I had been all over Thailand but never had any special desire to go to Phuket, but I succumbed last month, having been invited by a lovely generous friend, who had taken over a large private chunk of the legendary Amanpuri Resort, the first of the 25 Aman (‘Peace’) luxury resorts and apparently the favourite of Adrian Zecha, its founder.  I decided to go to the Amanpuri for a week and add on another week to further explore the island.  I discovered some magical places, enough to satisfy the most discerning of tourists, but there is much I wish I had know before I went.

view of the island

View of the Island of Phuket

Phuket is an island for sybarites.  It is basically about beautiful beaches and islands, and jungle if you are feeling a bit adventurous and massages and of course delicious Thai food, which is the Asian equivalent of Italian food – fresh ingredients, cooked simply.  If you are looking for museums, good art or architecture or even good handicrafts, go elsewhere.  Like the rest of Thailand, there are many temples but mainly garish 19th and 20th century ones – nothing compared to the ancient temples of Ayuthaya or even Bangkok.

Chalong Temple

Chalong Temple

I discovered that Phuket is like Majorca or Ibiza or Mykonos: a lot of ghastly bits and some wonderful bits.  Let’s get the ghastly bits out of the way.  Unless you are a teenager or a backpacker on a shoestring, it would be purgatorial to go to these areas: Phuket Town – a dismal, tatty, soul-less town, without a single decent restaurant or bar.  The guidebooks gush about the architectural splendours of the Sino-Portuguese ‘colonial’ buildings, built in the 19th century at the height of the tin-mining industry. Well, my advice is skip it.  Go to Goa or Rangoon, if you like colonial architecture.

Patong, the epicentre of Phuket’s entertainment scene, is the height of ghastliness. Like Patpong or Pattaya, it is full of young Brits, Europeans and Australians, keen to drink and party as much as possible, and as cheaply as possible.  The Thais (as well as Indians) supply them with endless streets of dingy shops selling fake Rolexes, fake Louis Vuitton and fake Havaianas flipflops; English, Irish and Aussie pubs and German beer cellars; and of course, what it is famous for, louche clubs, open to the early hours, full of  ‘lady boys’ dancing on the bartops and luring eager tourists into dark rooms beyond.  Patong also offers Muay Thai (Thai boxing) shows, bunjee jumping, paint-balling and go-karting.  Say no more.  I ventured to Patong one evening, but left after an hour, happily armed with a few pairs of fake Havaianas, but discomfited by the hordes of drunk and tattooed youth.

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Sunday, January 20th, 2013