Phuket: Island Paradise (with Beach Massages!)

Phuket is an island in the south of Thailand that is famous  as a having some of the world’s best beaches.

We got to Phuket Town in the afternoon, too late to go to the beach because the songthaews stop running at 3 or 4. We went for late lunch, and the town was as dead as a ghost town. It was hot, and dry, and everything seemed dirty in the afternoon light. That evening, we decided to try again. After all, Phuket Town is a backpacker’s paradise, it should be easy to find something to do. The town was clearly geared towards handling massive amounts of tourists; there were hostels and restaurants all over the place. And while it was more lively at night, with more people out and about and music playing somewhere,  it was as though the party was always just out of reach, always just a few blocks away. We never did find the party, but we found some nice bars, including this one that was decorated in vintage electronics and wouldn’t have been out of place in Austin:

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We visited a different beach every day. The easiest way to do this is via songthaews (see picture) – essentially pickup trucks or mini-buses. You find them near the food market, each marked with the area of Phuket to which it travels. The driver waits until the songthaew is full, which could take half an hour or so, and then you’re off! The ride normally costs less than a dollar. The trick is getting back. we never succeeded in finding a songthaew to take us back. Either it was full, or we couldn’t find the pick-up location (which was not always the drop-off location), so we ended up taking taxis home. The taxis were expensive, but at least it was split three ways.

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The first beach was where I learned why people rave about Phuket beaches. The water was perfectly clear and cool. We simply stood neck-deep in the waves and let the water push us around.

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The second day, we went to Bang Tao beach. The beach and water were just as beautiful, but this time we found lounge chairs for rent ($5/day) right next to both a massage tent and a resturant. As I was being massaged on a beauitful Thai beach, I thought “Remember this moment during law school. This is your happy place.”

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The third day we tried several different beaches (Kata, Kata Noi, even Rawai) but none were as perfect as Bang Tao so we ended up back there. The other beaches were beautiful, but either crowded, hot, without lounger chairs to rent or somehow lacking.

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By the time we got back to Bang Tao it was almost 2:00. We found the same spot, but it wasn’t quite the same. The club next door started testing its loudspeaker; there were more people talking and chattering; it was hotter. It was still great, but no longer as perfect as it was the previous day. Our attempt to recreate yesterday’s perfection made me think of the scene in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandria, where Ransom has traveled to Venus, an Edenic planet of golden seas and floating islands, on which luscious fruit trees bear fruit unlike any on earth. On tasting one, he reaches for another to immediately re-experience the same pleasure, and then stops himself:

“For whatever cause, it appeared better to him not to taste again. Perhaps the the experiencce had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity – like asking to hear the same symphony twice in one day.”

I think maybe we’d done something like asking to hear a symphony twice, and had very gently been rebuked.   C.S. Lewis, of course, carries it further:

“This itch to have things over again,  as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to roll backwarrds – was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course money was called that. But money itself – perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defense against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film.” 

The tension between trying to experience everything fully and understanding what is evanescent is, of course, part of life, but more starkly illuminated in travel. I don’t know what I’d do if I was in the same situation again; I think there’s a chance that I wouldn’t go looking for Bang Tao again.

Also, this poster was plastered all over Phuket. Doesn’t sound sketchy at all, does it?

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