Kamala beach is empty. There’s a good reason. I would not find out why until the end of my short stay on the west coast of Phuket, Thailand.
July 7th, 2015: I boarded a shuttle bus from the Swissotel by Kamala beach to drop me off at downtown Patong beach. The drive is about fifteen minutes, and essentially crosses a mountain that sits between Patong and Kamala. I disembarked at the Jungceylon shopping mall, and stopped for some Tom Yam spicy shrimp soup with rice, and had a lukewarm chai tea. Every vendor wanted me to book Phi Phi island tours with them, but instead, I meandered down to Patong beach, plonked my belongings on the sand, stripped and dashed into the sea. The waves were big and kite surfers passed close-by. I got out, wrapped a sarong around me and headed straight for the beach tourist stores…
The sun dries you off so quickly that you can actually walk out of the sea and directly into the street.
I devoured an ice-cream, because it was melting so quickly, and and purchased two beautiful, machine-embroidered handbags from a local Thai vendor. After picking up a falafel wrap at a local Arabic restaurant, I rejoined my shuttle to return to the Swissotel at Kamala.
I took a quick dip in the hotel pool, I ventured out to Kamala beach, a seven minute walk from the hotel. To get there, I followed a snaking path, dotted with scattered tourist shops, and ducked under a small white bridge, whereupon, I emerged onto the beach itself. It was almost completely empty, a complete contrast with bustling Patong.
After taking another dip in the ocean, I followed a path in pursuit of civilization in greater quantities. It was surrounded by tall foliage on one side and a wall on the other, running adjacent to the main road. A curve in the path invited a near-miss collision with a local Thai lady riding a motorbike along the path. I avoided her just in time, and the incident reminded me of another occasion, when a camel (and rider) came tearing down the pedestrian foot path in Aqaba, and I jumped out of the way just in time! This local path led to a small beach village with pretty yellow houses and signs giving directions of evacuation routes in the event of a sudden Tsunami.
After snooping around a cluster of local houses, I sat on a terrace of a local restaurant overlooking the beach. The view was stunning and I ordered some soup. An Anglophone fella was sitting at a nearby table, and we soon got chatting.
He quickly explained that his name was JIm, that he was of Mediterranean decent and that he was a wealthy, retired news caster from New Zealand. He now lived in Phuket and he began to share his opinions about Thais with me. He had lived in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand with his then Thai girlfriend, but now, his ex. He explained that something terrible had happened to them and it had destroyed their romantic relationship, but he looked after her financially before leaving her. Now, Jim has another Thai girlfriend, one which he intends to leave, but of course, not before looking after her financially too.
He added that he has two villas in Phuket, the purchase of which was a huge mistake. Jim explained that the agent that had sweet-talked him into making this property investment died of a meth or coke overdose shortly thereafter, so Jim suddenly found himself tied-down to these two properties, preventing him from relocating any time soon.
He had helped his girlfriend (either the current one – or perhaps one prior – I could not keep his love life straight in my head) set up a massage business on Kamala beach. This was same empty beach, we were now watching the sunset from, save for a few established restaurants. He continued that Kamala had been buzzing with business along the entire beach, but that about one and a half years ago, when the Thai military declared Martial Law, they, the military, arrived on the beach and demanded that all non tax-paying Thai businesses which had no right selling their services had one week to move their establishments. A bulldozer would flatten any transgressors! Sure enough, the military returned a week later and decimated the buzzing tourism and livelihoods of many local Thais who didn’t have larger, tax-paying properties. Jim said that it was a real shame, and that if I could only have seen the beach he was describing only two years earlier, I would have been shocked by the change!
Jim had some views about Thai women, and being a lady’s man, I expect that he was something of an authority on the issue. He explained that Thai women only ever think of money. They will chew you up and split you out once your money runs out. He presented the situation of his Western friend who has a Thai wife. She is currently urging him to sell his property so that she can give the money to her sister. Jim gave the impression that Thai women can be quite ruthless.
He also had some interesting incites on Thai police and local prison systems. He confessed that he has been a functioning weed smoker for 20 plus years, and that despite very strict Thai laws on what many countries consider to be a class C drug, he can acquire marijuana from a dealer he trusts in Bangkok.
He added that he has a very good ex-pat friend that he has known for years, and this friend also smokes weed. This friend was stopped by local Thai police about a year ago, and he was caught with possession of weed. The friend was taken to the local police station, from which, he called Jim. The friend explained what had happened and begged Jim to get hold of enough funds to bribe the police to let him go.
It was a Sunday, and Jim pointed out that he didn’t have that kind of cash kicking around his house. He’d have to visit the bank the following morning, when they open. His friend explained that bribing the police the next day would be too late, that he would be ‘processed’ before he could acquire and present a bribe. Jim said that that’s exactly what happened. They processed him, and once that happened, bribery would have to occur on a much larger scale. You see, he explained, you have to bribe the judge, the jury and the senior police officers. Had Jim’s friend been successful at bribing the police in the initial stages, the overall cost would have been much lower. Now, Jim’s friend is facing twenty-five years incarceration if he does not get off at the approaching upcoming trial.
He has been in prison for about a year. Jim has tried to visit him, but only family are allowed to see him. His sister visited, and Jim was able to press her for an update. She reported that he now shares a very small room with many prisoners squeezed in together. If you can lie down on the floor to sleep, you have to adopt a fetal position, as there’s just no space for all the bodies combined to lie down. The toilet is in the same room and there is no window. Jim’s friend is in this room every day, from 4pm to 10am the following day. The only mercy in that place is that the prisoners are allowed to be outside for several hours per day.
We watched a wedding photo-shoot, as Jim’s stories struck the fear of God into me. I felt that I would never risk taking illegal substances in Thailand. Before parting, Jim explained that, were he single, he would have attempted to charm me… He drove me back to my resort and we parted ways. What a day!
*I have changed some names and details for anonymity reasons*