So after five nights staying in the rather reserved Kata Beach area I’ve moved up the island to Patong where the majority of the nightlife and denauchery is to be found. The hotel is right on the beach and aside from a malfunctioning bath plug my garden bungalow is simply splendid. A much nicer and smaller hotel than the other one makes it feels far more relaxed. Still Russians around though. There are a couple of Irish bars within hopping distance making me feel at home and I lunched in Murphy’s today where the local Phuket constabulary were watching TV.
I went out on the prowl which sounds far more menacing than it actually was. I walked Bangla Street which is the main tourist trap with all the bars and nightclubs. Hearing Hotel California made me stop and linger in a music bar. The singer was fabulous and went on to sing Don’t Stop Believing and Livin’ on a Prayer. The bars with live music are always the busiest whereas the bars with half a dozen girls itching for a game of connect 4 are considerably less frequented. Certainly early in the evening until the guys have enough courage to take on a board-game expert. A beer in a music bar costs about 160 baht – just under 4 quid so not cheap. They’re cheaper in the connect 4 bars at about 2 quid but if they win (which they do) you may have to buy a lady drink which is a fiver (for a coke).
Anyway, I wanted to hook up with someone who spoke English because the single guy is a real target. So I saw this chap strolling by some bars and thought he looked like a goodly candidate. I followed him into a bar and I walked over to him and enquired his nationality. As it turned out he was English. David, 55 from Manchester and travelling on his own for a few weeks through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Very nice chap. Nad a touch of the Robert Kilroy-Silks about him. A computer programmer who actually lived in Norfolk, Virginia and had been in the US since 1989. He’d been in San Diego until three years ago and had done the same drive as me – Norfolk to San Diego only in reverse. He also had an apartment in Park City, Utah. We were yapping so much we didn’t even notice the girls lining up with their connect 4 boards. We had a very pleasant few four hours together before he went wandering.
The weather has been slightly worse than dreadful since arriving in Phuket but on Wednesday it improved to a level which I found highly acceptable.
In the evening I finally did it. I’ve resisted during my previous trips to Thailand but in the end I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, if you can’t do it in Thailand, then where else are you going to do it. As they say, when in Thailand..
I went to a transvestite show. They are called the Simon Cabaret Co. and have been going since 1991. It was fabulous with a mixture of singing and miming of traditional Thai songs to more modern female anthems. There were about 35 performers on stage and 8 were dressed as men but the rest were men dressed as women and about two thirds of them were utterly convincing as women with about half a dozen absolutely beautiful. I had a photo with some of them after the show. I may never show it to anyone.
I went back to the same bar as the night before and it wasn’t long before David turned up again. It was his last night and I was pleased of the company. We didn’t stay long and then headed for the go-go bars (David’s idea). It was a little early in the evening so fairly quiet. The downside of going too early was being mobbed by a troupe of topless girls as soon as you stepped through the door. Did I say downside? We moved on after one beer to Suzy Wong’s which is the most famous of the go-go bars and it was packed despite being just a shade later than early. Busier than all the others put together (we went to five). David seemed to know how things worked so I let him take the lead. It was certainly safer and less expensive having a bar buddy.
It was quite fortuitous that we met and the coincidence of the coast to coast drive still amazes me. He’d done it once – San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia. I’d done it once, Norfolk to San Diego. Norfolk ain’t exactly the epicentre of America. Spooky.
Apparently there was heavy rain and flooding on Wednesday night which was a complete surprise to me. I awoke to beautiful blue skies however the clothes I’d left outside to dry were rather damp.
A rather amusing sight in Thailand is seeing people stand at the side of a zebra crossing expecting the traffic to stop. I’m not quite sure of their purpose other than a place for pedestrians to congregate in the vain hope of a traverse. I’ve learnt that bikes and cars and trucks will do their best to avoid you. One just has to be bold.
My tour manager is a Nepali chap called Robin. He’s located near the hotel and he also does a nice sideline in laundry. It came back beautifully ironed. So good I may ship it over from the UK once a week.
On Thursday evening I ventured out and found a sports bar. I sat to write the blog and was befriended by Tetty. Well I’m not really sure if that was her name but she was pleasant enough and there was a pole dancer doing some amazing stuff with just a pole so I stayed for a while. The heavens opened so I couldn’t leave! It rained heavily for hours. The streets flooded for a second night and I waded home. The water was six inches deep.
Friday morning turned into a bit of a disaster. I was booked on a tour of the James Bond Island and other stuff. The minibus turned up and there were two groups. 4 muslims and 8 twenty-something Russians. I was squeezed in to a back corner seat. This was going to be crap. We had a two hour drive ahead of us. At the first opportunity I bailed. I got dropped at the police checkpoint at the top of Phuket Island. A taxi back was gonna cost about 50 quid but luckily and quite unexpectedly a fun bus turned up and I got it for a pound albeit at 12mph with frequent stops.
It started off just me and the driver pootling along the Phuket countryside. A pound? Bargain I thought. But then we started to pick people up along the route and we added more at every stop with only the odd person getting off. It wasn’t a large fun bus and as we reached a dozen I thought, well that’s comfortable. At 18 people it was getting quite snug so by 26 I was reconsidering my earlier thoughts about how lucky I’d been. There were mothers with babies, older people with sticks and even a couple of girls with the weekly shop. Five young lads were on the back step just hanging on. When someone wanted to get off it was interesting especially if they were shoe-horned further inside the bus. But the Thais met this challenge with the precision and coordination of a motorcycle display team. Some of the most expert clambering I’ve witnessed.
Sadly I ended up back in Phuket Town, somewhere I’d said I wouldn’t voluntarily visit again but it was a bus with a planned route so my options to dictate a final destination were somewhat limited. So I found another fun bus that was going to Patong and despite the driver being rather gruff I boarded. A much larger bus. I reckon they could have gotten 250 on that one. 12 on each seat, 40+ hanging from the sides and a couple of dozen lashed to the roof. I got back four and a half hours after leaving the hotel. One might call my morning an ordeal, not on the Terry Waite scale of hardship but on the plus side I did manage to get back from the top of the island about 25 miles away for £1.86. Not the cultural experience I signed up for though.
I’m learning important travel lessons here. Some things, like transvestite shows are fine to do on your own (some might say preferable) and some things you need at least one other person to share it with – James Bond Island and a monkey sanctuary. I’ll know for next time.
The weekend starts tomorrow and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to catch up and see lots of premiership football.