Day 10 – Penang to Phuket
I felt like a bit of an idiot when I woke in my hostel this morning, because I had stupidly booked a flight the night before to Phuket. It was stupid because firstly I was rather enjoying myself here in Penang, and didn’t want to keep rushing onwards to new destinations quite so rapidly as I had been up to now. The second reason came retrospectively, when I arrived at my destination 7 hours after I originally started. I booked the flight to save time, but because of having to change flight in KL 300km to the south, and because the flights had to circle in the air for hours before the weather allowed them to land, the journey actually took the same amount of time as a coach would have. And, it cost me nearly four times as much for the privilege. The only advantages, I suppose, were the slightly comfortable seats and the free peanuts given to me on both flights.
This disappointment was to come later in the day; I still had a morning to fill with exciting adventures. Unfortunately, I completely failed to do this. I missed the bus stop for Snake temple, appropriately named for the fact that it has been overrun by snakes ever since a mad monk decided to start feeding them. Instead, I went on an incredibly cheap, non-English speaking tour of the island thanks to my bus driver and the few passengers he was chaperoning. I rode the bus for an hour or two, hoping to see some landmark or point of interest to disembark to, but none came. Instead, I saw little rural villages made of cement blocks and corrugated iron, roads running along precipitous cliff edges (roads which didn’t seem physically able to support a bus, but somehow succeeded) looking down to coastal panoramas and up to forest coated hills. Also, lots and lots of rain. Stupidly lots. To put it semi-racistly, enough cats and dogs were falling every second to feed the whole of Korea for a year.
The bus terminated in one of the little villages in the centre of the island. Still pouring down, I ran from the bus station to the only restaurant in the village, nearly drowning along the 100m journey. The heat and water made me feel as stewed as the noodles in the soup I ordered, but less delicious. I whiled away an hour in the restaurant as the rain waters rose. when I saw an old bearded man outside put a few giraffes into a boat, I felt it was time to leave for the airport. Luckily, I knew which bus stop to get off here (it was the one next to the big planes flying about).
I got to Phuket at about 7:30pm local time and immediately got a taste of what was in store for me outside the confines of the airport. Dozens of women, almost running, came up to me, begging for my money to be exchanged (at an extortionate rate). At the doors to the airport, similar amounts of men squawked for my attention, asking me if I would let them be my taxi driver. Touting here seems to be the national sport. All the taxis were expensive, so I opted for a minicab at a fifth of the cost. Unfortunately, none of them would go till they were full. Since I was so confused by the scene that greeted me, most minicabs had already gone. I therefore had to wait for the next flights to come in before I would be allowed to go. Luckily, I had some other similarly perplexed travellers to play cards with on the pavement outside. Eventually, the cab filled, and we headed to Patong Beach, the most touristy of the many beaches on Phuket.
If I thought I had been touted at a lot at the airport I was wrong. Once at the beach, literally thousands of women sit on street corners and in shop windows, all screeching the one word “Massaaaaaaage”, in a very unappetising way. Some get physical, touching, pinching, shaking your hand and not letting go. I booked myself into the nearest hotel I could find to get away from them, which turned out to be quite an expensive decision but not a regretted one.
After showering and changing, I felt brave enough to venture outside again, but as night fell the masseuse girls attacks got stronger and stronger, appearing more like vampires hunting for blood every second. Down the road from my hotel is the central magnet for tourists. Illuminated by thousands of flourescent lights, dozens of bars each gaudier than the last line the streets. some are made up in faux classical grandeure with plaster collumns and gold leaf. Others are Disney-esque reproductions of tropical rainforests full of fake plastic trees and papier mache rocks. All the bars have a pole dancer or twelve, luring unwitting travellers like mermaids to their inebriated doom. Off in the dark corners of the street are touts for ping pong ball shows, shifty cocaine dealers galore and murky bars playing terrible covers of 80’s hits. This is possibly the worst interpretation I can think of when I think of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
This street left me feeling quite cold and a little depressed. I know its a little oxymoronic, but I like my hedonism in moderate doses. Having so much sugar shoved down your throat can make you feel sick. I went to bed, hoping things would look a little better in the clean light of day.