One, early hangover walk with way too many bags through a busy Bangkok market, 25 hours, 3 busses, 2 taxis, and a pick-up truck ride later, I arrive in Phuket, Thailand’s original beach playground. I really know nothing about Phuket, so just drop me off in the center to figure this city out. I stepped off the bus straight into what I thought was an exaggeration, but you Thailand, continue to amaze me. I was sure nothing would shock me after twice been to Bangkok, sorry I ever doubted you.
I checked into the cheapest hole around, mainly because I’d way rather spend my money on a few beers than a place I am literally only going to pass out in late night. Why would I care anyways, I’m alone.
Anxious to detox in the Adamant Sea, I walk through the strip straight to the beach, only to glance over at potential boozing joints before the Thai girls make eye contact and lure me in. I swam out far, dodging boats and Jet Ski’s to get a sharks view of the infamous Patong Beach. I’m thinking, what is it about this place that attracts so many people from all over the world. Yes the jungle covered mountains, the chic and pamperous hotels that in comparison to America are crazy cheap, the uber intense sun rays, and the blue water are appealing, but that’s all over Thailand. Want a clean and quite vacation? Sorry, wrong crowd.
I ride a wave in and plop down on the sand for a rest. Now from a crabs view, I watch Patong Beach in its element, its purpose on earth. I never met another American on Phuket as most are way too conservative for this stretch of sand. So, It’s a combo of the sexy Thai’s of the country who have migrated down here to attract the Euros, Australians, and even Brazilians. I love the Thai’s and the Aussies, want to be with a Brazilian, and am humored by the Euros and their complete disregard for decency sometimes. The oil slathering massages and gluttony of prawns, coconuts, and cocktails give me just a taste of what was too come out at night, here on the island of Phuket.
The sun sets and I get my first cocktail craving, ok I’m lying I’ve already had one on the beach. A coconut and vodka which apparently and surprisingly is not a known concoction, as I had to literally take the vodka myself and pour it into the coconut as they all watched. Their eyes lit up like they had just learned their new “Thai tradition” to sell away to the lush tourists. It was yet another priceless connection that comes through out my days here with Thai people.
Phuket is a playground for the rich, but I find cocktail lounges lame lately so I grab my gypsy bag and walk across the road into the grimy strip. Bar after bar, the girls holler as I walk by and the only thing that keeps me from stopping, is the thought that the next one may look even more inviting. Eventually I get suckered in, sometimes by force, but only for a few harmless beers and a bar game. I get over it soon, usually getting a craving for a spicy street snack. Or maybe its time for a swim, day or night.
I move around on impulses that I trust. They enable me to learn and adapt to my environments. I believe that everything is an obstacle in my way, there to steer my life. At this moment, I felt the urge to leave the bar after a funky shot someone from across the bar bought me that I sensed would’ve been the first of many. As I turned the corner and looked up I notice something in the distance. Although blended inside the color of concrete, this figure appears out of place to me. I started walking towards it; running . Could that really be an elephant I see through this haze of lights and laughter? I struggle to fix my eyes on the object in the distance while racing through this night- mare, dodging all sorts of insanity. As I approached my heart shattered. Before I could continue I just had to stop and let out a tear, just one, built up for him.
I stood in the street up traffic from the baby Pathaderm (Elephant) to create a barrier between him and the oncoming flow of taxis, porches, and motorbikes. Confused by the sights and sounds, and all of a sudden let go by his owner, the calf made a dash across the street, desperate for a change in environment. A man jumped out of a pick up truck, grabbed the baby by the ear and spanked him to climb into the back of the truck. I saw an opportunity to tell the police as Elephants in city streets have been outlawed in Thailand, so I photographed the license plate and ran to the police station. I should’ve known, after my time here in Thailand and conversations on the corruption with Con Soraida , what not to expect from them. After a long and annoyed look at me, they said “Mai Mi Pan Ha” ( no problem ) ,the elephant is being transported. Really? Where in the hell could he be going around here? My sadness switched to anger and with adrenal gushing through me now, I run and catch up to the truck as it weaves impatiently in and out of strip traffic. I move discretely at this point, as I have been noticed taking photos, hence the owner put on sunglasses and a bandana. The truck stops again and the baby elephant is taken down an ally and collides with a bunch of drunken white men accompanied by hookers at a party room. They laugh as they instigate the girls and lady boys to climb on top of the baby for photos. I become numb, step back, sit down hidden between the parked motorbikes, close my eyes and listen to my surroundings. I know I will gain motivation in my life from this but for right now, I have lost everything inside me. All of my energy, my memories, and my being have melted into a mix and leaked out, draining into the gutter.
After the night- mare was over, I regained my strength in the surf and walked home through the giant hot mess. I had made it home to find my little room literally shaking from the club next door. So what do I do, adapt. I amnam (showered), dress up- ish for the first time in four months and went out to play.
Phuket is a world-class beach party destination amongst all the competition. The island seems to be a world within itself, as I am pretty sure there is nothing like it on earth. Thailand in general goes beyond means to entertain and attract visitors, which has separated them from their impoverished neighbors such as Cambodia and Burma. They have learned that sometimes to get the worlds attention you have to cross the line, and Phuket is so far over. The island’s mentality has benefited it financially, as it is the wealthiest part of Thailand. Even after the big Christmas tsunami of 2004 the city has bounced back more desirable then ever.
The main attractions here on Phuket are; the seafood restaurants with their elaborate display of sea creatures at the entrance; The movie “ The Beach” with Leonardo Di Caprio, was filmed just off shore and is a short boat ride away; the glamorous hotels; the jungle interior filled with waterfalls and monkeys; Fantasea Cultural Amusement park ; Elephant trekking; kinky massages; and above all, lady boy shows.
If you pick up any travel guide on Phuket, lady boys shows are listed as must sees. Seems too bizarre for most people in the western world but ironically it has developed for the westerners who may just secretly dig it. In my opinion, I think Thailand’s intentions were; Visitors can see sensual shows all over the world so what can we do different? Replace the girls and the boys with a new kind of human. A perfect example of how the Thai’s go to the extremes to attract. To the actual Thai’s, lady boys have become just another race as they are all over Thailand, even male elephants with no tusks, like Pa Hae Pho, are casually referred to as lady boy Elephants. No one seems phased.
To see these stage stealers, you don’t have to go inside a club, as they are the cashier at 7 – Eleven, or the glamified citizens with dance platforms scattered through out the strip. I’m thinking the fascination comes from the suspicion on how they pull it off so well. Honestly the only way to tell the difference between the girls and the lady boys on the platforms is by their adam’s apples in their throat, everything else can apparently be, hmm misplaced? There are a few things I wonder about, which may even be a part of the attraction. Are they always in that space in their mind or do they switch it off when they leave the “stage”? Is this who they really are or is this just an act to make money and climb the social ladder? Are they simply adapting to their environment? Have they learned that life is tough when there is no work for a young man, other than hard and sometimes illegal labor for next to nothing when their sister can come home with a stash of cash from simply flirting with a few foreigners? Did they evolve for opportunity? I’m sure not going to judge as I don’t know what they are feeling. But I will say it’s my turn to get on stage, scoot ova!
On my way home the sun rises and the party crashes. I feel over Phuket and my ears are ringing, so I book a ferry ticket to Phi Phi Island. It leaves in an hour ha-ha