|The infamous Bangla Road, Phuket|
I've just returned home from
, tired and physically drained. Twenty-five hours of travelling, most of it spent in three hectic and debilitating terminals. The longest flight was an overnight leg from Thailand Bangkok to . Sleeping in economy is never easy, but when you have the under-two squad screeching throughout the whole trip....... Sydney
I'd like to conclude my series (a trilogy in four parts) on Phuket, with a few personal observations.
Phuket is an astonishingly beautiful place. Rich verdant hills cascade to azure waters befringed by golden beaches (stop waxing lyrical, Flaxen- you big ponce!). The temperature is a constant 30 degrees and the sea is warm and clear.
Paradise it is. Normal it ain't. The region is an aberration; a beautiful whore. Phuket exists as it is because of tourism and many of the tourists tramping the streets are looking for sex. There are few places in the world where a man of my age can walk into a bar and pick up an attractive young woman within 20 minutes. Beautiful women from all over , but especially from the north, flock to Phuket to take a piece of the tourist gelt. They come from regions mired in desperate poverty and they see Phuket as their financial salvation. Thailand
Others come also. Older and the 'not so pretty' women can work in the massage parlours or sell trinkets on the streets. Men become stall owners, tailors or taxi drivers. The competition for your attention is fierce. By the way, not all massage parlours are thinly disguised fronts for prostitution. Many provide simple, traditional, Thai massage. Stalls selling 'designer' branded goods are everywhere. Where else in the world could you buy a 'genuine Prada' bag for $20? Well, perhaps
Hong Kong. And what is Phuket's obsession with selling suits? To thrive in this environment, or just to survive, the Thais have to be as cunning as a fox and as quick as a ferret as they fight for your attention and eye contact.
It was my observation that most of the Thais in Phuket make very little money. One day I had a relaxing one-hour foot massage. The treatment cost me 350 baht or the equivalent of $NZ14. I chatted with the delightful Thai girl as she expertly worked my feet and what she told me was revealing. Of the 350 baht, the girl kept 100 baht. The rest went to the shop owner. She said, on average, she had four customers a day. For 13 hour days, she was making 400 baht a day, the equivalent $NZ16.
The girls working the bar earn a lot more, but we are talking about relative economics. Most are willing to become your 'girlfriend' for the length of the holiday. In return, the man will buy the girl items as required throughout the duration of the contract. For the gentleman (for it is he) it is no more expensive than pandering to his wife's financial excess. The 'Holy Grail' for the girls is finding a Western husband. In an instant, the hard life melts away and they become financially content. As for real happiness- there can be no happiness with an empty belly.
If there is real money to be made, then it is to be made by the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. Considering the price of other services in Phuket, the taxi tariff is relatively expensive. A short ride from the hotel to the main area is a consistent 200 baht ($8). For a five minute drive, the drivers are earning half the day wage for the average massage girl. I suspect the drivers are organised and managed as a cartel. They don't appear to compete between themselves. Also, I don't think you would be allowed to turn up one day and set up your own taxi service. I wager, that in this circumstance, you would quickly incur great wrath. The famous Thai smile would disappear with celerity or alacrity depending on lexicon. Everything is strictly regulated. The number of taxis is kept within bounds, they are protected and of course, regulated. Which begs the question: Who is doing the regulating? I'm speculating that someone, and someone close, is pulling the strings and making loads of money as a consequence. Isn't this just the way the world works for us all if we are lucky?
In the final analysis, would I go back? And the answer is yes. Phuket has so much more to offer than the sleazy, sex thing. Although, I do confess, on the next trip I will go alone and leave my wife fully immersed in day time tele and 'Hello Magazine'. Arse.