Around lunchtime I sat in the Karon Aussie Bar, clutching a beer in a stubby holder, my eyes glued to a TV screen in the corner.
Friendly Thai ladies hovered behind me, ensuring I had regular refills and supplying a packet of wipes when, during a particularly exciting moment, chilli sauce slopped off my fishcake and onto my shorts.
If I keep doing this sort of thing, I could soon find myself among the Australians behaving badly at Pamplona or Oktoberfest.
In my defence, I can only say I was watching a vitally important sporting contest in which the Wallabies scraped home against the Springboks. For those unfamiliar with rugby football, the Wallabies are the Australian team, while the Springboks represent South Africa in that sport. A Rugby World Cup is currently being played in New Zealand.
A small group of my fellow countrymen and a larger group of very big South Africans had gathered to watch the quarter-final clash in the street behind Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand. To the credit of the South African fans, they were magnanimous in defeat, though they must have been disappointed.
At times when there is no sport to watch, this thoroughfare is unlikely to make any list of ‘world’s most beautiful streets’. The effect of a few brightly painted gables is marred by a mass of low slung powerlines and a collection of ugly shopfronts.
Sunburned Australians, Germans and Russians wander from bar to bar, where those Thai ladies offer hospitality. The most interesting activity available is sitting on a bench and dipping one’s feet into a tank of squirming fish, which for reasons best known to themselves, enjoy nibbling surplus skin off Australian, German and Russian toes.
Commercial establishments which are not bars, restaurants or outlets selling tours to Phuket’s attractions are Indian tailors, massage parlours, beauty parlours and a few ugliness parlours, otherwise known as ‘tattooists’.
Along the waterfront, things are not much better. In years past Karon Beach may have been an untouched expanse of white sand, but it’s been well and truly touched now, lined with beach chairs and signs warning of dangerous rips in the choppy sea.
Karon escaped the worst of the disastrous tsunami of 2004, which took as many as 8000 lives in Phuket, mainly on beaches to the north of here. It’s considered a less crowded part of the island, and certainly traffic is relatively light, even on the main roads. Walking along them feels safe, and despite the place surviving almost exclusively on its visitors, Thai hawking is gentle and friendly, with little of the hassling, ‘Hallo, Mister, where you come from? I love Aussie! Come you look, maybe you like…’ found in other tourist hotspots around the world.
The small Buddhist temple is a colourful highlight.
I was intrigued by the statue of the priest under an artificial tree, next to a small safe. I thought at first this was some sort of symbol for the material fortune that honouring the priest could bring, but on reflection I think the safe probably has a hole in the top through which well-wishers can make donations.
But anyone coming here in search of a Thai cultural experience will be disappointed. In this part of Phuket at least, it’s hard to find anything that is not about providing a service to tourists. Perhaps that’s inevitable; it’s a beach resort after all. We could make the same complaints of touristy tat about Manly Corso in Sydney or most of the beaches along the Dutch or Belgian coastlines. At least the Thai food is better.
In the coming days we’ll explore a little further to see if we can find more authentic experiences.
Meanwhile, we’ve had a few heavy downpours, but nothing to spoil our fun. The floods in central Thailand are getting worse.