Island View: Phuket Culture Shock

The following opinion piece, conducted by the Siamerican, was initially published in the Island View column of the Phuket Gazette newspaper’s April 28 – May 4, 2012 edition.

A GOOD friend of mine, a fellow American who lives in Bangkok, came to visit me in Phuket over the Songkran holiday. Even though he had lived, studied and worked in Central Thailand for the better part of a decade, Phuket was new territory to him.

Due to associations with expensive, overcrowded mass tourism and the infamous reputation of the so-called tuk-tuk mafia, my friend had judged Phuket long before ever coming here.

My friend, who has long been ingrained and cultured to the “Bangkok way”, was a prime candidate for culture shock – one that is specific to the island. In this respect, most expats and Thais coming from Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand are vulnerable to this malady.

Phuket culture shock can be a miserable experience, and will quickly ruin a perfectly good holiday if you don’t nip it in the butt early. The most obvious symptom is when one insists on comparing Phuket with “normal Thailand”. Examples include: “But in Pattaya they…”; “In Bangkok, you can…”; “In Chiang Mai, this would only cost…,” and “This would never happen in…” et cetera ad nauseum.

Comparing and contrasting is not the problem; it is the impossible expectations and subsequent cringing forehead lines that arise from doing so. But it is possible to avoid this misery if you remember Phuket’s golden rule: Phuket is Phuket. It is not Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Pattaya.

Phuket residents, operators and officers alike have their own way of doing things here, and considering the amount of money that the province generates for the country, we in Phuket feel entitled to being “special”, to say the least. Once you accept this reality and stop expecting Phuket to be like any other place – in Thailand or elsewhere – you’ll quickly find a lot of your “culture shock” troubles disappear.

But of course my friend had to learn the hard way. After his first day at Nai Harn Beach, he found himself in a sour mood after paying 500 baht for a ride back into town. After all, he argued, the same trip in Bangkok would only have cost… cringe. On his second day, he only narrowly escaped by his reckoning being murdered by a Patong tuktuk driver after a dispute … cringe again… if only he had remembered the golden rule.

I reminded my friend that – luckily for us Americans – more Koreans prefer Phuket over Bangkok. The result is trans-Pacific flights back to the US via Seoul from Phuket can be up to 10,000 baht cheaper than flying out of Bangkok, Singapore or anywhere else in the region. Indeed, Phuket is special.

Jesse says:

It was a taxi driver, and you seem to want to denigrate the situation that occurred. That guy was nuts. Either way, nice Op-Ed, was a fun read.