Phuket, Patong Beach – Ping pong and Christmas abroad

neon, phuket, patong beach, patong, tiger tiger, backpacking, travels. travelling, thailand, south east asia, pool, swimming, beach

Okay so I’m not proud of it but I am one of I’m sure very few people able to claim, not one but two, visits to the infamous ping pong shows. I know once is more than enough and shameful in itself but two is really just quite embarrassing. The first was my first time to Thailand and the second a year later. Both taking place on the sinful beach resort of Patong, on the island Phuket. If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ll be familiar with the stream of men patrolling up and down the street shouting ‘ping pong, ping pong’, making disgusting noises with their fingers and tongues. Like most people, for the most part, we ignored them as we did with the men selling custom made suits and dead animals fried on sticks. But in Patong, having become more confident and somewhat cocky, we were intrigued about the legends that we’d heard of the mysterious Ping Pong shows.

So one night after a very average dinner we headed down to the Patong Beach strip. The touts swarmed in, greeting us with a series of ‘G-day mates’ and ‘ello guvnors’ – it was always a bit hit and miss as to whether they got the nationality right. The pop pop, ping pong noises started when you got towards ‘that end’ of the street. I don’t know why but I suddenly found myself consciously comparing all the different touts, trying to work out which one looked the least dodgy and therefore less likely to kidnap me and turn me into a ping pong girl! Slightly irrational I know. It’s such a bum fight though, that actually you don’t have time to really consider anything. Just pick a man and follow him for god’s sake! Once off the main street and down a dark alleyway, we were past the point of no return. Curiosity killed the cat springs to mind.

Once inside it was actually quite a jolly affair. The atmosphere is actually a lot less sleazy than you might imagine. Most of the audience was made up of couples with the odd group of men and a few singletons. I’m sorry, but going alone is so much more tragic and to be honest weird and creepy, not that I’m one to throw stones. Come to think of it, the touts outside did seem to be targeting couples. Perhaps an attempt to market themselves as a date friendly venue. Or more likely to ease the atmosphere and decrease the amount of trouble.

They don’t charge you to go in but you have to buy a drink the price of a small flat in Chelsea and you’re continuously pressured to buy more. In fact, they actually come round and shake your cans of beer to see how much you’ve got left. Excellent service.

Before the ‘show’ starts, naked women walk up and down the room chatting to everyone. Mainly they focus their attention on the few groups of men encouraging them to keep buying drinks. I thought they won’t talk to us surely – we’re not going to give them any extra cash. I was wrong. One of them looked at me and thrust a paintbrush into my hand gesturing me to draw on her fafoon! Well, what could I do! I did as I was told, opting to draw a little heart because what else do you draw on a woman’s fafoon! In hindsight, I probably should have opted for a good old fashioned cock and balls! I thought I’d done her a favour by doing a nice little bit of free body art but once I’d handed the brush back to her, she preceded to shout ‘tip, tip, tip’ at me. How rude. What on earth was I getting out of that?! Begrudgingly I gave her some baht. I suppose at least I didn’t receive a unwanted lap dance. I can’t speak for Tom but I think he felt the same.

Then the main event began. I won’t go into detail but to demonstrate how bizarre it all was – there were ping pong balls – obvs; live birds and fish; darts and to be honest a very impressive trick involving water turning into Coke Cola! It’s not very long thank god – mainly for the sake of the poor women involved but we stuck it out which not everyone did. We were sat next to an Australian couple and about 5 minutes in the man turned to us, looking us dead in the eyes and said ‘Fuck this!’ before getting up and walking out. That about sums it up.

A year later when we returned to Phuket with our friends we went again but to a different bar. I promise, only because they wanted to go. I did not want to get cornered again with a paintbrush! This visit reaffirmed how unpleasant it all was as second time round; the novelty had worn off. I can safely say that that was and will be, the final time but no one can question, I’ve ticked that one off the weird bucket list. We definitely went above and beyond.

To be honest, Patong beach is full of places only a little milder than this in plain sight along the strip. It’s a strange place, full of neon lights and ladyboys parading up and down the street. Plus, pretty much every bar is a strip club. We found one we thought was the most innocent looking only to discover its name was Titty Twister. There was no getting away from it. We, of course, were there as naive tourists but you could tell that plenty of people had picked this destination for more of a reason than just the nice beach. There were a lot of twenty something Thai girls with 50 plus white men. This is relatively common throughout Thailand but for some reason here it felt different. Titty Twister was the most PG bar in the whole place.

neon, phuket, patong beach, patong, tiger tiger, backpacking, travels. travelling, thailand, south east asia,
Picture demonstrating the amount of neon
Down one of the side streets is a series of open bars all joined together in a continuous line down the middle of the road with enclosed and blacked out ‘clubs’ on either side. Dotted around outside are several women stood next to massive stumps of wood challenging passers-by to play a game. The aim – to try and hammer a nail home in one swift hit with a hammer. If you win, they have to give you 100 baht. If they win, you have to give them 100 baht. 10 guesses who goes home with all the cash?! Needless to say the tourist tries and tragically fails every time while the woman gives it one swift whack and the nail goes in like a pro.

Tom is a carpenter and so he knows his wood, meaning naturally, he’s fascinated by this. Assuming that most tourists don’t do much more than a bit of light DIY, Tom is confident that as a skilled tradesman, such as himself, will have the edge in tackling this cheeky little game. He clearly thought about it for a while. How he thought she did it and why so many before him had failed. He confidently takes the hammer in hand and gives it his best. Of course, he completely fails and cries out in dismay and mock outrage. Several beers in, he keeps going convinced that eventually he’ll master it and be crowned king of all carpentry! She completely kicks his arse every time handing over more and more baht. At this point I’ve lost interest and have sat on a nearby stool with a daiquiri. We left that night none the wiser and Tom a little bit poorer but I felt happy to have seen so many women on this street rinsing the men of all their money and coming out victorious.

All this glorious activity and our time in Phuket was spent over Christmas. This was my first Christmas aboard and it’s the weirdest thing! Ever the champion of all things Crimbo I found it impossible to feel that warm, fuzzy Christmassy feeling. On Christmas Day itself, I gave it a good go. I woke up to Christmas music as I normally would. A bit of East 17 – Stay Another Day to start off the day. This is the first song on the No1 Christmas album we have at home. No Christmas can begin without it. I tried to think of being cosy, snow and family to get the Christmas buzz but in the sweltering heat it just wasn’t really happening.

I got a video from my sister back home of her and my parents all in Christmas jumpers. In this lovely but pure cheese video they were all swaying, clicking their fingers and singing ‘Lonely this Christmas’. Even this cinematic genius didn’t do the trick. It just wasn’t going to be the same and I needed to accept it! So I settled for floating around in the sea in a rubber ring with a flashing Santa hat on. This was going to be as good as it got and let’s be honest if you could do this in the UK you would!

The main issue of Christmas day in a foreign country though is the Christmas dinner which is something that absolutely can’t be compromised on. In moments of need like this, is when I am extremely thankful for the Irish! Their discreet and peaceful world domination of setting up drinking holes throughout the world is something to behold. No matter where in the world you go, you can always reply on some bloke called Paddy to have set up a little cavern of happiness serving proper sausages and Guinness. The Irish really have done it right. Because of this, in between Christmas sea floating and Christmas drinks at Titty Twister, Tom and I were able to enjoy a splendid bit of turkey and stuffing, making this the weirdest but most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had.

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