“Oh, by the way, in Bangkok, the Thai military just declared Martial Law.”
That Viber message was sandwiched in between the “Hi, hope you got there safely!” and “While there, try to at least have fun” from my partner of 11 years, who was sweetly worried that I have been on the road to Nai Yang, Phuket since 2:00 AM in Manila (it was already past 2:00 PM in Thailand), and yet – as usual – still excited for me whenever I travel.
“Oh, there’s Martial Law in Thailand?” was my question. I have yet to turn on the TV (and while I had glimpses of newspapers at the airports, due to the limitations of print media, this won’t be covered until the following day), or even surfed any online sites, so I was admittedly unaware.
Unaware particularly since I was on the island of Phuket, which seemed… detached from the world (or at least from the goings-on in Bangkok).
At the airport, at least four planes arrived at the same time as ours did – and, basing my observation on the nationalities of the people queuing at the Customs, three of these planes (not ours) were filled mostly with Russian tourists. It was somewhat surreal to actually hear some of the most (sorry for the use of the word) redneck-looking men speak in broken English about their desire to “see beautiful katoey”.
In Thailand, “katoey” is the term generally (and widely) used to refer to transgender women or, at times, effeminate gay men.
“Can have one,” their guide loudly said, also in broken English, as he led them to their rented van, met with guffaws – and I wasn’t sure if he meant (and the way they understood him was) that they could “see” the katoey, or that they can “have” a katoey.
The scene (that fascination with members of the LGBTQ community) seemed somewhat disconnected, somewhat detached from the LGBTQ-hating impression one may have of strapping Russian men, considering the Vladimir Putin-led incitement of LGBTQphobia in that part of the world.
But – again – this is on an island that seemed… somewhat disconnected with the rest of Thailand.
Because there is a world of “in between” in Nai Yang, Phuket.
Phuket is, of course, largely known as a party venue – somewhere in between Bangkok and Pattaya. Yes, here, things can get sleazy (think of Bangkok’s ping pong ball spitting vaginas), to “simply” cruise-y (consider the “Want have fun tonight?” picking up that happens at the beaches of Pattaya). But Phuket – no matter that it is but an island – actually has more to offer than just the parties.
On two sides of the island (generally speaking), they have Phuket Town and Patong Beach that are, if we want to be (stereotypically) Biblical, both centers of sin. That is, they have offerings for the joys of the flesh – those go-go bars, live (sex) shows, and whatever it is that may tickle your fancy.
But Phuket is also a take-off point of everything “untouched” (or at least largely untouched) in Thailand. Think Kho Phi-Phi – reminiscent of Palawan’s Coron because the place is largely underdeveloped to only highlight what’s naturally beautiful there. Yes, it isn’t as big as Palawan; but the natural offerings abound (think: diving, snorkeling, picnic by the beach…).
And then there’s Nai Yang Beach, which boasts the best of both worlds.
Along the beach, you’d find a strip of restos, bars, restobars, spas, saunas… and everything that makes Patong Beach, well, “sleazy”. With them are the people offering the accompanying services – from the barely clad waitresses (at least in a handful of bars) to the (occasional) sex workers plying their wares (that is, themselves) on the street. But, somewhat peculiarly, everything seems to happen here with… caution. As if no one wants to make any loud (or discernible) noise.
And so you’d see honeymooners walking by the beach. Or vendors – as they do in Bangkok – sell Som Tam or Pad Thai or whatever, prepared/cooked right in front of you as you wait. Or windsurfers attempting to brave the (often calm) waters. Or children – after they get off school – chase crabs that surface, and then hide in the (not too white) sandy shore. Or tourists (many from the West) try to get the most out of the sun. Or Western men walking hand-in-hand with their katoey girlfriends, checking the menus of this or that resto, before deciding to move elsewhere if nothing was liked.
This place has, as was said, an “in between” appeal.
And this may be why Nai Yang is worth a visit.
Because if Phuket’s Patong Beach and Phuket Town are too noisy for you; or if the outlying attractions (like Kho Phi-Phi) are too quiet for you, then go for what’s in between.
On my second day in Nai Yang, people started talking about the Martial Law declared by the Thai military in Bangkok. Mind you, these people who talked about this development were the tourists, worried about whether what happened there will eventually affect this place.
But while lost in this wet market near Nai Yang Beach, I couldn’t help but notice how everything continued to move at a slow pace.
“Try! Try!” At least five Thai vendors told (ordered, even) me, shoving what they were selling in my hand for me to taste them. We couldn’t properly communicate – me speaking in English, and them not knowing how to answer my inquiries, and so they just make me taste what they were selling so I can decide if I liked them enough to buy more of the same. Occasionally, I turned red; at times also coughing from the chili coating the food offered to me. And then they laughed at me, offering me water to drink. Though I thought that they just wanted me to shove more food down my throat. With chili-induced tears streaming from my eyes, all I could think was how my partner would appreciate the choices of good food that can be had here.
While buying Som Tam and Pad Thai from an ambulant vendor, I was again told to try another dish – this one, with thinly chopped veggies topped with uncooked shrimps. Again, right after a spoonful, I turned red and coughed. And again, they laughed at me; though a glass of beer was offered this time around. Pulutan comes to mind, Thai style.
While buying some drinks from a convenience store, I had to wait for the one manning the store as she was busy having her pedicure from someone living in a nearby house. She was apologetic – yet gaily laughing – when she finally attended to me, trying to chat with me in Thai, neglecting (or just not caring) that I don’t speak her language.
And then, when the day was through, while I was sitting by the beach, trying to enjoy the breeze that managed to cool the humid air, I saw two couples – one of the Russian men from the airport was with a friend of his (I assumed), and two katoeys clinging onto them. Now and then, the transwomen would disentangle themselves from their men, running – like kids having fun – to the water, and then run away as the waves approached them. They looked… carefree. A few times, the men joined them too, laughing as they tried to tell them in booming voices to “Enjoy the water! Enjoy the water!”.
Because of what we hear (about the plight of LGBTQ people) from Russia, it seemed so out of character. Heck, because of what we hear from Bangkok, the entire scene seemed so out of character.
But then again, this is Nai Yang, which boasts the beauty of “in between”…