Recently, team Single Dude found themselves on a short trip to Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand. A lot has changed since I’d been there last about 5 years ago. Patong Beach is now second only to Pataya in terms of its filth and debauchery. I don’t mind the filth, although that’s not my end goal in a vacation destination, so much as I mind all the tourist trap-ism. Phuket has turned into a town for the locals to extract as much as money in as short a period of time as possible from the hordes of Western, Russian, Chinese, and other tourists.
Where to begin? Ever been to a Thai go-go bar? They’re actually pretty fun in limited doses. Patong has hundreds of them and Pattaya thousands. Basically it’s a small rectangular shaped bar with seats all around, and there are girls working there serving you drinks and taking turns dancing on the bar at the corners. They are available to take home, but it’s going to cost you. First, you will be expected to buy them “lady drinks” at the bar, non-alcoholic fruit drinks that are the most expensive drinks on the menu. Then to remove a girl before her shift is done you have to pay a fee to the bar called a bar fine. Then you still have to pay the girl more after that. And then, congratulations, you just picked up a hooker.
We at Single Dude Travel do not condone prostitution for the cool single dude like you and me. We don’t need to pay. Let Grandpa and Uncle Boner pay. Furthermore, you don’t know where she has been. Trust me, especially in Patong, dudes, they have some diseases you haven’t even heard of before. Don’t take the bar girl home. Just enjoy the fun, get drunk, ring the special bell that buys cheap shots for the whole bar, make friends and perhaps business connections, play Connect-4 with the very nice but probably disease riddled Thai hookers, and then go outside and get delicious street food. This is and has always been Charlie’s Patong strategy.
No discussion of Patong Beach (or Pataya or Bangkok for that matter) would be complete without discussing Thailand’s most famous invention, the “Ping Pong Show”. For those that lack imagination, no a ping pong show is not too Asian guys playing ping pong really fast. Just Google it. You can not walk down Bangla Street, the main party street in Patong, without getting offered a ping pong show at least five times every minute. The aggressive ping pong show sales associates have no shame, you can be with your girlfriend, wife or even your children and have ping pong shows forced down your throat all day. It’s kind of amusing the first couple times but it grows old really quick.
Another drawback of Patong Beach is the ladyboy situation. Although there are not as many as in Boracay, they are much more rude and aggressive. They will walk right up to you, grab your balls, and force you to physically remove them. Actually I think Thai ladyboys may be some of the rudest people on planet Earth. They are so obnoxious that I find myself wanting to kick their asses within a relatively short period of time but that is absolutely verboten in Thailand. As previously noted in our Guide to Thailand, Thais will defend their own to the death, ladyboy or otherwise.
One of my least favorite things in the travel universe is definitely the Phuket Tuk-Tuk Mafia. It is unrivaled. They will not take you anywhere for less than 200 baht ($6.50 USD), not even 100 meters down the road. It’s important to keep in mind that that same money will get you 35 km in a regular metered taxi in Bangkok or it will get you a night in a room on the beach in Vietnam by comparison.
This tuk-tuk mafia situation is a perfect microeconomic example of how central control of an industry is bad for the workers and customers and only profits the elite. In Phuket, even while it is thronged with tourists, the vast majority of the tuk-tuk drivers sit around all day doing nothing, while the tourists just walk. Since the mafia doesn’t allow them to negotiate below a very high price floor and the tourists won’t pay 200 baht to go 3 blocks, the tuk-tuk drivers only make money from the stupidest or laziest tourists. I can’t imagine many of them do more than a couple jobs a day. Now if it was even remotely reasonable, I’d use the tuk-tuks all the time. At the current prices, no way. They do supplement their income nicely with drug sales, however.
Patong is in the midst of a tourism bubble, and as you see in all these cheap 2nd and 3rd world beach boomtowns, a lot of people getting in at once results in lots of overbuilding of bad quality and lots of abandoned projects. Also it appears no infrastructure has been built except for right next to the main beach. Patong does not look good once you are off the beach with half built buildings, bad roads, no sidewalks (probably thanks to the tuk-tuk mafia again), abandoned lots, etc.
If you’re an Uncle or Grandpa Boner who still likes to party, Patong may be your favorite place. When I first came here 5 years ago it was my first trip to Southeast Asia and the first time I ever saw Grandpa and Uncle Boners. I thought it was noteworthy but the Uncle Boner of 5 years ago tended to be a higher class that the 2012 version we saw there in December. Where there used to be trim Uncle Boners who had started a business and had cute 24 year old girlfriends, there are now Grandpa Boners: slovenly, sweaty, flatulent, obese, red-nosed drunks in wife-beaters and flip-flops clutching 17 year old girls who sometimes look 14 in the bars they hang out in all day, every day. Those guys are fucking disgusting.
As a regular single dude, Patong can be very fun in limited doses. The party is almost limitless. There are hordes of foreign tourists in town partying, and that includes some very nice tourist girls from Russia, Europe, other parts of Asia, etc. As sex is in the air everywhere sex is on their minds and I think a well organized team could do quite well picking girls up on the beach and taking them out as a group to party at night. Another possibility would be to import a girlfriend, get a nice quiet place somewhere else on Phuket, and then bite the bullet and pay for the tuk-tuk to Patong to party.
Overall, the advantages of Phuket – beach, good food, good weather, not too expensive, good party, are not good enough to prioritize a trip there over many other SE Asia beach getaways, including Rilay Beach, Langkawi, Bali, and Vietnam. You should go once just to see it, but a weekend will be plenty of time.