My last day in Phuket, and I woke up late. Ordinarily, this would not be an issue, except for the fact that at least I would have had a free breakfast at the hotel. It would not be fried eggs, bacon and toast which I would prefer, and the hotel doesn’t offer; but rather some dry cereal, milk, beverages and orange juice. I am trying to penny-pinch because for the few days I have been in Phuket, I have discovered meals are really expensive. I’m already 1000 baht shy of cash, all spent on food. With sandy beaches, close proximity to islands like Phi Phi and Maya Bay, the migration of other nationalities and subsequent high demand for housing; Phuket is the quintessential tourist magnet, and everything is charged exorbitantly.
I have been gently derided for the few days I spent in Phuket in comparison to the over-a-week stay in Bangkok. I know that I will return to Thailand in the future, if only to get to Chiang-Mai which I didn’t visit on this trip. The Indian who owns the sprawling restaurant across the road from my hotel, that specializes in roti, naan bread, mutton biryani, chicken tikka masala and other Indian dishes; insists that I wasted my time in Bangkok, a concrete jungle in his view with little to see and do. I disagree but don’t argue with him out of respect; he looks like someone my father’s age, and there is a level of authority in his greying hair, bespectacled face and towering physique, as he tells me about Phuket, and orders the youthful looking Indian workers in his restaurant about. He has a tailoring store right next to the eatery and shares that he moved to the island from India, five years ago, to expand his businesses. Phuket is thriving and he is intent on making gains from the island.
Since it is late, I amble over next door to another restaurant. I order a breakfast consisting of a dainty pot of tea, scrambled eggs, a measly strip of bacon and two slices of warm toasted bread with a tiny bucket of butter. This costs 150 baht in total. I strike conversation with the restaurateur. I must confess that in the beginning as he chats me up when I enter, I assume he is a backpacker staying at the hotel. After all, they are all over the place in Thailand..with their very casual wear and clean-cut rugged boyish looks. He brings me the menu and now dashes to the kitchen to prepare the meal. I now assume he is employed there while doing voluntary work in Thailand. When I talk to him, I find out that he is no volunteer nor chef. I am ashamed to have cast him in stereotypical undertones. He co-owns the restaurant and adjoining hostel with his brother, also living in Phuket. I now regard him with a new respect and ask him about the beach town.
Jaques is from southern France. “It gets cold and the people are snotty..” he explains a little bit defensively, as though he needs to prove to me the reasons for his choice of Phuket as a second home. “Besides,” he continues,”I’ve never quite felt at home there, I spent a lot of time in the US where I grew up.” He tells me about the water festival coming up shortly, and other events for the rest of the year which will see many tourists pour into the beach town. “I am extending the hostel, adding more rooms in preparation for the high season in July, and December. Phuket is fun,” he says almost conclusively.
I ask about the constructions I see all over the place.
“Ahh,” he pauses in thought, then continues, “It’s mainly the Chinese and Russians. There is a part of Phuket dominated by the Russians, you would even find sign boards in Russian. The Russians are setting up amusement arcades and all that. I’m sure the Chinese are responsible for the constructions all over. I love the weather here, and the party atmosphere.. I have no wife neither a kid, so I feel quite free to do what I want and go where I want.”
Simon, a large English retiree with white hair, loves the weather in Phuket.
“It is very warm the whole year round.” He can’t imagine going back to his home in Manchester. “I would be absolutely miserable..it rains a lot in England, I hate the weather!”
“Do you do business here or are you married to a Thai woman?” I boldly ask.
He snorts and shifts uncomfortably, “I would never do that, if the relationship turns sour, they take everything and kick you out.”
Nina from Spain shares that she’s been here for six months, she is headed back to Spain for a while to sort out her financial issues. “I got fired, there’s a recession, and it has hit Spain quite hard, so I decided to come to Thailand, and so far, so good, I will be back again, soon.”
Mark, a former financial controller from Scotland decided he had enough of the 9-to-5 work day, sitting in a cramped cubicle and a lack of close-knit relationships, so he left for a warmer climate. Thailand doesn’t surprise him, he has visited before and loved it the first time. He has chosen to stay longer, this time.
“Do you have a plan for what you will be doing while here?” I ask the lanky blond Scotsman.
“I will study Thai for five months,” he responds.
“Just to get a visa to stay here.”
Arne, an elderly wealthy Belgian wine-maker breaks in with a piece of advice. “One should always stay in the coastal areas, I can’t stand the weather anymore in Belgium, it is cold for most of the year, and the advantage of being here in Thailand is that I can afford the domestic servants, and have a good life, considering that the Baht is not a strong currency.”
Suri who tells me his mother is Thai and his dad Hawaiian, spends his time between the two countries. “I’m here for the beautiful Thai girls, ” he says, “and the exciting nightlife in Phuket.”
Have you ever considered leaving your country for another, and what would your reason be? Better weather as well as the economy are always winners…