Getting to Thailand was fairly uneventful. The flight was on time, our luggage arrived without problem, we got local sim cards for our cellphones at the airport, and were picked up by the scheduled transportation. It was about an hour from the aiport to Patong Beach, where the resort was. Everyone was hungry, but we decided to wait until the hotel to eat.
We elected for Thai food at the hotel, but were somewhat underwhelmed…it being hotel food.
Once the rooms were settled, B and I took Elanor to the kids pool, but were sidetracked on the way.
The kids pool was a wading pool, about the depth of Elanor chest. She enjoyed it, at least for a half hour or so, especially the multiple sprays of water directed at the pool.
Afterward, Ravi and his dad were running an errand and Suchita wanted to rest, so B, Ellie and I decided to go and explore. We changed E out of her bathing suit and into clothes, grabbed the stroller and headed out.
Phuket is not a city that is friendly to stroller or those who need accessible entrance. The sidewalks are uneven, drivers don’t really pay attention to the concepts of lanes or crosswalks, and I don’t recall seeing stoplights in that part of Phuket. Getting across a road required a delicate balance of judgment, playing chicken, and using other tourists as a shield between traffic and the stroller (assuming they would at least slow down a car that mowed into us, I reasoned fatalistically).
Across from our hotel was this
The “shopping paradise” was a rabbit warren of shops selling “real fake” purses, electronics, shoes, and clothes, tourist crap, bars, and food stalls. And of course the bootleg dvds–everyone wanted us to buy those. The sellers were aggressive in a way I hadn’t encountered since India, although they were less intimidating than what we’d run into in India. In India people grab your arms, and pester you for a fairly long distance. In Phuket, they’ll verbally accost you, but do not follow you or touch you (although, as in Singapore, kids are considered public property and Elanor’s cheek was patted, her hair petted and occasionally she would be picked up if she were walking along the street) so it was only annoying and not intimidating. The goods were fairly unimpressive, as I don’t really have a need for “real fakes” or tons of touristy stuff.
B and I noticed something odd, though. At all the bars, there would be a big piece of wood with nails in it. What was up with that? Eventually I asked the bartender, but neither she nor her co-bartender had enough English. Luckily there were Aussies (and there were Aussies everywhere–we rarely encountered anyone white who wasn’t Aussie–which of course makes sense from a distance perspective) to explain it to us.
It’s a drinking game, of course.
You each get a nail and hammer it in just far enough that it stands on its own. Then you each get a single hit to try and force it all the way down, but whoever gets it in further gets a drink from the loser. Later googling also told me it’s one of the games “bar girls” play–they look all small and cute and then kick your ass at this game (and also four square in Phuket, commonly…which is a bit of a head scratcher, but whatever) and then you have to buy them an overpriced drink (which they pocket some money for from the bar). For the record, neither B nor I even managed to hit the nail…coordination…we don’t have it.
Elanor had fallen asleep in the stroller, so we wandered for a good hour or so, eventually ending up in what felt like a more residential area. Patong Beach was one of the beaches hit by the tsunami in December 2004. (If you want to read a first person account of what it was like to be in Patong Beach during the tsunami, go here.) Perhaps because of that, I was somewhat more aware of the constant tsunami evacuation route signs we saw.
In the resorts (and I visited a few in search of the swim diapers I forgot to bring with us), you couldn’t tell that there had been such devastation 5-6 years ago. But once you were out on the street, the poverty was obvious. The way the street stalls were built, the lack of dental care, even the way the power lines were built showed you in a far more visceral way than the strength of the dollar versus the baht, how the country was struggling (and not just because of the tsunami).
Unlike the racous and somewhat garish tourist area, the residential streets were quieter, dirtier, and sadder. You took closer notice as the stray, mangy dogs sized you up as a possible source of food or perhaps as an opponent. Paint peeled, clothes hung to dry over your head, and the smell became uncomfortable–putrid water and worse. It was hard to believe we were just a block back from the neon crowds, the dvd hawkers, the unceasing roar of motorcyles flaunting any notion of lanes. I think it was good to see this side of Phuket-it’s easy to stay by your pretty hotel pool with the swim up bar, to delight in the small joys of reading a book by a pool, or getting one of the best massages ever. It’s easy to just become annoyed at those who constantly accost you on the beach and on the street trying to sell you something. When you see what their lives are like (and let’s not kid ourselves, these are some of the luckier people), you understand just why they’re so desperate to find that stupid trinket that will reel in more business, more baht to feed their family.
However, it was also scary. I quickly put away my camera (although my skin, my helper and my suv-esque stroller all still marked me as an obvious tourist), and tried to walk in a way that would get us back to the touristy parts as quickly as possible. We were “lost” for maybe 15 minutes, but it was unnerving. If I’d been alone, I don’t think I would have been as nervous, but knowing that I was responsible for B and E certainly made me more anxious to get back to the more readily defined spaces. Plus, it smelled really bad.
Once back on the main road, it was an easy 15 minute walk back to the hotel (in that it was direct). However, the sidewalks, hawkers, and a toddler who wanted out of the stroller did not make “easy.”
It was an interesting introduction to Patong…but only our first of 6 days.