Sunday, September 26, 2010

Travel Tips: Patong

Q: What has two legs, a rat's tail and a shopping bag full of Chang stubbies?
A: The man of my dreams!


Just kidding, folks. Unfortunately some other lucky lady scooped him up. But, this perfectly describes the summer clientele of my next Travel Tips locale: Patong Beach, Thailand.


This golden dream is located on the island of Phuket, a veritable beacon to the world's classiest folks. Patong has none of that Euro-trash you find stinking up the Italian and French Rivieras with their luxury yachts and designer fashions. No, no! Patong shuns these folks and bids them adieu with one dismissive wave of its acrylic-nailed paw.  No spray tan, no cornrows - no entry, my friend.

Based on the promise of such high standards, my wife and I donned our best counterfeit Heineken tank tops and waded in to the fray. Would we be accepted? Would our sunglasses burns be large, and ghastly pale, enough? Could we drink an entire bucket of Thai moonshine and earn our keep amongst the throngs of debonaire young chaps making urbane small talk until the wee hours?


These were among the weighty questions plaguing us as we arrived in Patong.

We decided to stay at a guesthouse recommended by the bible of all well-heeled global gallavanters: The Lonely Planet. Casa Jip was described as an "Italian-run guesthouse where you'll really feel at home".


After being deposited in a charming alleyway and making nice with a rag-tag bunch of masseuses loitering at its entrance, we happened upon the proprietor himself. After a long minivan ride and hauling backpacks the size of middle-schoolers we were ready for this famous Italian "hospitality". Nothing fancy, perhaps a spot of antipasti and a splash of Prosecco.

Unfortunately it seemed we had underestimated how truly high class Patong really was. Mr. Jip must have seen through our cheap Forever 21 designer knock-offs and general pastiche of sophistication. When we politley asked if we could inspect our lodgings for the evening, he deigned only to show us a laminated 5x8 glossy of what would, allegedly, be our room.


After much pleading (and me busting out the ole New Zealand passport - it's a better character reference than one's own mother), he reluctantly let us go on a supervised viewing of the accommodations. As we sheepishly trudged up the stairs he yelled behind us, "Don't jump on the bed! And don't touch anything!" How did he know that the first thing we do when looking at hotels is to jump on the bed and rub ourselves all over the furnishings?

The room itself had linoleum floors, no visible vermin and a basket of Pringles - luxury! Upon our check in Mr. Jip told us that his precautions were simply the result of people asking to see the room and then promptly bouncing on the bed and absconding with the contents of the mini bar. My relatives could have told me they had been to Phuket before!

Once we had got settled, it was time to venture out and see Patong's famous nightlife.


*These guys are having fun taking it all in

Patong Beach is like the Monte Carlo of South East Asia but, as they say in Thailand, "Same same, but different". During the day the tourists get their tan on and mainline horse tranquilizers while taking in a spot of shopping in one of the many designer boutiques.


But it's at night that Patong really comes alive. If you're looking for entertainment there's really only one place to go: Bangla Road. Don your best fake Ed Hardy shirt and shants and get gussied up - those ladyboys don't grab just anyone's junk, you know.


* Exhibit A: this young chap's fresh Lacoste draws all the katoeys. Also, good lord what is that thing to the left?? The Thai Joker?

Bangla Road is a neon dream. Ringed by shanty bar after shanty bar, the main drag is packed with the world's finest people. Small children tug at your trouser legs in joy while offering you tickets to all manner of "shows". It's just like New York's theater district; Patong is truly a cultural capital. Oddly, many of them involve women playing ping pong; it seems to be quite a popular sport in Thailand and, strangely, only appears to be played at night in back-alley clubs. The mothers of these scamps hawk handicrafts from the hill tribes they were forced to abandon in order to come to the big smoke.

My wife and I settled on an aptly named bar called The Shipwreck, lured in by its throngs of patrons. "Gee", we said to each other, "This looks like the place to be!" The Shipwreck bills itself as a place where one can "Enjoy cocktails in a hassle free, "hustler" free, environment." We pressed on gamely, hoping noone could peg us as hustlers before we had time to order our Buttery Nipple shots. As an added bonus, it was also filled with oodles of superfly hotmasters (as shown below):


* Nothing untoward going on here. No siree - I'm sure that sweaty, balding fellow wearing his best free T-shirt gets nubile young Thai women falling all over him all.the.time.

It turned out that the reason for The Shipwreck's popularity wasn't so much what was going on inside, but rather as they put it the fact that it is "A cool, comfortable, clean, place to enjoy the evening and watch everyone and "everything" ??? walk by. !!! [punctation courtesy of The Shipwreck bar webmaster] Yes, it turns out that the bar looks out directly on to this:

and this:




meaning that one can avoid those pesky "entrance fees" that people tend to charge to watch half naked people twirl around on poles. 

With all that competition, my wife and I just looked like regular, Hollywood Boulevard trannies who had gotten lazy with our makeup. We were about to leave when we were accosted by a lovable band of bogans direct from FNQ. As we made their acquaintance and breathed in their Lynx-scented air, the dulcet sounds of Daddy Cool's "Eagle Rock" began to fill the surrounds. As if prompted by an invisible hand, the Aussies simultaneously dropped their pants and began what I can only assume was a tighty-wighty clad Queenslandian mating dance.

It turns out the "Eagle Drop" is a fully fledged institution in the nether regions of my homeland. In fact, in keeping with the Australian government's members' tradition of embarrassing themselves whenever possible it turns out that Brisbane City Councilman Matthew Bourke was caught dropping his daks in the very same tradition.


*Uh-Oh: The horror is etched on Matthew Bourke's face (right) as the incriminating photo is snapped. 

These bastions of felicity must have had enough of The Shipwreck's
sick tunes and sumptuous decor because they invited us to tag along to another bar named Suzy Wong's. Although listening to Barnsey's greatest hits, Livin' on a Prayer and Darryl Braithwaite's seminal 90s hit Horses is pretty much my idea of paradise, I figured we should step outside our comfort zones and allow this mysterious  Miss Wong to school us on some traditional Thai culture.

Upon entering Suzy Wong's a piece of what seemed to be PVC tubing was thrust into our hands. "Oh goody!" I thought. "I bet they're going to show us how to play in a piphat mai khaeng!", the traditional Thai percussion group. I could already hear the well-practised thwaks of the Taphon in the distance. 

The Aussies were getting quite excited as we pushed through a vinyl curtain into the darkness. It turns out that Suzy Wong's is also known as "the original ass-smacking fun bar". Instead of working on absorbing Thai culture, I was presented with the opportunity to beat an innocent young woman with a length of tubing. Usually I welcome, nay relish, a chance to dabble in random violence, but this time I became overwhelmed with loneliness and a general sense of melancholy. I found myself wondering what the Manimal was up to back in Brooklyn...


Just chillin'...

My wife and I made a hasty exit, dodged the children hosing dried vomit off the street and made our way back to the luxury of Casa Jip. The next morning we packed our rags into bindles and bid adieu to Patong, vowing that one day we would return as big shots, contenders even, worthy of the glitz and glamour of this South East Asian gem. We were sad to leave, of course, but as Joe tells Pip, "life is made of ever so many partings welded together." Ko Phi Phi beckoned, promising fluro shows and joiners and more Travel Tips galore.