May 29, 2007

Phuket Pleasure and Pain
Patong (Phuket), Thailand

Rainy days, electronics hunting, boom-boom girls, and a familiar face from Central America.

Keyboard Kaput

The portable keyboard for my PDA has typed its last word—it's very much dead—and I suddenly found myself caught up in a rift between a technological crisis and the desire to make the rendezvous with my friend, Shoel, work.

Patong, the epicenter of tourism in Phuket, seemed like a logical choice to begin my search. About a half-dozen miles from my place in Karon, I figured I'd give the walk over the small mountain dividing the two towns a shot. Several buckets of sweat later the town came into view, and the grimace on my face returned.

It was a rainy day, and the dark skies didn't do anything to make Patong look any prettier. Walking through town on a less traveled back road I spotted plenty of empty bars (brothels), waiting for dark to power up their pink neon lights.

Stopping by a fancy hotel and talking with the staff about where I could obtain a replacement keyboard wasn't particularly encouraging. A call to the resort's IT guy resulted in a less then encouraging answer, suggesting a trip to the Fortune IT Square in Bangkok. The massive shopping mall complex in Patong was likewise a bust, with the sight of my collapsible keyboard razzle-dazzling staffers at both the Sony and Apple stores.

I left Patong by foot after running around the city all afternoon, with possible purchase locations in Phuket Town and Bangkok as the only thing to show for my effort.

Reunited

Shoel and sunset

Walking somewhere in the nature of 15 miles demanded a shower, and no sooner than I'd exited was there a knock at my door. The sight of Shoel standing at my doorway, a year after we'd parted ways in El Salvador, was a wonderful thing. The smile on my face was ear to ear—just as he described it to his girlfriend, Rosa, standing next to him.

Shoel had rented a motorbike, and we three piled on and drove south, with no destination in mind. We ended up at a viewpoint above Kata Noi Beach, and chatted with smiles on our faces while watching the sun slowly dissolve into the ocean.

Having your own transportation is such an empowering thing, but I simply can't bring myself to do it—I have a no motorbike rental policy after an incident in Thailand (2005) resulted in a sliced leg, a busied bike, and much money leaving my pocket. Never again. The bottom line amount spent on that particular rental could have paid for month's worth of taxi fares.

Patong After Dark

The two were staying at a hotel in Patong, and knowing full well there was absolutely nothing of value after dark in Karon and Kata, we squeezed back on the bike and zoomed north. It suppose should be noted that the northern tip of Karon is much better than the the love you long time scene experienced further south (the night before). Hell, there's even an actual local's food market tucked away in northern Karon, which I gleefully indulged in while Shoel and Rosa watched, not wanting to risk the stability of their digestive tract (after an unpleasant experience in Bangkok a week earlier).

Having seen Patong earlier in the day, the version after dusk was about what I expected. I now know why Kata and Karon were empty, and where everyone was. Patong is without question southern Thailand's Mecca for sex, suits, and souvenirs. Hordes of tourists walked the streets, browsing for whatever vice they saw fit to entertain themselves with that particular evening.

Phuket Bar Brothels

The aptly named Bang-La Road turns into a pedestrian street after 6 p.m., and it's here you'll find the "tourist-friendly" go-go bars—seedy enough to make you stare, but calm enough keep you from getting physically clawed at. These places are a comical echo of the real bordellos seen elsewhere.

Shoel and Rosa were in agreement—they were over the Patong scene in less time than it took for them to travel there. Before returning me to my room we took a quick spin around Karon and Kata, so I could give the two a passing glimpse at the girls bathing in bars of pink neon.

Blame Bush

Picked up in the morning on waterlogged roads, Shoel motored me back to Patong, where Rosa had successfully pushed her flight out of Thailand back a week. Searching Phuket Town for my keyboard was on the short list of things to do for the day—a search that would ultimately prove futile. I needed a bigger city.

Everyone's mind was on getting out of Phuket, and my Canadian friends were exploring flight options to the eastern island of Ko Samui from a travel agent in Patong. Shoel, wrapping up the purchase, reeling slightly at the price of the flight with an onward ticket to Bangkok, when the travel agent explained, with a straight face, that it was President Bush's fault his ticket was so expensive.

We all sort of looked at each other, taken off guard of the absurdity of the remark. I was just an anonymous body in the room, no name, no nationality—the travel agent obviously assuming I was part of the maple leaf posse.

I tossed my hat into the ring for just a single, clarifying remark at what she'd said, before shutting out the continued anti-American ramblings that followed. I would waste no energy on such idiocy.

What remains unclear is if she actually believes such a dull-witted thing, or if she was simply saying it because that what she thought a Canadian wanted to hear.

Evaluating Options

The keyboard is my priority, and at this point, I've got three options on my plate: Bus to Bangkok, bus to Kuala Lumpur (the capital of Malaysia), or have someone purchase the device in the USA and express mail it to me.

The problem with heading back up to Bangkok is that it intrusively rips me off my southerly path, I can't guarantee I'll find it up there, and if I don't, I'll have to deal with both an expiring stamp in my passport and a solution for getting one. The fact that the Palm Web site doesn't list any brick and mortar product distributors in Thailand isn't encouraging.

Malaysia seems like the best option of the three (as a package from the States is going to add at least another US$50 to an already US$70 product), and there are numerous Palm product vendors listed online that I can track down.

A Bed Built For Three

Earlier in the day Shoel and Rosa suggested I relocate to Patong for our last night, offering to put me up in their comfy hotel room (saving me a little money and them the 20-minute commute). Sneaking my gear into their room without alerting the staff would be the only twist—easy enough for hotel-crashing veterans like ourselves.

Patong was quiet, subdued by the rainy night. My brain wasn't anything of the sort, though, and churned away on my upcoming travel. A travel agency in town was giving me a tempting rate (B$1,250) for a direct bus to KL from Phuket (pickup from the hotel included), but after doing some number crunching (and of course factoring in the border crossing at night), decided I'd take the more fun and challenging route by arranging my transport a city at a time, thereby possibly saving the 20% padding that I estimated was being tacked onto ticket.

I shared with Rosa and Shoel that I have yet to ride on transport in Thailand with a tourist—not a single backpacker from Bangkok to Phuket and every city I've been at in between. This wasn't something I set out to do, but found to a resultant of shoestring travel in a country where folks use travel agents to book transport (instead of just showing up at a bus station or flagging down a bus along the highway).

Best case scenario: I'll be in Kuala Lumpur 21 hours after parting ways with Shoel and Rosa, who've given me a perpetual smile on my face and the best conversation I've had since arriving in Thailand.

Comments:

Malaysia

Craig | travelvice.com

June 13th, 2007

Food for thought:

Graph of US Presidential approval rating since 1946. With the sole exception of Clinton, Americans like their presidents less at the ends of their terms than at the beginnings.

Shoel (Money) - Delta Force

June 14th, 2007

Much Love brother, much love. It ain't over yet. There's lots of life to live, and a lot more world to see.

Note: Comments are open to everyone. To reduce spam and reward regular contributors, only submissions from first-time commenters and/or those containing hyperlinks are moderated, and will appear after approval. Hateful or off-topic remarks are subject to pruning. Your e-mail address will never be publicly disclosed or abused.