Friday 20 October 2006 – Patong, Phuket, Thailand
After breakfast and as the traders on Bangla Road outside the hotel began work for the day, I dropped a bag of washing to a nearby shop to be sent to the laundry. At 50 Baht per kilo, it’s a lot less expensive than the hotel’s service. It will be ready tomorrow afternoon.
Then I waited at the hotel’s reception area for the bells & whistles of the songthaw, or local bust, to Phuket town, about 15km to the east. Eventually the ‘bus’, a large utility with an open-sided cabin on the back and bench seats, came along. The fare was 20 Baht. It ground its way around the main thoroughfares of Patong before grinding up over the mountain pass to the centre of the island.
A couple of elderly Australian men were chatting about SE asia being the ‘white man’s paradise’. One, on holiday from Australia, had been married to his Filipina wife for 24 years. The other lived in Patong and had a young Thai woman at his side. In front of her, he told the other man that if his woman ‘goes butterfly’, he just goes around the corner to get another.
Phuket Town, resplendent in yellow banners and Chinese lanters in the streets, is preparing for next week’s Vegetarian Festival. The town is reminiscent of other trading ports along the peninsula with mixed European and Chinese pasts – Malacca, George Town and even Singapore before sanitisation. Chinese shop houses lined the streets and seemed to have been appreciated and saved in many areas, with some even being turned into art galleries and trendy restaurants. Many retained their original mercantile purpose and some even celebrated this in signage.
The people also were friendlier than in Patong, with locals returning smiles and casual greetings on the streets. Theree were department stores with air conditioning in which to cool off and get a realistic idea of the values of the sorts of souvenir items one may need to haggle for at some point. In fact Robinsons Department Store is having a sale, with many such items half price, so I may return and do my souvenir shopping here!
Wandered around town photographing all manner of street life – fruit stalls, shop house entrances, grilles across shop fronts. Stopped for lunch at a hawker market(in the Singapore style) on the top floor of Robinsons and enjoyed a very decent tom yum goong for 50 Baht – the same dish is regularly seen in Patong for 130 Baht. At this place it was the most costly item available, with most dishes priced between 30-40 Baht.
Found the main market and bought a pair of fishermans pants for 120 Baht (around AUD$6.00) with out the need to haggle. This will be the place to come for sarongs etc for the folks back home. It also has the virtue of serving as the songthaw terminal, so I hopped on the one for Patong, this time a full-sized bus, but a magnificent chrome-plated veteran that must date back to the 1950s. Jumped of at the huge Phuket Central Festival shopping mall – one of several on the outskirts of town that have opened in recent years (none were mentioned in my 2001 edition of Lonely Planet Guide). Full of multinational fashion, optical, fast food and supermarkets, it did have a bookshop where I found a guidebook to Thai street hawker food. Should be interesting and may even be useful.
Recrossed the six lane highway outside the mall to catch the songthaw back to Patong. My daily massage today was less successful than the past couple. Tried another place in the Paradise Complex, but not a good one. Must stick to C&N.
For dinner I wandered back to the roadside restaurant I’d passed a couple of times near the Patong Market, and enjoyed a very decent noodle dish and a crab omelette & a Singha beer all for 250 Baht. It was peaceful, well as peaceful as being seated in an open-sided restaurant at the side of a busy main road with ‘hill tribe’ hawkers passing by and touting their wares can be. I completed yesterdays entry there and am completing this the following evening at the next stall along. Furher proof of the independent travellers’ adage that (especially in SE Asia) the less one pays for a meal, the better it is likely to be.
Today I also booked a passage on the ferry to the Phi Phi islands (Koh Phi Phi Don) for Monday, with an open onward passage to Krabi (Ao Nang) to follow, for 750 Baht. Depending on how I like those and how long I spend at each, I’ll move on to Phang Nga or boat back to Phuket Town for a night before heading to Singapore next Monday week.