Phuket, Sinner Or Saviour?

If you ask any Australian traveller where they’ve visited in Thailand, the answer will invariably revolve around the country’s undoubted tourist mecca, Phuket. However, while Phuket offers an array of secluded beach hideaways and quaint coastal towns it is the fist pumping beat of Patong, or as it has been rightfully labelled by locals, ‘The City of Sin’, which can be credited for the astounding number of ‘Beer’ singlets walking the streets of Australia.

I often find it disappointing that many Western tourists (particularly in the younger age bracket) fail to immerse themselves in the cultural beauty of this fantastic country. From the quaint street markets of Chiang Mai and the laidback atmosphere of Krabi to the heart warming local feel of Koh Yao Noi, Thailand is often taken for granted as merely a party destination with some pretty beaches. However, when visiting Phuket it becomes clear why it has become so popular over the years.

Locals often brag that Patong never sleeps, and it soon becomes clear that when the sun goes down there is not a tired soul to be seen. The streets come alive with an invigorated vibrancy as slick nightclubs light up, karaoke and live music echo through crowded streets, beautiful Thai women take control at seedy go-go bars and energetic men and women burst from small shop fronts lining the walkways.

“Hey Mr, you want DVD?”

It is a scene of sin, however when sleep is not an option there is nothing to do but revel in Phuket’s unrivalled energy.

While walking the rather confronting streets you will encounter exotic Thai dancers in school uniforms entrancing susceptible male patrons, and cunning bar mavens who are well practiced in the art of Connect Four. Their ease at claiming a handsome tip from intoxicated foreigners will astound.

For many, this ‘City of Sin’ represents a traditional culture which has been tarnished by Western values and beliefs (and not in a good way). The sexualisation and discrimination of women, the lackluster enforcement of rules regarding alcohol consumption and behaviour, the sacrificing of cultural customs such as dress regulations and even the introduction of new, westernised ways of eating. While it can be difficult to find Western foods in less travelled parts of Thailand (and what you can find is often rarely attempted by Thai cooks. Resulting in a uncooked, rubbery waste of an order), the people of Phuket have mastered the art of anything deepfried, including vegetables.

When walking the streets of this once culturally rich city the fusion of western culture confronts at every turn. A newly renovated McDonalds situated directly next to a streetside local merchant selling fresh Thai food, a local man strolling the streets with a ‘Bad Girl’ hat sitting proudly on his head and the relentless cries of “Hey moooiiittt, how’s it gooooing? You Aussie? You want to buy?” as streetside shopsellers attempt to relate to the bogan in us all.

And just when a strange familiarity to home sets in a women, half naked with a tin can and dirt layered cheeks, will quietly drop to her knees while holding her can up high, praying that she will be able to beg enough money for her children’s dinner. It is here you realise that while the swift modernisation of an otherwise traditional culture has hugely benefited many Thai people who own restaurants, hotels or other operations aimed at this increasing influx of tourists, a large proportion of locals have been unable to keep up. As prices rise and traditional ways of living change many have been forced to move from their home town and start a new life elsewhere, whilst many who stay find it difficult to survive.

Ultimately, it seems to be a double-edged sword. On one hand Thailand is growing economically due to this Western party appeal of destinations such asPhuket, though on the other hand it seems that as the rich become richer the poor also become poorer. As the opening of Japanese borders in the 1860’s and the destruction of their traditional culture due to Western influence has taught us, perhaps modern ways are not always the right way. However, for a developing country to mature it is necessary to adapt to modern ways of living, which prompts a difficult question plaguing many third world nations: is the sacrificing of some necessary for the benefit of many?