Phuket Town (Phuket), Thailand
So this is Phuket—Yawn…
I've been putting in the effort to try and meet up with Shoel, my friend and diving buddy from Honduras (whom I met around this time last year). He's on holiday with his girlfriend, and currently a boat-ride away on the island of Ko Phi Phi. We've been exchanging e-mails, trying to figure out how we can meet up before they relocate to Bangkok in two days.
I have a tendency to meet a lot of people—thousands—but very few actually make it to the level where I'll make the effort to keep in contact with them or relocate to see them (and vice versa). I can think of about a dozen travelers I've met who've qualified to this level. I have a finite amount off time, compassion, and care, and make clear choices about who gets it and who doesn't.
But here's the thing with me, once you're inside that circle of befriendment, you're there. Time doesn't exist in this place. I can go months upon months without hearing from such a person, and still feel that relationship when they send me an e-mail out of the blue. I'm very low maintenance in this respect—once you're in, you're in.
Pondering Phuket—First Impressions
I'm in Phuket because I'm tired walking on empty beaches alone; I'm curious to see what all the hoopla is with this city; and, of course, to seize the opportunity to see a friend. I've sort of been in isolation for the past 2+ weeks, and I could really go for some conversation/company.
I'm currently staying in the On-On Hotel, the first and oldest hotel in Phuket (circa 1929). You may know it best from the opening sequence in The Beach, where it posed as the flophouse in Khao San Road—although its actual location is about the only falsehood. Staying here is more of a novelty than a necessity, as it entertains me to sleep down the hall from room number 38, where Leo and cast were filmed. Now, every time I watch the first half of that movie—the good, and only half that I watch—I can chuckle to myself and think: I've stayed in that shit-hole—US$5.50/night.
I have no idea what this place looks like during the peak season, but it's dull as hell around this joint. I mean, there's the typical vehicular chaos and exotic food markets that come standard with larger Thai cities, but I can't for the life of me see the draw—or the tourists for that matter.
I intentionally placed myself in a cheap guidebook listed hotel to meet some travelers, but I've only seen a total of five the entire day (street and hotel included). I was actually going to take a rare moment and throw myself into a bar full of tourists tonight (to do a little socializing), but even those listed in the Lonely Planet were empty on a Friday night. This hotel is 95% empty. The streets are 90% empty after 22:00. This is Phuket?
Well, I suppose this is Phuket Town—the Sino-Portuguese town with a mismash of architectural styles. During the 19th century Hokkien Chinese immigrants poured into Phuket to labor in the tin mines. By early 20th century there were over 30,000 Chinese tin merchants and miners in Phuket (a stop on the India–China trade route), making fist-fulls of cash.
With Phuket weighing in as southern Thailand's undisputed tourism king, I think I had the impression that the place was like a big Khao San Road. The reality is far from it.
Phuket is actually an island (connected to the mainland by a short bridge), and I think the action in this place really goes down on the western beaches, where all the resorts are at.
…Because it most certainly isn't here.