Patong is the most commercialised beach in Phuket. The beach itself is broad and spacious and all the regular beach side distractions such as jet skis and paragliding are readily available.
Thawiwong Road runs along side the beach and on the other side of this and this is packed with all manner of souvenir and clothing shops as well as a wide variety of places to eat and drink.
There are a huge number of diving operations that cater both to the experienced diver and complete beginner. These, and a plethora of other activities, can be organised from just about anywhere since almost everyone in Patong seems to be a booking agent.
Right in the middle of Patong is Soi Bangla, the epicentre of Phuket nightlife. The one way street runs in from the beach. It is not a busy road but even so it is closed to traffic in the evening. There are numerous bars on the right as you walk away from the beach. Places with names like The Shipwreck and Happy House are usually open and ready to start serving customers shortly after breakfast.
But the real action is on a series of sois and alleyways to the left after Scruffy Murphy’s. These soi are filled with beer bars many of which have platforms for dancers. Many of the them also have ago-go bars on either side.
They don’t really get going until around nine o’clock in the evening but each one seems to have its own character. One of the most popular is Soi Crocodile. A large ladyboy disco at the far end of the soi had been burned down a few days before my last visit but the dancing pole at the top of the soi was still attracting crowds of on lookers.
Here, a few ladyboys get up to dance and generally ham it up for the benefit of tourists. As soon as the cameras start to flash the collection plate comes out. If that fills up nicely then the ladyboys start to flash.
Soi Tiger has been decorated to look like you are in a cave. Sharkeys, at the top of the soi is one of the few places where the dancers wear a uniform rather than regular clothes. In this case it is a school uniform.
If you enjoy having your bottom pinched take a stroll along Soi Sea Dragon.
The lady drinks in Phuket are more expensive than elsewhere but not by a huge margin. There is however one feature that I have not noticed anywhere else. Each bar has a bell. This in itself is not uncommon, normally if a person rings it he has to buy a drink for everyone in the pub. In Phuket you pay a flat fee of 1,000 baht which buys all the girls a drink.
Of course anyone ringing the bell becomes an instant hero and all the girls come over and tell you that you “have big heart”.
At the very top of Soi Bangla on the corner of Rat-U-Thit Songroi Pi Road is the Bangla Boxing Stadium where Muay Thai fights are held nightly
Soi Cowboy reminds me of what Patpong used to be like a long time ago. A fellow can stagger happily from one side to the other with only the occasional motorbike to knock you over. Groups of girls hang about outside the bars enticing customers in the various bars, food vendors congregate and street kids sell roses for the customers to give to the objects of their desire.
For a long time an area of bar beers covered the waste ground above what is now Sukhumvit MRT. These have now been closed down (they were probably illegal anyway) and the area boarded up. But, unable to take “no” for an answer, few enterprising souls put portable bars and tables right there on the street corner. I don’t know what time close up but since they are obviously breaking the law by being there in the first place, there is probably no reason why they should observe the same closing time imposed on the other bar districts.
At the other end on Soi 23 there are some rather nice restaurants. Two to note are; Fish and Chips, probably the most authentic British style fish and chips you’ll get this far from the North Sea. It’s on the left a few doors up from the service station. The other Le Dalat Indochine on the other side at number 14. A very classy restaurant that unashamedly celebrates the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine.
Cowboy itself is quite a small strip but it is packed with bars. Small bars, big bars, bars where you can sit and watch live Premier League Soccer on Saturday nights, bars where you can play pool and of course bars where you can play with the staff. There are nay-sayers who will insist that the girls aren’t as cute in Cowboy but I think that’s a load of old tosh. I like Cowboy because its a little more laid back and not as frantic as Nana or Patpong.