It is very easy for us expat residents of Phuket to look down on Patong. I know I am often guilty of it myself. While many of us start out in Patong when we first arrive in Phuket, most long-term stayers end up moving out to one of the ‘Thai’ areas of the island. We feel like we know better now and we have moved on. We know Thailand and we have left Patong behind. We realise that Patong is just a shallow creation designed to extract as much money as possible from gullible tourists. It is not real Thailand. Phuket is a big island full of beautiful sights and charming people. Patong is just the sleazy mass-tourism hole. It has so many faults it is hard to list them all.
Sometimes, I have to slow myself down before I jump on my soapbox about Patong. The thing I have to remember is, despite all of Patong’s faults, it is still tremendous fun. I know many will disagree with me but a night out in Patong can be a great laugh, even for jaded expats.
You can always see strange or unusual sights. There are always things going on. You can meet all kinds of characters and hear all manner of colourful and crazy stories. There are many people from many backgrounds, all thrown together into this little melting pot where the normal rules do not quite apply. You can just sit back and watch the outcome.
You do need to be in the right mood to enjoy a night out in Patong. This is especially true if you are a guy who is not in the market for a female companion. For example, if you are not in the right mood, then the trek to the toilet, sidestepping their attempts to block your path and pulling yourself away from all those grabbing female arms, can be irritating. However, if you are in a good mood then it is all part of the fun. No matter how false you know it is, having lots of attractive women push themselves against you and call you ‘hansum’ is not that bad an experience.
The girls in Patong are mostly okay. There are many very charming young women amongst them. If you make it plain from the outset that you are not looking for hanky-panky, you can still have a chat and a laugh with them. If you feel they have given you some good entertainment then buy them a lady drink to reward them for their time. Of course, if you actually are looking for a quickie then they will probably be happy to oblige.
Still, let’s not ignore Patong’s faults because they are many:
- Patong is Expensive. It is one of the most expensive
places in Thailand.
- Patong is Sleazy. There is no denying it. The go-gos,
sex shows, and mass prostitution are there for all to see. Transvestites
dance on the street and scantily clad young women call out to every passing
- The Tuk-Tuk Mafia. You cannot make any excuse for the
tuk-tuks in Patong. They are ridiculously overpriced, they patrol the roads
like they own them and they act like thugs if anyone challenges them in
- Patong Attracts the Worst Thais. I do not think there
is any doubt about it. There are many unsavoury characters around Patong.
The lure of easy money does attract some of the less pleasant characters
from around Thailand. Hustlers and scam merchants harass the tourists. Pickpockets
look for soft targets. Ladyboys patrol the beach road. Young children are
forced to sell flowers around the bars. It is a long way from the charming,
friendly and respectful Thai people we see in the tourism adverts.
- Patong is Noisy. Loud music blares out from bar after
bar, sometimes so close to each other that you cannot even distinguish the
songs. Jet-skis and speedboats roar up and down the beach and the traffic
rumbles endlessly around the town.
- Patong is Smelly. On still nights, the odour from Patong’s
overworked drains hangs over the town.
- Patong is Dirty. Trash overflows from the bins and alleyways. The sea is full of rubbish.
The list goes on. There is no doubt about it. Patong has many faults. Still I find myself wanting to defend Patong from its detractors. Patong is what it is. Despite all its faults, it serves its purpose. It is a party town. People come to have a good time. They come to get drunk, to have a laugh, to see the colour and some come to play with the girls. That is the way it is.
Yes, Patong is a little more expensive than the rest of Thailand. However, that is a complaint you can make about the whole of Phuket. The prices in Phuket reflect the island’s success. As people and money flow into the island, land prices soar and prices rise.
In fact, in some ways Patong is actually one of the cheaper areas of Phuket. There are so many bars, restaurants and guesthouses competing together that they have to be competitive. You can find a decent room from 500-baht a night. If you go back from the beach road you can find lots of cheap bars and restaurants . If you go to the trendy bars and clubs around Phuket Town, you will find the beer prices are actually higher than in Patong.
There are some great restaurants around Patong. So many people come to have a go at running a restaurant that some of them are bound to be good at it. There are some beautiful restaurant locations around the bay at Kalim. If you search the backstreets of Patong, you can find some absolute gems serving great food at fair prices. You will also find plenty of stinkers but that is just part of the challenge.
Yes, Patong is a little sleazy. However, this is mostly around the central area of Patong at Bangla Road. There are also plenty of pleasant, classy bars and restaurants around Patong. Anyway, the sleaze is one of Patong’s attractions. People know this is one of Patong’s attractions and they want to see it. Even many of the tourists who are not sex-tourists, enjoy watching the colourful goings on around the sex industry. It is fun and funny to watch. It is mostly harmless. I will not pretend there is not a downside. There is a nasty underbelly to it all. However, generally the participants are not harming anyone else and most are not harming themselves.
Yes, Patong does attract its share of unsavoury characters. Again, this is part of the character of Patong. Bangla Road would not be the same if it was lined with cultured Thai people respectfully waiing the passing tourists. The hustlers and the girls are the people who make Bangla Road buzz. They are the ones who make the stories. They might not be the nicest people but they do tend to be entertaining.
Yes, Patong is smelly and dirty. It is almost inevitable, considering the sheer number of people who squeeze into the small space. Patong’s infrastructure struggles to keep up with the increasing demands placed upon it. The roads, electricity, water supply and drains all strain under the weight of demand. In fact, considering the limited infrastructure, I think the authorities do a pretty good job of keeping Patong clean.
The beach and sea could certainly do with a good clean up but I do still think that Patong’s location is quite stunning. On a clear blue day, the forested hills that frame Patong are beautiful. The beach is a magnificent 3-km stretch of sand that is perfect for swimming and the view out along the two spectacular headlands is magnificent.
The buzz of the jet-skis and speedboats is intrusive. The lines of sun-loungers do detract from the natural beauty and the vendors can be annoying. However, holidaymakers know that Patong is a busy beach. They expect activities and action. If they wanted a quiet beach holiday, they would have chosen another beach.
The tuk-tuks. Well I can’t really defend the tuk-tuks. They are a blight on Patong. I generally try to avoid them but I have to say that on the occasions I have used them, I have not had a really bad experience. They are overpriced but as long as you agree the price up front and do so in a composed manner, then they will take you to where you want to go.
So yes, Patong does have many faults. Personally, I would not want to live there and I don’t even want to visit that often. It certainly does not provide an authentic Thai experience. Despite this, I do still like to visit from time to time because, for all its faults, Patong is still a fun place with lots of action in a beautiful location.
More to the point, if I was planning a holiday to Phuket, Patong is still the place I would choose to base myself. It is the center of the nightlife. It has all the amenities you need. It is where the action is. Most of all, it is fun.