A damning report exposing the dark side of tourism in the Thai island of Phuket appeared yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald, claiming that rip-offs, rorts, drink spiking, scams, robbery, assault and police corruption are now common place in the popular holiday destination.
From an Australian perspective, the problem stems largely from the fact that many tourists - may I call them bogans? - travel specifically to Phuket for the very things that are criticised in the article - sleazy nightlife, the sex trade and to get pissed. Getting ripped off is all part of the parcel, and most will suck it up as part of their holiday experience. Besides, they'll be so drunk they won't remember what happened anyway.
|Pic: John Borthwick|
I was chatting to some very charming Aussie blokes on a plane recently who excitedly listed the destinations they were planning to visit in Thailand - Bangkok, Pattaya and Patong. It was their first visit to Thailand, and they couldn't wait to see it in all its glory. The 'boys trip' had Hangover Part 4 written all over it, and I have little doubt where their first port of call in Bangkok would be that night.
While tourists perpetuate and support the dark side of tourism, it will continue to exist. Of course, the Thai government is also culpable, turning a blind eye to the increasing sleaziness in Phuket due to associated financial gain. And with tourist numbers continuing to soar in Phuket, the situation is not likely to change in any hurry.
But here's the thing - if you don't want to be exposed to Phuket's nasty side, DON'T GO THERE! Simple. Choose another destination in Thailand. Want a quiet beach? Then Patong is not the spot. Research, people - it's not that hard, particularly with all the resources of the internet at hand.
Phuket is a massive island. There are still many idyllic pockets along its coastline where you can walk on a deserted beach, with nary a Russian package tourist or jet ski in sight. I recently stayed in the gated community of Laguna, where forward-planning and a community spirit has preserved the purity of paradise. Further afield, the southern tip of the island, Cape Panwa, is a remote and isolated jewel, while the northern beach of Mai Khao is part of a national and marine park and subsequently still blessedly undeveloped.
|The beautiful beach at Laguna.|
Of course, some destination-specific annoyances are unavoidable wherever you go in Phuket - specifically, taxi rip-offs. A night out will end up costing a bomb if you hire a cab; best to take advantage of hotel shuttle services, or consider renting a car if you want to explore the island in depth.
Or ... can I put this any more clearly - go somewhere else! Head to an island which hasn't been discovered by the masses. They do exist.
|Pics: Julie Miller|