Phuket Re-Opens

Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand Credit: James Patrick
King Bhumibol Street Art - A tribute to Thailand's longest reigning king.
July 2021.

In order to understand what the people of Phuket had been going through during the past year, and to discover who had been successful during very difficult times, I set out to ask.

"Life in Phuket" Short Interview Series:

Motorcycle Service & Accessory Shop

The Hotel General Manager

Coffee Shop Manager

"A Portrait of.." Series:

In-depth Q&A's and longform interviews.

A Portrait of Richie, co-founder of the eponymous "Richie and Maybelle" YouTube channel and 'Instagrammable' "Maybelle's Coffee Garden", Phuket, Thailand.

A Portrait of Tim Newton. Based on the island of Phuket, Thailand, Tim Newton is founder of theThaiger.com, Thailand's leading English-language digital media outlet. I asked him how he built his popular YouTube channel and website.

Karon or Three Bays Viewpoint, Phuket, Thailand
Karon or Three Bays Viewpoint, Phuket, Thailand

A lot of people want to know, what does the island look like now? Without question, the economy is depressed. Many businesses are shuttered. Bars, restaurants, and late night haunts are closed. How many will come back once tourism builds up is anyone's guess. Will tourism build up to previous levels? Who knows?Those who have been to Thailand before will recognise the ubiquitous 7/Eleven stores. As an adjunct to serious measurement I can say that many were closed.

Nonetheless, the island is probably more beautiful now than it has been in the past decade. Birds, fish, and animals are flourishing. The hillsides are verdant. Buildings that are unoccupied are rapidly being re-wilded. Road traffic outside of Phuket town was light. What were very busy roads linking the beaches are now sedate. Is it a good time to visit the island? I would say that it is.

Phuket Beaches

Under re-organisation. There are so many beaches!

Elephants

Before dawn one morning on my way to Surin Beach I noticed some elephants grazing on a hill beside the road. With very limited tourism and little income, how were the elephants being cared for? Were they in good shape?

Oncoming Elephant, Phuket, Thailand
Oncoming elephant, Phuket, Thailand.

For a while I watched a mahoot clearing the ground around one of his elephants. He was working hard. After a while I asked him if I could take some photographs. He motioned to me that it was fine.

Since it was daybreak the elephants were busy eating spread out across the hillside. Some were tethered. Others were free to roam. The speed at which they could move across the steep ground surprised me. There was no chance I could out-run one.

I walked up the hillside. Behind a large bush was a large male elephant. He eyed me. I backed away quietly.

 
Phuket Old Town

Phuket Old Town is a mix of brown teak timber houses and white neo-classical façades thrown like strings of bright beads across the town embellished with Chinese colonial, traditional Portuguese, and European architecture. The buildings tell of arrivals over past centuries; Sumatran traders, Burmese invaders, Chinese tin barons, a mix of Europeans who competed with colonial ambition long before tasteless twentieth century property developers arrived.

Colourful shophouse fronts in Phuket Old Town, Thailand.

A convenient maritime stop between India and China, the island of Phuket is thought to have been inhabited for three thousand years. First recorded as Tagola Cape by Claudius Ptolemy writing in the first century AD, the island has been known variously as Maneekram, Jungceylon, Thalang, and finally, Phuket from the Malay "Bukit" meaning hill.

From the late fifteenth century the confluence of geography, trade, and natural resources has made Phuket island the temporary home to sailors and itinerant traders, merchants and mercenaries, and explorers, adventurers and ne'er-do-wells from near and far. And now, in the present day pandemic, the natural advantage of the island has made it an ideal place to quarantine visitors to Thailand. The "Phuket Sandbox" opened on 1st July 2021.

At this time of year hot, humid, lush foliage burns bright green on the hills and, as every year, wet season squalls soon arrive to flog rigging, boats, and men.