THAILAND DIARIES – VOLUME 2 – DRIVING THAILAND
Driving Thailand is the second Volume of my Thailand Diaries and is now complete. But before I publish it as my second FREE e-book I have decided to post a selection of excerpts which I hope will encourage you to download and enjoy the whole book.
SOUTH WESTERN ISLANDS – KOH PHUKET (Part 2)
Dangerous waters during monsoon
The Andaman Sea on the Western shores of Thailand claim many lives every year in the monsoon season between June and October. Phuket has its fair share of tragedies and the lifeguards do they best they can to warn tourists, Thais and ‘Farangs’ alike, of the dangers of the sea and deter them from entering the water at certain times and places on the beaches. There are big notice boards, in several languages, on most beaches explaining the dangers of ‘rip’ tides and what to do if you get caught and dragged out to sea. It seems that a great many are oblivious to the power of the sea. They seem to treat it with all the frivolity you would treat a nice warm bath with a plug-hole which you can disengage if the water has the temerity to rise above your ‘three piece suite’.
Patong is the Benidorm of the East. Do I need to say much more? A very crowded holiday destination driven by a frantic nightlife, Patong primarily caters for the young reveller and not the discerning tourist. It has nothing to offer the culture vulture except maybe a highly efficient gasoline station with very long queues 24/7.
Phuket Town holds no attraction for me but that is not to say that others won’t enjoy it. The only time I may go is to visit immigration, which incidentally is by far the most civilised I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. Here you will not be treated like a non-person, which in itself is a revelation. It might sound ridiculous to say but they do seem to go out of their way to make it a pleasant experience. There are actually ex-pats working as voluntary helpers who will assist you to make sure your application is correct before you present it to an officer.
The Sea Gypsies are the oldest inhabitants of Phuket but they have no legal rights to their land on the island of Koh Sireh where they have lived for hundreds of years. At the time of writing the government had plans to close their village on Koh Sireh to expand Phuket’s fishing port and re-house the Gypsies in modern apartment buildings and teach them to produce handicrafts. They already produce and sell their shell handicrafts, fish and other goods in a small village adjoining Rawai pier. Fishing is done using simple tools, spears and masks, and storing is not necessary as the Andaman Sea yields an abundance of fish and seafood all year round.
These indigenous people make a living from fishing and fishery-related work and tourists visit their villages to experience authentic Phuket culture. The origin of the Sea Gypsies is not known as their ancestry is nomadic without permanent habitats and without writing tools. They may be descendants of the Malaysian colonies that evaded the Muslim invasion of Burma or descendants of the Vedas of Indian origin. Unfortunately because their culture has no land based roots it now faces extinction.
Koh Sireh and Rawai beach offer tourists a glimpse into an old and archaic culture. The real nomads still roam the sea but the residents of the two villages have found a compromise between their nomadic heritage and a modern world. The Sea Gypsies are insular; they still are an authentic source of knowledge to historians and laymen and living proof of long gone cultures for the scientists and interested visitors. Their peaceful, inviting and colourful way of life enriches us. Police free, minimal crime, school out in the open at the water’s edge and everyone is welcome in their home. Smiling though shy, whether you come to buy their wares or just take a stroll and a look around, these gentle people are still there but for how long. (Source: Wikipedia. Photos: Jamoroki-art)
Before we leave Phuket
What you have just read in the last two excerpts may lead you to think that I am a cynical old so and so and that I have no desire to return to Phuket. Nothing could be further from the truth but I am sure you would not thank me if I sugared the pill. You can immerse yourself in all the treacly stuff to be found in most travel brochures but it won’t help you too much when you find things aren’t quite as you believed they were.
I care so much and don’t wish to see a beautiful island being irreparably damaged. I continue to live in hope that Phuket will survive and that I will enjoy many more holidays there. So don’t worry; I’ll be back again soon and hope to see you on the beach.
In next week’s Excerpt 4 we leave Phuket and begin our 800 kilometre road journey north to Bangkok
 ‘Farang’ is the Thai word used to describe a Caucasian.