We left Koh Samui with big smiles and dark tans, ready to see more white sand beaches in Phuket. Our hotel is a bit far from the airport and sits across from an abandoned lot, but we didn’t make any assumptions yet. Not every place is going to be a fancy resort. It does have a rooftop pool though, an added benefit!
In case you haven’t guessed, Mark and I enjoy us some pool time, so the first thing we do is scope out the roof. This is where everything starts to get weird. The pool was packed … with men. It felt like we were crashing a casting call for Russian guidos, very tan men with slicked hair and short neon shorts were occupying every chair and barstool, huddled masses of bros as far as the eye could see. Was the pool always like this? Was it just because it was Saturday afternoon? [Please let it be the latter.]
Shaking the pool experience off, we headed to a nice beach-front restaurant for dinner. We went a teensy bit upscale as it was our anniversary (thank you, thank you) and we opted for our favorite: Italian. The food was good and the scenery was even better.
The warm evening encouraged us to make the long trek back to the hotel. We walked along the beach and down the infamous Bangla Road. There are many places to visit and stay in Phuket, but this epicenter of nightlife is in Patong, where we stayed. Mark and I are by no means night owls, but we picked this area specifically for its walkability. Our hotel is a short walk to the beach and popular restaurants. Bangla is the main strip in Patong, home to bars, sex clubs, tattoo parlors, and other sinful establishments.
Patong and Bangla Road are the definition of “tourist trap,” It’s crowded, very loud, sleazy, trashy, and generally gross. The strip is packed tight with neon signs, dancing girls, drag queens, and hawkers imploring you to buy drinks and see a ping-pong show (don’t google this). You are constantly barraged with signs that say “free shot with first beer,” “sexy ladies free look,” “combo set 10 shoot 500B,” and “first beer only 80 baht.” Some bars are completely empty, some are full of inebriated foreigners. Even the tattoo shops were full! The shops had floor to ceiling windows, no private booths, and we saw a number of people pick flash out from a book. If you speak rough English, and your tattoo artist speaks rough English, maybe you should reconsider your life choices?
We visited Bangla Road every night to people watch. Don’t worry mom and dad, neither of us got tattoos or saw the ping pong show. [Mark’s note: Isabel actually thought this was watching a ping-pong match. ☺] We saw all sorts of people while walking up and down this street. Here are some general observations:
- Everyone is Russian. Our hotel TV featured at least five Russian channels, all signs are in Russian and Chinese.
- Popular tattoos include red lips on the neck, tribal, palm trees, portraits of women, and stars on the face. One dad had a gun tattooed to look like it was sitting in the waistband of his shorts.
- The best tattoo? A man had a tribal motif on his arm with the words “no regrets” in the middle. Seriously.
- Women and men of all ages went for the colorfully-braided cornrows look, and they went hard.
- Everyone is wearing either neon outfits or the same sheer white semi-see-through poncho. People even swam in this weird white poncho outfit.
- Everyone can be divided into two categories: severely sunburned or severely tan.
- Within those two above categories, there were two classes of men: ones with large beer bellies and small shirts, and ones who only do chest day.
- Finally, many people are injured? That question mark isn’t a typo, we saw a lot of people bandaged up and with weird open flesh wounds. Are they burned from something? Is it a flesh eating disease? Is everyone falling and scraping their limbs?
Luckily we did find some nighttime activities that lined up more with our fuddy-duddy ways. One night we went bowling at a nearby mall and the bowling venue was completely empty! We enjoyed bowling by ourselves while watching Fast and the Furious 7 on mute on the large TV. Another night we explored an arcade on Bangla Road, played air hockey, and watched people freak out playing VR games.
The nights were reserved for GTL (you can google this) youths while the days were reserved for sun-kissed seniors. One morning we made the short walk to Patong Beach to spend the day by the water. We found open lounge chairs pretty easily as they take up about 85% of the beachfront. We paid a nice man about $6 for the chairs, good for the whole day! Our neighbors were all Russian septuagenarians (maybe some sexagenarians), all a real nice mocha color. The water was warm, which though it might sound nice, was actually very weird to wade into on a hot day.
Despite the heat, the beach was quite relaxing. I don’t know how people sat for long stretches in the sun with no umbrella. Once back at the hotel, we jumped in the pool to cool off, making sure to swim around the guidos scattered throughout. Yes, they were back, guess it’s a thing at this pool.
Overall, we did not like Phuket. It could be because we just left Koh Samui, it could be because we just did it wrong. There are beautiful islands around Phuket to visit like Phi Phi or Khao Phing Kan (James Bond Island), but they require a boat rental. If we didn’t have other destinations ahead of us, we probably would have dropped $100/person to take a boat for a day to these islands, but we on that budget life right now. A friend visited Ko Yao Noi and loved it. There are also other parts of Phuket to see, like Old Phuket Town, but it was a bit of a drive from where we were. My long winded point is if you want to visit Phuket and island hop, be prepared to spend some money, especially on transportation.
Well, be prepared to spend some money on everything. Again, Phuket and Patong are tourist traps, so everything is more expensive comparatively. Our taxi to the airport was about $28, and our dinners averaged $30. We could see how a tourist on Bangla Road could easily spend hundreds of dollars on drinks and food for themselves and their Thai “hostesses.” Every block in Patong has the same set of businesses: massage parlors, currency exchanges, bars, and custom tailors. It’s a glistening example of tourism gone wrong. The bad side of Thai tourism (mainly sex-related) is promoted and supported by mass numbers of foreigners, and there are environmental consequences as well. Last year, Maya Bay, featured in the movie “The Beach,” was closed indefinitely due to the amount of trash, polluted waters and damage to sea and coral life caused by mass tourism.
But it wasn’t just the constant hawking and pestering that bothered us, it was mainly the other visitors. Trashy locales tend to attract trashy visitors. Before you jump on our case for being too harsh or sounding too judgmental, hear us out first. We reprimanded ourselves for being judgmental. We just left #resortlife, we should be more open-minded, right? But each time we corrected our comments, we would witness another disgusting behavior:
- At our hotel pool for instance, we saw a man argue with a pregnant staff member over his gaggle of friends he brought to the pool. The woman was kindly asking for his friends to leave because 1) it’s not a public pool and 2) they aren’t hotel guests. He argued with her for awhile, causing her to raise her voice and become more agitated. It was very uncomfortable.
- Another time we saw a family unload their luggage in the tiny 7-Eleven near our hotel, blocking aisles and exits, and left their children to roam unattended around the store. Their son, wearing no pants, proceeded to cool off his nether regions in the ice cream freezer, where I was about to pick out some dessert.
- Another man in the store, after buying ten instant noodles and ordering food, decided to yell at the 7-Eleven employee after she took too long heating up his numerous waffles.
I’m just going to be my honest Isabel self here – Patong was a disgusting sh*thole. Please see my above comment about visiting the “beautiful” parts of Phuket and plan your own trip accordingly. I’m getting the heck out of Dodge, I’m going to Malaysia.