Finally, the ‘see you soon’ became a reality as I arrived at Phuket International Airport on Monday night for the Inclusive Innovation in Tourism research Workshop. There a number of firsts in this experience – first time in Asia (and obviously first time in Thailand) and significantly my first time experiencing jetlag after crossing multiple time-zones from West to East. It is still a bit of a funny feeling to think that it was already close to 10pm local time when I got to my accommodation while my body clock said 4pm (UK time). I am kind of glad I binged-watched movies on the flight rather than sleep as it helped to counterbalance the jetlag a bit and helped me to sleep.
It was nice to see the little welcome from the pre-booked taxi company at the arrival terminal. The guy who was there to meet me was impressed with my exceedingly long name.
After a night in a dormitory at a hostel, I moved to check in at the venue of the workshop.
Once I had dropped my bags in my room (which is such a nice contrast to my bunk bed in the hostel), I went for the mandatory reconnaissance survey of the neighbourhood. Phuket – well Patong Beach specifically – is an interesting place. In a number of respects, there were parts of what I saw that reminded me of cities such as Accra and Kumasi in Ghana and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. There is a key difference between these cities because Patong is built for and around tourist/tourism unlike the other two. The similarities for me were to be found in the informal economic activities, the easy access to street food and all the little corner (fashion) shops on every place you look.
An interesting observation that jumped out at me was the calmness of informal trade which appears to be very regulated. The shops and products do not spill over the streets nor take over the pavements as you could find in Accra or Kumasi. However, owners keep their wares neatly arranged on shelves. Taxis – tuk tuk, motor cycles and 4X4s are all parked within designated spaces. While sellers call out to potential buyers, I did not see the pushy approach and arm pulling that one would expect to encounter in say Kejetia, Kumasi or Kantamanto, Accra. From what I have seen, even the informal can be ‘formalised’ and regulated so that both public space and pavements can be used for their purposes without inconveniencing pedestrians or depriving others of their daily bread. This has implication for policy makers grappling with managing urban spaces in cities such as Accra and Kumasi.
Okay, now back to the main reason why I am in Phuket….the welcome reception was nice and the dinner buffet was excellent. In the interest of public disclosure, I must say that I have taken myself off the weight-watchers list. I have accepted the fact that I will be gaining some extra kilograms from all the great food on offer. I aim to make use of the gym and swimming pool here – but who do I kid? Let’s just see how it goes….my presentation is tomorrow so I need to put some finishing touches to it now…