Patong in the pandemic: Marooned in a Thai paradise

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This morning I awoke to a message from my friend Max Williams who you know as a regular travel writer for YourLifeChoices. As world travel began to grind to a halt last month, with the onset of covid-19, Max and Jenny decided to err on the side of caution and cancel their trip to Phuket.

The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it was a wise decision. However, rather than disappoint readers on missing his coverage of Phuket, who better to conscript as a surrogate foreign correspondent (a Thai resident for six years) than Pete! Make it light-hearted and topical, he said. What a brief during a global pandemic! Oh, my Buddha!

So, here I sit on my condominium balcony in Patong, Notebook on my lap, listening to the sound of sizzling emanating from the kitchenette. My Thai partner, Tean, has found solace in cooking during this period of isolation. Anyone familiar with Thailand will know the inherent love of food Thais possess. It is ingrained within their culture. Her Thai culinary skills are exemplary, but she’s keen to diversify and is attempting lasagne for the first time after viewing a YouTube video. Thais are versatile and I have no doubt it will be a success.

Beyond my balcony, the panoramic view appears unchanged and gives no indication of the current crisis, unless you listen. The motorbike traffic noise has diminished, as has the constant drone of air-conditioners and din of construction sites. A myriad of sounds has now changed the aural landscape. Nearby, swifts twitter as they dart about, children giggle, distance conversations, squirrels and a symphony of cicadas join other wildlife calls from the adjacent jungle. Either the local fauna is moving closer or the new ‘quiet’ has made it more noticeable. Bang! Now an electricity outage as a local transformer blows a fuse. Complete and eerie silence.

bangla rd

bangla rd during pandemic

Patong is a tourist and resort town, and the gateway to the islands of Phang Nga Bay. Located on the south-west coast of Phuket and facing the Andaman Sea, it is nestled between two headlands that form a wineglass-shaped bay. The surrounding hills are covered with lush, verdant rainforest and the town is edged with a 3km white sandy beach. The colours here are vivid and the climate wraps itself around you like a welcoming shroud. It’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph here.

patong beach closure

April is traditionally a time of celebration with Songkran, the Thai new year and water festival, falling midway through the month. The place is usually packed with tourists and Thais enjoying their summer holiday break, but sadly this year celebrations have been officially cancelled. Alas, Phuket is in lockdown with the closure of Sarasin Bridge that connects to the mainland. Patong is now a ghost town, locked down within the lockdown, with all access points roadblocked, having been declared a covid-19 hotspot. Bangla Road, the main entertainment precinct, and most businesses were closed a few weeks ago as was the beach. Ironically, it’s never looked better and seems to be reverting to a pristine paradise of bygone days.

patong beach

Decrees under the state of emergency are implemented very quickly here as a friend and fellow Patong resident recently discovered. He was staying on Koh Lipe, a remote and somewhat deserted island near the Malaysian border, when the ferry company posted a ‘See You In August’ sign. Just imagine! Luckily, he made it off the island by speedboat and travelled to Ao Nang in Krabi, only to find out at 9pm that Phuket’s bridge would close at midnight. After an anxiety racked two-hour drive he made it back in time. In the opposite direction, there was a 5km column of traffic backed up waiting to exit the island.

For those of us marooned in paradise, the only entertainment left is to visit the supermarket; even that’s not so popular. With fully stocked shelves and no sign of panic buying, yesterday’s shopping saw me wandering alone down an aisle packed with toilet rolls, boxes of tissues, paper towels, wipes and hand sanitisers. I momentarily pondered being the envy of the Western world. Toilets here are equipped with handheld bidets. If only this concept was embraced in toilet paper dependent countries, the phenomenon of hoarding wouldn’t occur. In contrast, a friend makes his visits to the supermarket far more engaging than mine. The wearing of a face mask and temperature checks by security guards armed with handheld infrared monitors are compulsory before entry. My recalcitrant friend has taken to freezing his bandana and wears it for two minutes prior to the check, just to see the look on the guards’ faces. Last time his body temperature reading was 25°C degrees. He must have been a handful as a child!

temperature check at thai shopping centre

My same friend, who is a Korean resident but spends six months of the year in Patong, hasn’t been coping very well with the concept of staying put. He’s been busting to return to Seoul since ‘the curve has flattened’ there. Getting to the Phuket International Airport has proved almost impossible as no taxis are allowed in or out. Trying to appease his frustration, I suggested he walk to the roadblock and organise a friend to pick him up. There’s a huge risk, even if he made it to the airport, as the probability of being stranded in Bangkok is highly likely, given he’s booked to travel on the last day before all airport closures. Further investigation has revealed that upon arrival in Korea he will be fitted with a tracking device, which has since dampened his enthusiasm to return. Sometimes the reason for seemingly insurmountable delays in life are realised given time.

patong beach empty

With the focus of the media on the pandemic, most other news items pale into insignificance excepting two reports in Thailand last week. There were two rare occurrences relating to wildlife encounters in separate national parks that caught my attention. In Chiang Mai province, a group of firefighters on patrol were forced to scale a tree to escape a small herd of wild elephants and, in central Thailand, a man searching for plants and herbs in a forest experienced the return of an Indo-Chinese tiger to the park after an absence of 20 years. It was a bittersweet encounter with the endangered species as, unfortunately, it devoured him. What better incentive than to remain in isolation.

Thankfully, I’m well equipped with digital technology accoutrements to endure this hiatus, with Notebook, Netflix, camera gear and some hefty unread analogue books as back-up. However, I’m yearning to resume my morning beach walks and swims, and look forward to the prospect of boogie boarding again as surf starts this month with the monsoon season approaching. My BMW motorbike also awaits me.

Let’s hope, when all this is over, that COVID-19 hasn’t shrunk my clothes. 

What’s life like for you right now? Do you have any friends overseas who are sharing their stories with you? Why not share them with us, in the comments below?

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Total Comments: 15
  1. 0

    Patong a tropical paradise? Maybe more so now without the maddening crowds and rubbish on the beaches. Some friends live further south of Patong in Niharn/Rawai and that’s a tropical paradise even in the high season…but don’t tell anyone. Phuket is a great place overall, but I wouldn’t live in Patong.

  2. 0

    At the moment, Patong would do just fine.

  3. 0

    It is good to hear Nature is finally returning to Patong. As one who worked in Thailand for 22 years , I found Patong an unpleasant place before the virus, almost another country with very little to suggest one was even in Thailand. I always found Krabi and other places in the south much nicer, as they kept Thai characteristics rather than trying to become the Las Vegas of the Far East.

  4. 0

    Are the beaches closed for walks and swimming in Phuket? I know the beaches here in Qld are open to residents with distancing/crowd rules applied.

  5. 0

    “Marooned in paradise”..,. you have got to be kidding me, nowhere in Thailand could be called a paradise, especially Patong and phuket. Weather is always vile and unpleasant (stinking hot and humid), filth and rubbish everywhere, beaches polluted, third world standards of medicine, and third world standard of sewers… open sewers everywhere. Threat of tropical disease from the unclean conditions everywhere. To me the food is very unappealing. There are many places in the world I would prefer to Thailand or to most places in SE asia, but each to his own I guess.

  6. 0

    Thanks Peter,,,, You just make all this jealous people fuming he he he he …… SO this for all of you jealous people … HE HE HE HE HE now you can see why stay overseas is a lot better than retired living in Australia …. I travel all the time every 6 or more month in a year and Thailand is my prefer destination I am lock up at the moment (No choice) but just for you JJJJJ people to know I am in Nan province with a ZERO ZERO infected people and life is as normal here.

    Yes lots of bar girls ready to do anything for you for some money….. but understand that is a way of life for many of them …”DO NOT JUDGE” Understand and help others do not be Jealous Join Peter and I and many other Aussies that travel to Thailand and other Asian countries and stay or just passing and live here a very happy life….. Some surrounded with bar girls enjoying a good drink, dance and lots of pleasures that you jealous people can only dream or read on a magazine he hehe he …… In AU there are many many bar girls everywhere but not on the open they are in many massage parlors with a sign that is a reflexology massage Yes sure go and have a look so “DO NOT JUGDE” ….. Help other if you can.

    Thanks Peter great article….. They are fuming he he he he

  7. 0

    And just to add….. If you travel to any Asian country and expect the same structure as in Australia you are dreaming….. Coming to any Asian country for holidays or permanent retirement requires an adjustment to the local culture, living structures and much more ….so after reading some of your comments you never adjust to the places you been so you waste your money I suggest you guys stay in Australia and tour around do not travel to Asian countries unless you are prepare to adjust for the period you are here else you will be very unhappy and disappointed with your trip and will complain and get upset
    Not trying o upset anybody but it is true…. need to adjust to travel in Asia to make a happy holidays or permanent living

  8. 0

    Is boasting about the ability of getting bat girls a good thing? Some people see it as a modern form of slavery, some clearly do not. Personally, I feel the sex for sale industry can never compare to a loving relationship in which both partners actually want to be with the other, rather than what is in the wallet.
    Thailand has many wondrous things to experience, but travellers need also to be aware of that country’s downside; the enormous gap between rich and poor,cthe terrible state of the environment, the huge problem of noise pollution, corruption beyond belief at all levels, and the list could go on.
    If you want to help poor people there are many ways of doing that without supporting the mafia-run bar girl / boy industry.

    • 0

      Wowowo maybe all correct but is a way of life in a lot of countries in Asia, South America and many other countries in the world….. We live in a develop country with many great things and most of them material to satisfy our egos, Big houses, clean environment, big incomes, big retirement payments, good health support and more and more ….. In Asia South America and many other countries of the world the reality of life is totally different.

      In Asia and other countries small plate of Rice is a rich meal for many people share what they have (Food Clothes etc) …as I say before stay in Australia do not travel to Asia unless you adjust to the realities of this countries.

      Countries like USA, Australia and many other live a Hollywood life …look USA today running out of money for supporting their citizens Australia is reporting shorting of food supplies….. “Is USA a Powerful country????” I do not think so … for example Thailand and many other Asian countries will survive a lot better with no short of basic food and basic necessities….. No toilet paper??? Well clean your bum with water and your hands….. So needs a lot of adjustments to live in a countries in this areas…..Lots of people need to learn a lot about what happen outside Australia before travel or commenting without knowledge

    • 0

      Not sure who told you there was a shortage of food supplies in Australia Aussie. A few things ran out initially because of some people panic buying. This was because of delivery problems to the supermarkets not because of shortage in the warehouses. This has largely been overcome as deliveries ramped up and councils relaxed when trucks could deliver. Also because a lot of panic buying has calmed down. After all we currently export over 50% of agricultural products and 90% of vegies, fruit, milk etc are grown locally and their is no shortage of them in the shops. People mainly panic bought on things like pasta, those unhealthy died noodle foods and the like. They disappeared for a while but they are all back now. All the health stuff (Sanitizers, disinfectants etc. and of course strangely bog rolls) are still just trickling in but getting there.

      Been away from Aussie to long?

    • 0

      Wstaton Thanks mate you just put me up to date thanks ….. I left mid January so no long time ….. Just got stuck can not go anywhere ….. stuck in paradise he he he he

  9. 0

    Hi Peter. Nice to hear from Patong and to see some up to date photos. I lived there for 6 years in the 1980s, teaching, writing for the Bangkok World and doing a daily radio program. The streets looked very different then, but the beautiful beach looks the same. I wonder if there are any old timers still around?

  10. 0

    Sorry if you think I write without knowledge or experience. This is just to let you know I have worked and lived in Thailand for over 20 years. I would not claim to have perfect knowledge of the country I think of as a second home; but then maybe the same applies to you. Travelling as a well-off westerner in developing countries can give a skewed view of each country. Working there for a local salary can offer a very different view.
    You may enjoy the mafia- controlled girl bars and think that is simply reality ” in those countries”, but if you lived there like a local I guarantee you would see things differently.

    • 0

      Andrew … Yes I live as closer as I can the local way I have small business and allow me to buy land where I build small home and have farm growing veg’s for self consumption and share in the village …. I am very adjusted to the life here no worries there …. I undestand what U say all good mate …. sorry if I offend in any way was not my intention …..

      I am in Nan and only go to BKK when I have to do AU Embassy business ….. I keep on the Nan province up north



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