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Published: August 6th 2007
Travelling from Cambodia to Bangkok to catch our flight to Phuket was a marathon journey. The journey involved lots of mud track roads, loading buses onto ferries as the bridges to cross the rivers weren't complete. Once arriving to the Thai border at Hat Lek we had a bit of an 'issue' with a Thai Immigration Officer, who decided to count Donna's stamps from previous year's holidays (that is 2004 and 2005) to Thailand and he insisted that he would only allow her into the country for 19 days, saying she had already had 71 of her allowed 90 days in the country. After 45 minutes of arguing through a window the size of an A4 piece of paper, he finally realised he had made a mistake (probably Neil wading in and explaining in Thai helped!). A lot of people seemed to have trouble at this border crossing with onward tickets, visas and all sorts being demanded from the grumpier than usual Immigration Officers.
First of all, our next three blogs are on our time in Thailand with Donna's parents. Let us start by saying we have been to Thailand each year over the last 5 years on holiday, travelling
Wild monkeys inside the hong
...but how did they get there asked Donna's dad!
backpacker style, ie on a budget. This was our 6th visit to Patong and oh dear, it's all gone very badly wrong since our last visit not one year ago.
Whilst in the past we have always enjoyed Phuket and Patong, this year was very disappointing. Let us try and explain why.
Although Patong is a very touristy place and always has been aimed at the higher spending tourist, there was stillalwys bars (girlie or otherwise), restaurants and other vendors who have sold their goods at prices that are within the spending power of a low budget tourist. Some examples follow:
1. Average small beer price 2006 - 50-60B. In 2007 the price is 80-120B and Seven Eleven prices (all over Thailand) 55B
2. 1 hour Thai massage 2006 - 150B. In 2007 the price is 200-300B.
3. 2 sunbeds, 1 umbrella price in 2006 - 80B. In 2007 the price is 180-200B. When we asked the seller the reason for the big increase, he giggled and said it was because of fuel increases and told us in Thai that the stupid tourists would pay it anyway.
4. Fruit on the street. In 2006
it was 10B for 1/2 a pineapple or 1/4 a watermelon. In 2007 it is 20-30B for 1/4 pineapple or 1/8 watermelon
5. Food has also increased. In 2006 our favourite chicken fried rice was 30B, in 2007 it is 50-100B....and so on.
Patong has not only become disproportionately expensive with other tourist destinations in Asia but also with the rest of Thailand (and our home country the UK). There are many sellers in the streets and markets of Patong selling fake Levi's for no less than 40 quid a pair or fake Billabong shorts for no less than 15 quid and they WILL NOT haggle down. We can get these cheaper in the UK, so why would we bother buying them here? This is also something we heard a lot from other tourists. To top it all off the beach in Patong is not looking good at all. The effect of the tsunami in 2004 was that is cleaned the water up, but this seems to have only been for a short while, we have never seen the water, or beach, look so dirty as this year. This is something we noticed about other beaches on Thailands
Landing site at James Bond Island
...ahhh, we have been expecting you Mister Bond!
islands too (more about this in our other blogs!)
Donna's parents were soon arriving and honestly we were feeling ashamed and worried that we had built up Thailand to be something that it no longer is...even we were surprised at how much a place can change in a year. All we could hope was that because they didn't know the Thailand of previous years, the Thailand of 2007 wouldn't disappoint them too much. It wasn't long before Donna's parents realised that Thailand wasn't the paradise they were expecting.
Fair enough you can put up with the high prices if the people are friendly but even this had changed. The sellers were rude, telling us to go back to our own country when we tried to haggle with them and the girls in the bars were a lot more about money and getting drinks any way they could than our previous five visits. Even when we were speaking Thai to the Thai's we were ignored, they pulled faces and made nasty comments about 'falang', this is something we never experienced in the north of Thailand.
To top Patong off, the hideous (yes we mean hideous!) JungCeylon shopping centre
Entrance to bat cave!
no sign of Batman though
complex which had been under construction for over 2 years had opened. This sprawling shopping centre would be welcom in any place other than a beach resort such as Patong and has moved Patong a couple of steps closer to becoming Pattaya in that it is losing it's tropical resort appeal. It did however, have a huge Carrefour supermarket which was great for stocking up on food and sold Tiger beers for 25B a go.
Whilst in Patong we read an article in the English-language newspaper about how the many millions of tsunami aid, meant to be spent reconstructing Phuket province has gone missing, with no-body really questioning where it went. This may be one of the reasons for some of the pavements in Patong being in such disrepair (and have been since the tsunami). However, the Thai's seem to be doing very well without this money and with this year having the highest number of tourists we have ever seen in Thailand. It seems to us that the vendors unwillingness to haggle and their extrordinary high prices suggest that the Thai's are making more than enough money already...a point re-inforced when you look at the brand new cars
it smelt really bad and a big blob of bat shit missed our canoe by a few centimetres!
and mopeds they are driving.
So enough of the rant and onto our experience of Patong. We celebrated Neil's birthday in style in Patong with the help of Ceri and Rachael from Devon (who we had met in Laos) and some drinking games with wine coolers (less fattening than beer although Neil commented that drinking wine coolers was a bit too girly for him!!). We eventually made it out of the room just before midnight to get to a disco/freelancer bar which gave people a free bottle of champagne for their birthday. We expected a cheapo nutty tasting champagne, but we were very surprised when a bottle of pretty good French brut appeared in an ice bucket. A guy and his Thai girlfriend also joined the celebration and bought us another bottle of champagne (very generous considering we didn't know him!) and suffice it to say we got very drunk and danced the night away, with the disproportionately high number of Thai freelancers (made Neil feel like a man again!).
The next day Donna's parents arrived. This was their first long-haul adventure and we had planned several things to do to ensure their holiday was a good one.
Donna's parents eased into Thailand by lazing on the beach and we introduced them to chicken fried rice, fruit shakes and other delicious things. We also introduced them to the bar scene in Patong. We found a couple of bars which were good value with friendly owners who gave out free shots of schnapps on which we got rather drunk!
We organised a sea canoe trip to canoe around the hongs and James Bond Island in Phang-Nga National Park. This trip however was cut short just after a huge buffet lunch by bad weather...the type of bad weather that almost tipped the boat over, high winds and battering rain. There were a few green faced people by the time we reached the port! On returning to Patong, Neil and Donna's Dad reverted back to childhood by attempting to body surf the giant waves on Patong beach...see the video of Neil. However, we didn't have the camera handy when Donna's Dad accidently exposed himself as a huge wave managed to pull his trunks down around his ankles, much to the amusement of passers-by on the beach! Like father, like daughter, this also happened to Donna, with both her bikini bottoms
and top pulled off by a wave and an old bloke on the beach almost had a heart attack seeing her stark naked in the water!
The weather seemed to have taken an unseasonal turn for the worst, much to Donna's parents dismay with it raining almost constantly...we had so much rain one night that the roads turned into rivers. That night we resorted to playing drinking games in the hotel again, this time with a less girlie bottle of vodka we had bought in Cambodia. By midnight the rain had eased and we were able to frequent our free schnapps bar!
One day we hired a jeep for 600B and Neil drove us to Kata, Karon, Kamala and Surin beaches for a nice day out. The day was cut short by rain again, but it was great fun. The great thing about the western seas of Phuket being grubbier than usual is that you can find loads of things in the water! Neil managed to find a Willy Wonka-esque pair of sunglasses (so glamourously modelled by Neil in the pic!) and a frisbee. We also found other things that we wouldn't want to keep like carpets, inner
tube tyres and nappies.
Donna's parents kindly brought us some supplies from the UK, namely 25 bars of Galaxy chocolate and CD's. What heaven to eat such delicious chocolate again...our heavily pregnant cleaner obviously agreed with us as we noticed that some of the chocolate had gone missing after she had been cleaning the room, but try crossing a pregnant Thai woman, we didn't!
Our time in Patong came to an end and we convinced Donna's parents to travel backpacker style to Phi Phi by catching the local ferry.
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