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Walking on the Wild Side

Category: , Posted:13 Aug 2011 | 06:00 am

Summer is with us, at least in name, in this land of sporadic rays of sunshine and thunderstorms. It's easy to drift into those lines from Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side and be mesmerized by the solid groove of a street side symphony.
The sax break awakens me from a wistful dream of days gone by, or was it the cooing of those fabulous backup singers?
Those who know me are aware that I am a coffee shop junkie. It would be unusual to drive past Twinpalms Bake or Woody's Sandwich Shoppe, and not see the silver tones of my muddy SUV parked outside either establishment.
Caffeinating has become somewhat of a religious experience, as occasional breaks in the day find me sipping a strong fragrant brew. Home-style just isn't the same even with a shiny new espresso machine sitting on my kitchen counter.
Perhaps it's the froth. Grail-like, creating that airy milk topping remains a skill beyond reach for me, similar to playing jazz on the piano or painting landscapes. Deeming it all too elusive I've been relegated to the role of consumer or perhaps, latt aficionado with an air of continental elitism.
From a corner seat with a near 180 degree view of the entrance road to Laguna Phuket, I notice the uplift of tourists walking in the area. And over the past year these numbers of tourists taking to the streets seem to be growing.
Entering Lotus Express in Cherngtalay, a similar passage has started up this last high season as tourists from Bangtao's hotels line up in roadside processions and venture into the greater world outside their package tours.
Perhaps you can say it's a move to accommodate the mass market of visitors, but I think in some ways travelers are turning on to more existential experiences these days. That, and the fact that there are more Asian visitors effecting dramatic change away from the old days of sun-worshipping Europeans basking on the beach for weeks on end.
Tourists from nearby hotels wake up in the morning and want to know what to do and where to go for a day full of activity. Mantras of "shop till you drop" and "just get out and see what's out there" are evident.
Unfortunately the island is not geared up for this. For so many years the climb into a self-imposed exile of "getting away from it all" meant shutting off the local docudrama. Interactions with locals were limited to exchanging greetings with the hotel staff at the breakfast buffet.
Suddenly, a collision of cultures and a shift in tourism make us rethink Phuket infrastructure: we need to consider sidewalks to the hallowed halls of upscale hotels, pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, biking paths and other ways to improve the tourist experience.
It's all too easy for those of us who live here to dismiss the unique culture and attributes of Phuket. Our guests save their money to travel great distances to see more than a coconut tree on the beach, or to look at wandering tribes of families as they dodge water puddles.
A few weeks ago I was in a luxury resort picking up a friend and I saw a Chinese couple approach the front desk carrying a mangosteen and they asked the smiling receptionist where they could buy more of the fruit.
The reaction of course went from the perplexed to the absurd: from calls to the purchasing department, to a discussion about an absent manager, and the final death knell "No have." The guests walked away clearly disappointed.
From the front entrance of the hotel, about 100 meters away, was a local night market and I couldn't help but notice a cart full of mangosteens brightly displayed for all to see.
Perhaps a wakeup call is needed to envisage the new face of Phuket tourism and to inspire us to adopt ways to integrate local experiences into their stays. Take a moment to appreciate what motivates travelers to come to Thailand and understand: it's not just for the beach but for a broader texture of experiences.

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