Phuket may be a first taste of Thailand for many, but for me it comes after two months of independent travel in some of the country's less affluent northern areas. I had been 'warned' to stay away from it by self-righteous backpackers who claimed that it lacked authenticity due to the overabundance of tourism. I've never been more glad to disregard advice by people I might normally listen to.
One of the first things I search out in a new cultural centre is the art, and I found plenty of it along Yaowarat Rd. It's light, bright and breezy, or sumptuously psychedelic - infused with generous and warm colours, taking on experimental, surreal or cheekily distorted shapes. It seems to have less to do with tradition and more to do with having luxuriated in a spectacular, curvaceous environment with much cultural riches.
The Phuket restaurant owner may regret how much of the island's property is foreign-owned, and long for her childhood days when no beach was almost exclusively reserved for the tourists of the hotels clinging as close to its shores as possible, but to me there is no doubt that Phuket's affluence is directly a result of its openness to non-Thais, and its cosmopolitan soul. As well as the influx of both local and non-local farang, Phuket is also home to Malay, Chinese and Chinese-Thai minorities, which have left their mark on everything from the architecture to the food. At a restaurant near my hostel, I can have Thai, Malaysian or European food - the options appear endless. A pub nearby manages to combine Mexican, Turkish and European food in its bistro menu. At the beautiful cafe I discovered yesterday I can sip traditional Thai milk tea or imported Italian hot chocolate. The charm is in the diversity, the excitement comes from the variety.
This may be the most well-off region I've seen of this beautiful country, and I am enjoying every minute.