Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 22nd – Riding Elephants in Phuket

From our short time here in Phuket, you get the impression that this beautiful holiday island is becoming a bit of a victim of its own success. The people I encountered appear to have lost some of the warmth that usually makes visiting Thailand such a joy – I guess that 40 years of high impact tourism (a tourist trade that appears to be gathering pace now that the Russian market has discovered Phuket in a big way), has meant that people have grown a little weary of us visitors.

I took a trip that visited the Buddhist temple at Chalong, and then went on an elephant safari. The Wat at Chalong was the typical exuberant extravaganza of soaring spires, coloured glass, and loads of gold Buddhas in various reposes, but it seemed to be more aimed at us photo-snapping tourists than at the local worshippers, who must have been outnumbered 20 to one.

The elephant safari was good fun, even though it felt like a bit of a tourist factory churning through the coach parties – any ride on these magnificent lumbering beasts is always entertaining, and then seeing the elephants do various tricks with footballs, darts, basketballs etc, showed you just how intelligent they are, even if I'm always left with a little pang of guilt that they're only here for my entertainment. Nevertheless, the elephants looked healthy and well-cared for, and there was none of the less dignified tricks and dancing, or elephants reduced to mindless rocking, than I've experienced elsewhere on the island.

It will be interesting to see what direction Phuket takes in the next decade – will it continue to head down the road of the mainstream tourist market, and introduce ever-tackier entertainment, or will it head upmarket, and go after a more refined (and more lucrative) market?