The name Patong conjures up memories for many, some good, some bad & some downright horrifying for those who have experienced the madness of Bangla Road, Patong - the famous 'walking street' on the island of Phuket, Thailand. Long before the days of mass tourism, zero Baht tours & the like, the area was once an island paradise for international visitors.
Bangla's Back Story
Back in the day - circa 1970's there was no real options when it came to accommodation & dining in the style Western tourists prefer. Most who did venture onto the island were restricted to basing themselves in Phuket Town & taking day trips to the beaches of Patong. In 1977, David Jenkins authored the 'Asia Travellers Guide' who described Patong way back when. Jenkins mentioned a number of simple huts with a sand floor dotted along the foreshore which were sometimes tunnelled into by thieves.
It's been said the first Westerner to reside permanently in the area was Jimmy Pearson who arrived in 1974 after leaving the United States Navy. By 1978 there were various guest houses situated along Patong Beach, however it still remained a natural beauty. One guest house, Patong Beach Bungalow, constructed in brick, offered rooms at 100 Baht per double room. With other nearby accommodation houses including Valentine Bungalows, Skandaia Bungalows & Patong Inn offering rates from 100 - 150 Baht per night. At the low end of the scale 'Travellers Rest House' offered single rooms at 30 Baht per night, with a double room topping out at 40 Baht per night.
It was around this time that an accommodation house of 'sorts' sprang up named 'Mr. John's' - situated at nearby Nai Harn beach where many international travellers took up residence. As word spread & demand grew, by 1978 more & more guest houses began to spring up around Patong Beach. By the 1980's the publication 'South East Asia On A Shoe String' described Patong Beach as:
'A solid line of hotels & restaurants along the full length of the beach plus motorcycle hire places, windsurfers, you name it. If you want a little more night time action & a bigger variety of restaurants - more of a 'scene' then you might like it. If not, I suggest you head to Ao Kata or other less developed centres.'
By the year 1984 downtown Patong was still relatively undeveloped when compared with today. Patong offered up only a small section of paved road along the beach front & into Bangla Road where a few bars & a disco stood together with a number of seafood restaurants. There was also a newly constructed hotel that which was said to be favoured by visiting Japanese tourists. In the early to mid 1980's accommodation could be had for around $6.00 per night.
If you'd like to know more then check out this blog post which was posted in 2006 where the author 'Gary' recalls his experiences of Soi Bangla in the 1980's.
Bangla Road In 2018Bangla Road, Patong Beach, Phuket Island Thailand
In 2018 Bangla Road is a different animal indeed. Every vice under the sun can be procured for a price & while most of the 'nasty' goes on behind closed doors it still remains. Up until around the bewitching hour of 'midnight' this world-famous walk is filled with families & children of all ages in tow, their eyes focused on the neon lights, feathers, color & flavour.
However things go up a notch - or 10 after the clock strikes midnight. Its a feast for the eyes of any people watcher (such as myself). Bangla is well worth a visit but remember there's some things you simply can't 'unsee.' My YouTube video features Bangla Road & Patong Beach at around 9:30 pm on Valentines Day 2018.
Savoey Restaurant, after the 2004 Tsunami which still trades today. Image source/credit: Zoriah
From the 80's onwards, word spread & momentum grew as visitors flocked to the island, many drawn to Bangla Road & Patong Beach.
However, it seems few visitors remember the tragic 'Boxing Day Tsunami' which struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia on Boxing Day 2004. Wikipedia provides the following information (extract).
At Phuket island, many of its west coast beaches were affected. At Patong Beach – a tourist mecca – the tsunami heights were 5–6 m (16.4 ft–19.7 ft) and the inundated depth was about 2 m (6.6 ft). The tsunami heights became lower from the west coast, the south coast to the east coast of the island. On Karon Beach on the west coast, the coastal road was built higher than the shore and it acted as a seawall, protecting a hotel which was behind it. On the east coast of Phuket Island, which was not facing the tsunami source, the tsunami height was about 2 m (6.6 ft). In one river mouth, many boats were damaged. The tsunami propagated anticlockwise around Phuket Island, as was the case at Okushiri Island in the 1993 Hokkaido earthquake. According to some interviews with the people, the leading wave produced an initial depression and the second wave was the largest.
The only reminders of this tragic event today, are the Tsunami Warning signs posted as far inland as Nanai Road, together with an annual service which is held beach side to honour & remember the victims.
Tsunami Warning Sign Patong Beach, Phuket Thailand
After The Tsunami: Using DNA To Return Names To The Missing
For those who are interested in hearing a first-hand experience, then listen to a podcast from Australia's ABC Radio to hear a unique account from Forensic biologist & DNA specialist, Dr Kirsty Wright, who is a recognised leader in her field, despite having once struggled to gain a place at university. She has worked for decades with Australia’s Police & Defence Forces as a major crime scientist, as an expert witness for the courts.
Kirsty's also been a key player in projects including the expansion of National Criminal Investigation DNA Database, and the Queensland ‘Skeletal Remains’ Project. After the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which devastated countries from Banda Aceh to Sri Lanka, Kirsty worked for 5 months in Phuket, Thailand.
Image Source: Wikipedia
The pressure was immense, and the scale of loss was unprecedented, with 8,000 people killed in Thailand alone. In Phuket, Kirsty led a team whose job it was to identify victims through their DNA, allowing families of the missing to bury their loved ones. Kirsty says her work is often more humanitarian than scientific; and what drives her to continue is a desire to give answers to the living about the fates of the dead.
Dr Kirsty Wright is a senior lecturer at Griffith University. Kirsty is an officer with the Royal Australian Air Force, is part of the Forensic Response Team, and is the DNA Manager for the Unrecovered War Casualties-Army.
Click here for the link to her fascinating story.
- Program Duration: 50min 27sec
- First Broadcast: Thu 22 Feb 2018, 11:00am