Patong is not a place we would choose for a vacation – its main attraction is the beach, but sex tourism comes in a close second. We chose it deliberately as a place to get some things accomplished with ADSL internet in our room, few sites to distract us, and a beach within ten minutes walk when we needed a break.
We were surprised by Patong’s overdevelopment. Many areas had been rebuilt bigger and “better” after the tsunami (2004), as if no one learned any lessons about responsible planning and building. It looked more like the New Jersey shore than Thailand, save the tsunami evacuation sign on every corner.
The tourist population consisted heavily of single western men, with a Thai woman or “katoey” (transsexual man) on the arm. Scandinavian, British and German men were well-represented. We spoke to several who come each year for 2-3 months. For a country where prostitution is illegal but “special services” are not, this whole scene was over the top.
Eating on a Budget in Patong
Patong’s restaurants are expensive and often unremarkable. We quickly sought out local food stands and self-catering instead and were rewarded with some surprisingly good food.
The sushi counter at the newly build Carrefour in Jungceylon shopping center blew us away. We ate tuna and salmon sashimi almost daily. Although buying sushi at a grocery store may disgust some purists, this sashimi was clean, fresh and remarkably tender. Salmon was buttery and the varieties of tuna were all satisfyingly clean. We could both eat well for $6-$7, making it one of the cheapest meals in all of Patong.
We made a habit of yogurt, fruit and muesli each morning for breakfast, including two to three kinds of fresh tropical fruits from the stand just down the street. The couple who owned the fruit stand began to predict what we wanted before we opened our mouths – papaya or pineapple, watermelon or dragon fruit, melon or mango.
The food stalls down the street from our guesthouse dished out local specialties all for around $1. A heaping portion of pad Thai with fresh squid and mussels was only 40 BHT ($1.15). We worked our way up from one chili pepper to two at the green papaya salad stand, earning a little respect. The soup stand on the corner served beautiful bowls of steaming noodle soup topped off with Thai basil and fresh long beans (also about $1). The friendly curry stand a few doors down offered three different curries each day. We earned their respect on the first day by choosing the spiciest kind of curry on offer. Afterwards, we got waves and greetings in Thai each time we walked by.
In front of Carrefour was a small strip of food stalls making food to order. We became regulars at the one stall, where the owner dished up virtually anything on request. It all came out nicely and spiced as we liked. Fried rice with shrimp, squid and vegetables, or a spicy chicken curry with Asian eggplant. While we could both eat extremely well, including fruit shakes, for $2-$3, most restaurants were charging two to four times as much for the same.
We were occasionally tempted by the endless choices of western restaurants, including Pen and Franks (Nenai Road), recommended to us for remarkably gooey lasagna. Swede-owned, their lasagne was the real deal; eight layers filled with a rich, ground beef and pork in a béchamel sauce.
Once we figured out where to fill our curry, pasta and sushi cravings, we decided it was time to move on.
Video – Patong and Southern Thai Street Food
Practical Details – Recommended Accommodation in Patong
How to get there: Air Asia or Thai Airlines from Bangkok to Phuket. Take the train from Bangkok to Suratthani and transfer by bus to Phuket town.
Where to stay: We stayed at Ferb Guesthouse for the ADSL connection in the room. It is about a 10-minute walk to the beach, but conveniently located for food (next to Carrefour and Banzaan Food Market) and other services.
Where to eat: See above.
What to do: Patong’s white sand beach and clear, blue waters beckon most visitors. And, if sex tourism if your thing – hetero or homo – this is the place.