What the Phuket?! A Glimpse at Thailand’s Sex Tourism IndustryHotels & Resorts, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Thailand — By Amanda P on March 7, 2007 at 10:05 am
Nearly every backpacker we’d spoken with in Thailand vehemently recommended we skip Phuket in favor of one of the islands that hadn’t been choked to death by concrete and commercialism. Unfortunately, having not done enough advanced word-of-mouth research, we’d already advised Beth Frey, our college friend and NYC roommate, to meet us there to kick off her winter vacation. Incredibly, the three of us actually ended up bumping into each other in the massive domestic check-in area of the Bangkok Airport as we prepared to make our connecting in-country flights (insert typical squeal-filled girlfriend airport reunion here).
During the 45-minute drive from the airport, our taxi weaved through a series of narrow streets dominated by sprawling super-resorts, Phuket hotels hemmed in by a massive concrete wall designed to give the impression of safety and seclusion. I’d been warned that Phuket had been transformed into a theme-park for package tourists more eager to immerse themselves in bowls of rum-punch than Thai culture, so the fortifications weren’t a surprise. I wondered though, if there were any locals still left in the area to keep out.
After Beth recovered from her jet-lag (and Jen and I took turns removing 27 layers of traveler grime in a much-missed hot shower) the three of us decided to take a shuttle bus to Patong Beach, the epicenter of the island’s nightlife. When we pressed our hotel manager for a description of the scene, he told us with a heavy French accent that it was “all shiny and glittery, with lots of the blink-blink lights and the sounds and the constant activity.”
Hmmm. This sounded more like a description of the Vegas strip than a beach town, but seconds after arriving, we realized that our man had been dead-on.
In Patong proper, night had been blasted into day by enormous neon signs, floodlight ATM terminals and the artificial glow of cheap restaurants, sports bars, tour companies, travel agencies, nightclubs, pirated DVD stalls, tattoo parlors and by-the-hour hotels. Little kids trying to sell cheap crap were unflaggingly persistent, but try as we might, we couldn’t escape from the three hardiest space invaders: Starbucks, Haggen Daaz and McDonalds.
As we walked, we saw gaggles of lady boys parading in their spandex, nylon and taffeta down the main drag (so to speak). British and Aussie teens on gap year poured huge buckets of Red Bull and vodka directly down their throats, then moshed spasmodically to alt-rock music pouring out of Buick-sized speakers. We guessed there was a two-for-one special on hookers, because almost every middle aged man we saw sported a barely dressed, under-aged Asian prostitute on each arm.
As Manhattan girls who’d long since learned to push through the commercialized mayhem of Times Square without batting an eyelash (without even looking up, really), the three of us were struck speechless by what we witnessed in Patong Beach. By comparison, old 42nd Street seemed downright provincial.
A few cocktails did nothing to enhance our perspective, so we called it a night.
When I got home, another shower seemed in order.
Below, a few more photos from our neon safari: