Billed as one of Phuket’s more dignified beaches – as opposed to hedonistic, anything-goes Patong – whatever it is, it’s my first introduction to Thailand that’s not Hat Yai.
Off the main 4028 from Phuket Town, a left turn onto Khoktanod Road (or Coconut Road, as I mis-heard my taxi-driver say) you are heading towards the beaches – Hat Kata Noi (small) and Hat Kata Yai (main). Down an alley of eateries, laundries, travel agents, guesthouses, tattooists and 7-11s this is a small but essential artery rushing with mopeds, minivans and taxis that keeps Kata Beach pumping. In the daytime (when the rain isn’t falling) the street is lined with (some) tourist-tired Thais and parked up ‘peds. At night the place belongs to the dogs that trot unfettered, sometimes in packs; down alleyways, in bins or pacing concrete, on guard.
Do a right, hit the main drag and the main beach, Hat Kata Yai, is only a left hand turn away. The strip itself is what you would expect; shops selling beach-wear, knock-off sunglasses (Ray Bons anyone? It is only a matter if time before I succumb), eateries, coffee shops, travel agencies… And they all want you, like you or loath you; tourists are in short supply. This is low season.
The one thing it is good for, the low season, is surfing. I tell myself I would have tried it were it not for the ankle. In my absence there were a few guys (yep, mostly guys – disappointing in some ways) riding the frothy stuff. So other than tourists on the streets there is the odd surf dude too. If you do fancy a go, Phuket Surf and Phuket Surfing both pitch up on Hat Kata Yai. Otherwise, there’s the Surf Bar where you can watch people having a go on the fake waves – shameless voyeurism and indulgence in a worldwide love of watching people fall over. Shameless.
This is a novelty, but Phuket is an international holiday resort, it is to be expected. It has been tidied up, sanitised, polished and shrink wrapped for the international tourist.
But, this is low season. These places, shiny and turned out, sit ghostly-empty, the maitre d keen to drag you from the street and far from welcoming it is as though the restaurant wants to eat you up.
There are people at the beach; enough to stave off the desert island feeling, few enough that you can get a spot to yourself. And, while the sun shines wiry Thai men ride flopping tourists like Aladdin on the magic carpet, the silken canopy of a parachute floating above them, glutted on the gusty winds. Up Kata Hai Yai, down Kata Yai, the speed boat drags them, slapping against the surf. And when they come to land, the little men shin the ropes of the parachute, Sinbad-style – swinging from the rigging of a pirate galleon – tugging and waving, depositing the tourist on the beach.
From the beach, you can see the rains coming; a column of grey on the horizon. If you’re wondering if it will pass you don’t need to be a meteorologist; the cue comes from the men who work there, staffing the beach bars, renting out the sun loungers (100 baht). Once they begin folding or stowing the lounger mats, wedging the little tables to guard against the winds, you know the rain is coming. You can feel it, the warm wind now licks desperately at your beach mat, it whips your sarong as you try to fold it. The rain is coming, it teases.
You’re lucky if you get packed. You’re lucky if you can use your umbrella, because the storm is quick and it is vicious. Did you know that a rain drop can travel at a maximum speed of 18 mph? It is governed by its own density. Dense enough to try and travel faster, it splits and becomes two drops, never exceeding 18 mph. But fat fingers of rain drench you quickly. Then, the final insult, as the wind whips at it, stealing a fine mist that it drags sideways, drenching any part of you that you have managed to shelter.
Drenched tourists draped in towels run for cover, warm rain hammers down and bounces up. Palm trees shake. Cat’s cradles of electricity wires smoke and fuse, exploding into orange and green balls, cracking in the roar of the rain, adding sparks to silver the downpour. Waitresses and bystanders,sheltering in the ghostly cafes, gasp.
But it will pass. It always does; unlike the meek but persistent English rain. Several hours later (after the electricity has been reinstated), dry, but feet pressed into still-wet-shoes, you kick through warm puddles on the hunt for food. Street vendors offer meat on sticks or there’s the main strip where you will be looked after like every other tourist and made to listen to bad English music. Instead, you might take a chance, stay on Coconut Road, chose a corrugated iron canopy, under which the staff and the customers are smiling and let the bull frogs serenade you as you eat good, cheap Thai food.
Thai Season, where animal sounds are the perfect accompaniment to your evening meal
Note: stay cost £14/night (650 THB) at Elcidium Boutique Guesthouse
Evening meal cost 200 – 400 THB.