Oh, right. The Beach.
“The sooner we’re out of the airport, the sooner we can rest,” he mumbled. I stood up, took our bags out of the cabin then walked like a zombie all the way to the arrival ports, hearing a melodious and very nasal Sawadee ka somewhere along the way.
The Phuket International Airport was much smaller than Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok but with just as many people, I would say. The travelers in Phuket, a mixture of races, looked drunk, tired, happy and content. “This leg is going to be extra interesting,” I thought to myself.
We stopped by a small booth near the exits and took a couple of maps and tour brochures before heading out. The shuttle that would take us to Patong Beach was conveniently parked a few feet away and tickets were at 180 Baht each. We took the seats beside the driver’s; 2 out of the 12 the van could accommodate. Every seat had to be occupied before we drive off. Lucky for us it was quite a busy night.
Patong beach is about 40 minutes away from the airport. It had started to drizzle and it was too dark to appreciate the scenery. I rested my head on Rambi’s shoulder and closed my eyes.
10 minutes into my nap, the driver woke up the passengers and was gesturing to all of us something like, “Get off.” He had parked the van in front of a small shack and no one had any idea what was going on. It was too soon for a bathroom stop so no one moved. The driver said something in Thai and pointed to the shack in front of us. Finally, someone seated in the back stepped out of the vehicle and entered the small wooden bungalow and everyone else followed. I was walking behind Rambi, being stupid and thinking how exciting it would be if we were about to get into some serious Thai mafia mess like in the movies.
The stop turned out to be a marketing strategy by tour groups, which proved to be effective when some foreigners discussed tour options with the agents. Rambi and I knew better, though. He had checked tours and price ranges beforehand and knew that packages were priced cheaper in the heart of Patong since there are so many groups to choose from.
As we rode on, the roads became narrower with each turn and soon enough the lining of trees and mountains were replaced by bright lights, and hostels and restaurants built close together. Foreigners and locals on foot and on motorcycles were traveling up, down and across the streets. The pleasant smell of street food filled the air and made us realize we had forgotten to eat before we boarded the plane. Patong was so busy, and we haven’t even reached Bangla Road yet. All this activity around us was giving us renewed energy; glorious rest will have to wait.
Our driver had a list of different hotels where his passengers will be staying and one by one he dropped us off. Our stop was at Arimana Hotel situated in a relatively peaceful area, a 10-minute walk from where the party happens, and conveniently located across a convenience store and an Italian pizza place. Arimana was simple and homey, flaunting warm orange walls with bronze accents all over. The lobby was designed to be open and inviting, with the dining area located in the foreground, subtly defined by wide wooden windows. A path in the middle of the lounge connects the main entrance to the very visible reception desk. Our room was on the first floor — perfect location after a drunken night out — and right beside a very lovely pool area. The room itself was your typical 3-star hotel room, with the same orange walls and dark wooden furniture; nothing fancy. The bed was huge and inviting but at that moment, we were too hungry to do anything else. We neatly placed our bags in the closet and went to the reception desk to ask for directions on where to eat.
The lady at the desk gave us a small map, which showed how to get to Bangla Road from our hotel. “You’ll pass a lot of food stalls on your way there!” she told us excitedly. As we made made our way the first thing that caught our eye was a strip of food carts. We helped ourselves to some fried chicken and rice, and bought the much loved Banana-Nutella Prata for dessert — a thinner and slightly greasier version of crepe. In Thailand they call it pancake.
We continued our walk to Bangla Road and we knew we were close when the music got louder and colorful lights of subdued red, orange and green blinked on and off. We crossed that one major road and we were finally there; my eyes grew wide and my mouth dropped open. Bangla Road was crazy-party town.
People of all ages — and I mean ALL AGES — crowded the streets. A magician was making quite a performance, and ladyboys dressed in festive costumes let you take photos with them for 100 Baht. If you’re nice and they liked you, they’d let you feel their breasts. Both sides of Bangla Rd were lined with bars all the way to the beach on the other end, with exotic dancers fronting each establishment, some even in cages positioned high up for all of Bangla Rd to see. Scantily-clad ladies and ladyboys gyrating and sliding and twirling around poles with flirty, seductive smiles on their faces, inviting people in the streets to come in for drinks or maybe join them onstage for a dance or two.
First a strip of street food, now a street of strip clubs. Mind you, I am not complaining. At the end of the road nearing the beach, you can find much tamer stalls that sell food and souvenirs. Rambi and I bought ourselves “I ❤ Phuket” shirts, and booked tours for us and our friends, who were arriving in two days.
Before heading back to the hotel Rambi and I decided to have a quick drink in a bar called “The Jungle”. Inside was a number of bar stations in a grid pattern, each with its own bartender and its own set of dancers. Ring the hanging bell to treat everyone at the station a round of shots for 1,000 Baht. The dancers threw all sorts of tactics at you to get you to sit and have a drink at their bar. With the loud techno music blaring from every corner of the place it was a miracle we could still hear what the bar girls had to say. They were very flirty with men and even more flirty with women. They had us doing shots like there’s no tomorrow and things just got crazier and crazier from that point on. Drunk and happy, Rambi and I stumbled back to Arimana and passed out immediately.
This was only our first night in Phuket. With our friends arriving in a couple of days, I could only imagine how crazier it would get.
Here’s some pictures of our crazy adventure!