Thursday 19 October 2006 – Around Phuket
Headed off on my half-day “Phuket Introduction” tour in a minibus with six others. Drove past the beaches south of Patong to a lookout near Karon. Nice view but I mostly looked at the plants around the site. A chap with a sea eagle was positioned nearby, fleecing tourists for a photo with the bird. I looked up and watched a wild one soaring on the thermals off the coast.
Next stop was Cape Promthep, the far south eastern corner of the island. On top of the Cape there was a Buddhist ceremony in progress, at a shrine full of model elephants in all shapes and sizes – wooden carved, bejewelled, garlanded. A man in a yellow shirt beat a slow steady rhythm on a small drum and others in yellow shirts – all men – looked on.
On top of the Cape was a little lighthouse and monument to a Royal Thai military hero – the most architectural lighthouse I’ve seen – all granite and marble. It looked more like a mausoleum. On the way back down I took a side path through the trees when a series of loud explosions went off nearby. A boy in a yellow shirt had placed a long string of fire crackers in a tree – he was fleeing as they detonated.
Along the south coast Rawai Beach looked unprepossessing – the ugly duckling of the island’s playgrounds. Stopped (and encouraged to buy) at a place that processed cashew nuts into all manner of flavours and packaging, although no cheaper than we can by Vietnamese imports at home. An interesting product was a soft drink made from the fruit, or apple, of the cashew – too sweet for mine, but tasting something between apple juice and honey.
The highlight was Wat Chalong, the major temple on Phuket, a complex of temples and pavilions that mix the area’s Chinese, Thai animist and Hindu beliefs. A three story temple contained dozens of buddhas – golden, reclining and otherwise. The wat had recently received Royal status after a visit from Thailand’s Queen.
A promised highlight of the tour had been Phuket Town, however our visit consisted of driving through without stopping, twarting my plan to leave the tour there. The last stop was a huge jewellery store and factory, built more like a hotel with grand driveway, marble lobby and reception area. After a short introduction to Thailand’s precious gem and pearl industry and a perfunctory zip through the demonstration factory, each ‘guest’ was nabbed by a young saleswoman who stuck like glue to her mark, chatting and trying to work out what might interest you. Against every intention I ended up buying a pair of simple moonstone earrings for Mum. Most of the offerings were pretty gaudy.
The guide offered to have us dropped wherever we wanted so I asked about being dropped off in Phuket Town. The driver, however, stopped at one of the large shopping centres on the outskirts of town. A couple of people stayed on, but I returned to Patong. Will catch a bus back to Phuket Town tomorrow.
Lazed by the pool and read for a while. In the evening I head back to the place I had the good Thai massage yesterday for a foot massage – bliss. Had dinner back at the Hotel restaurant. The food is good (certainly better than at the cooking class place), but the ambience, at least outside, is lacking something. Peace and quiet, mostly. It looked promising early but as soon as I’d ordered, the loudspeaker behind my table came noisily to life with British commentary as the TV was turned on. The screen was out of my sight, somewhere on the other side of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the management apparently thought the clientele could not enjoy their dinner without it. Still, I learned things that I’d never have known otherwise – apparently Rafael Nadal is not enjoying a good year. At least it distracted from the flimbing frame attraction that gets parked in the Hotel driveway each evening.
I walked – a bit further than I expected – to the Simon Cabaret, a ladyboy cabaret show in a purpose-built theatre of about 500 seats on the edge of town. I’ve seen a couple of these sorts of shows before and they troubled me. Thai boys primped, preened and often surgically enhanced to look like women, lip-synching to pop songs, but to what purpose? They’d lacked any sense of fun or satire, which makes the British tradition of ‘the dame’ and its antipodean descendants from Les Girls to Pauline Pantsdown such pointed entertainment.
So I sat in my front-and-centre-VIP seat, arms folded expecting to disapprove, or at least be further confused. The lighting started by looking like a school musical, but the curtain went up on a big set with lots of chorus boys and girls and divas lip-synching energetically and in several languages. The divas tended to be more energetic and ‘in the moment’ than the chorus most of the time – but the divas on the whole only did one item each.
There were at least half a dozen set pieces, interspersed with amusing front-of-tabs routines and numbers. Even the ‘dame’ made an appearance – in clownish geisha makeup and rig with a lewd and very amusing portrayal of a great beauty past her prime, but still retaining the one-track mind. The fun and energy won me over and I went home humming and clapping along. And it wasn’t just because I was singled out (hence the VIP seating) to feature with said geisha, requiring copious tissues to wipe off the rouge and lippy when she planted a big kiss on my face. She later reappeared in a different frock and wig to do an equally lewd and funny rendition of ‘I Will Survive’. It was just fun.