes and steers the parachute as it rises higher and higher into the air with absolutely nothing holding him in. Later, we watch as a powerboat is pushed from the beach by two Thai men, its engine roaring, the blades of its propeller spinning just inches from their legs as the boat bounced in the waves. Tourism, and the money it brings, seems more important than the safety of the people who work for the tourists each day. And I wonder if the woman floating high above the water is at all concerned about the man hanging precariously in the ropes overhead.
We return to the beach the next day to relax on a beach chair and read our books. Surfers ride the waves just offshore as red warning flags are erected along the beach. Waves crash, tourists swim, and we slowly get burned in the intense sun. The visitors here are different from Ko Phi Phi. Most are middle-aged, the men with round swollen beer bellies, the women with bikinis cutting into their white skin. I find I'm still disgusted by the overweight European men with tiny, young Thai "girlfriends" that are likely younger than their daughters. Sex tourism is alive and well at Patong.
Before we realize it, its time to head back to town before the buses stop running at 5PM. The bars and restaurants that line the beach are inviting and would be fun for an evening, but in the end I'm content to return to quiet Phuket.
Phuket has its share of restaurants. Dimly lit with modern décor and lavish menus, some of them look very nice indeed ... but they are all completely empty. Thinking its because people eat late here, we go in search of food at 9PM. We walk along empty streets past closed restaurants. Eventually we find a food stall that is open and eat an edible meal, but realize that late eating is not the way of things here.
I wake on our second last day in Phuket with bites along my arms, shoulders and legs. I'd thought that the bites I had been getting at night were mosquitoes, but the tell-tale lines of bites are now clear: bedbugs. Even Laura has a few. I don't want another night of bites. We decide to switch hotels.
We explore the town and discover -- since its Sunday -- that most stores are closed. I buy a new swimsuit, write this blog in our hotel room, and we buy bus tickets to our next destination: Ko Samui.
Phuket is a quiet town with pockets where there are interesting boutiques, nice (though empty) restaurants, and tea shops. Almost every restaurant seems to have a dog tethered in front to wag its tail as you pass. But its a bit too sleepy to spend much time here, and Patong beach is equally loud, chaotic, and tacky. Its time to head for Ko Samui.