Landing at about 8pm at Phuket international with no accommodation booked we managed to fight off the travel agents and taxi drivers before getting into a minibus headed for Patong Beach. The bus, of course, deviated slightly and stopped off at another travel agent which managed to persuade us that it will take hours to find somewhere to stay late at night because its so busy etc etc and got suckered into booking a room for 1000 Baht – ridiculous. But wait, it just gets better.
The minibus drove down the main road in Patong, dropping off passengers at nice hotels and guest-houses until finally he stopped at the entrance to an alleyway where all I can see are tailors and prostitute-masseuses. The driver assured us that our accommodation was just down the road a little bit and sent us on our way. Within seconds these very grabby masseuses who apparently in Patong will pickpocket you were all over us and if it wasn’t them, it was an equally infuriating tailor with a knack of picking Australians out the crowd trying to offer us a suit. Why two young, dirty and tired looking backpackers (with packs on) would want a suit at 9.30pm is beyond me. Finally, in yet another smaller lane shooting off the main alley we saw the lights for the motel, and it actually didn’t look too bad. Met by an angry looking Thai woman who took our details and signed us in we were ushered off to our room, in another building far less desirable than the one we were in. Disturbingly, the woman led us to the room (which we had already paid for) with a bottle of sanitizer and a cloth in hand. Never a good sign. The room was small, dirty (even after the woman’s wipe down), cramped and had one bed, but a lesson was learned. That lesson: stick to your guns when hassled by agents because you will always find somewhere to most importantly – inspect, and secondly stay. The following day we ventured to the main road and booked a nice guest house for 800/night which is still a lot, but it’s Patong after all.
The beach in Patong is, simply put: crap. Thousands, yes – thousands of deck chairs and umbrellas line almost every inch of the beach and are charged out at various prices. Looking for an area of sand to call your own is pretty near impossible. Chairs, makeshift bars and litter disguise what would have been a stunning beach, 20+ years ago. As with Chaweng beach in Samui, laying on the beach in Patong you are susceptible to a constant barrage of jewelery, hat, sunglasses and sandwich salespeople. Also worth noting is that the beach crowd here is a lot older than Chaweng and seem quite content with having anything and everything delivered to their chair, and paying the premium that goes with it. I saw one person get a sponge-bath in his deck chair which was pretty weird, but I suppose anything flies here.
The beach isn’t the main reason people come to Patong, or at least I hope not. The night life however is huge and can probably be considered an attraction in, and of itself. The main (drivable) road extends for many kilometers hosting many hotels and bars of differing themes for a night out. Entering the main nightlife strip, which runs off the main road and ends at the esplanade you are met with hundreds of bars all vying for your Baht. 10 meters into the strip we became inundated by backpackers handing out free entry and drink offers to a lot of the bigger bars. If you played it right, and hadn’t built up the kind of alcohol resistance one builds after a month long binge, you would probably be able to do the free drink rounds and have a good night of it. Our group found sanctuary in one of the larger, laid back places called the Phuket Beach Bar which is where we spent many nights enjoying free or half price cocktails. One of the bar tenders here makes an off-the-menu passionfruit mojito which is seriously amazing, and well worth a try.
One of the most impressive aspects of the nightlife in Patong is the quality of the clubs. We found one which had a club downstairs, the roof of which was the underside of the glass bottom rooftop pool, bar and chill out area. There were many others which had very impressive designs and felt much, much classier than other parts of the nightlife strip. Whilst getting the free drink vouchers is awesome, you also get swamped by seedy looking men and more frightening: middle aged women, offering to take you to ping pong shows or go go bars. You can’t help but think: Are these women the mothers of some of the daughters in the shows? Many of the smaller lanes running off the main strip are completely full of lady boy bars and prostitute bars, attracting the same old rich white men we found in Udon Thani.
If you are looking for a taste of home, you will find it in Patong. On our nightly dinner and pool table hunts (finding a good pool table in Thailand is almost impossible) we found ourselves walking past or entering anything from German, Swiss, Scandanavian, English, Irish, Australian (which served VB, Pure Blonde and had Vegemite) and many more, all adequately and often excessively themed. As you can see, the nightlife here has something to cater for everyone’s taste, you just have to find it.
Most of the attractions in Patong and Phuket target slightly more upmarket clientèle with most activities here readily available anywhere else in Thailand, for much cheaper. Boat trips around Phuket and islands such as Koh Phi Phi can cost well over $100 AU, unless you make your own way for about $12, which is precisely what we did. I’m saving Koh Phi Phi for its own post but there is little that remains to be said about Patong. Forget culture, perfect beaches and the idea of a cheap Thailand (although it is still reasonable compared to Australia) as you won’t find it in Patong. It can almost be described as Thailand’s sin city and only really worth the visit if you want to party. Alternatively, you can get that nose job done as the allure of beaches and cheap(er) medical services have led to a huge increase in medical tourism in recent years.