Well, that last article I wrote said it was the 2nd half of our trip to Phuket, but I didn’t cover one of the topics I wanted to write about. And that is the Russians.
Where the Russians Are
One of the first things I noticed about Patong Beach, the part of Phuket where we stayed, was how many Russians there were. They were everywhere! A friend of mine named Susan visited Phuket 10 years ago and said that then the Germans ran the place, but I think the Russians must have driven them out. Because it’s all Russians now.
There were more Russian restaurants in just a two-by-two-block area around our hotel than in all of Denver. Menus in nearly every restaurant were in Thai, English, and Russian. Thai’s obvious, since that’s what the locals (mostly) speak. English is the modern day lingua franca, so that makes sense. But Russian? Yup.
So I did some research. In 2014, the largest sources of foreign tourists to the Kingdom of Thailand were China (4.6 million), Malaysia (2.6 million), and Russia (1.6 million).
(See here for my data, courtesy of Wikipedia)
The United States is way down at #11 with 0.7 million.
But the weird thing is this: Looking back at the three weeks I have spent in Bangkok as a tourist, I’ve encountered tourists from lots of other places, speaking lots of other languages. But I don’t remember a single Russian. So if Russians outnumber Americans by over 2-to-1 overall, and I haven’t seen any in the city, where are they all? Now I know. They’re all in Phuket.
From that same Wikipedia article I quoted above, in 2006, just 8 years earlier, Russia was the #19 source of tourists, with a paltry 187,000 visitors during the entire year. So they went from the #19 slot to #3 in the course of 8 years. And boy how things have changed.
Phuket has apparently gone from a pretty nice beach town to the high priced scam center that we found it to be while we were there.
Charlie and Brittany, expats from America who have lived in Thailand a few years write The Trading Traveler blog, wrote this:
One review of a Phuket hotel on TripAdvisor had this to say in 2011:
Have stayed at the Amora many times over the past few years and have always enjoyed it (did have a lovely welcome back) – but would never stay there again. The hotel is predominantly full of rude, arrogant Russians, who flout hotel rules. The hotel is now scruffy and tired looking. The pool closed at 9pm, but people still using it at 3am keeping us awake. Reception staff very good – breakfast staff miserable and unfriendly (which has never been the case in previous years) probably fed up with miserable russians. Breakfast awful – didn’t even serve bacon. Rooms still lovely, pool lovely, grounds lovely, lovely beach. Will never return to Phuket whilst Russians still around – have totally ruined it – Phuket now is expensive – stayed in Khoa Lak before coming to Phuket (no Russians there) and significantly cheaper to eat and drink and more relaxed and friendly. Absolutely gutted that Russians have ruined our piece of paradise.
I found similar reviews of a few other hotels that echoed the same story – the ibis Phuket Kata (“OVERRUN OF RUSSIANS”) and the Hyton Leelavadee Phuket (“fully in the hands of russians”).
Why I’m Grumpy About Russian Tourists
So why do I personally have a grudge against the hordes of Russian tourists in Phuket? It’s not like I knew the “old” Phuket and am grumpy that it’s not the same any more.
Well, they’re inconsiderate, for one thing. I never once heard any Russian tourist even try to speak a little Thai. Beth and I have learned basic phrases like “thank you” and “hello”. Even though our accents are probably terrible, we try. Sometimes people giggle, but I think they appreciate it at least a little. In nearly a week in Phuket, not one Russian did that. Also, from what I’ve read, culturally Russians just don’t smile very much. That’s OK. But we’re in Thailand, and the Thais smile. So you should smile back.
Also, they’re tacky. Example 1: The guys never wear shirts or cover up their tiny bathing suits when they go into restaurants, like Thais, Asians, and Americans do. So you go get some lunch, and there’s some burly tan guy in a banana hammock and nothing else, usually scowling and drinking some hard liquor. Speaking of which, example 2: We were eating at a restaurant near our hotel when a group of Russians came in with their own bottle of hard liquor. Rather than buying drinks at the restaurant, they opened up the cheap vodka and drank that during the meal.
Lastly, I’ll refer back to something from my last blog post. It’s a section of a cave wall in a Buddhist temple that is built into a natural cave north of Phuket. We visited there, and saw this scene:
Notice how almost all the graffiti is in Russian? But the sign isn’t? There’s some sort of mismatch going on here, but more importantly, why is it the Russians think it’s appropriate to carve graffiti into the wall of a Buddhist temple? That shows a profound lack of respect for Buddhism and the Thai culture, in my opinion. Trash your own home if you must, but this isn’t the way a well-behaved guest acts.
OK, I said that was the last reason, but I thought of one more, and I need to tell a long story to explain it. Bear with me. I think it’ll be worth it.
On the second day we were in Phuket, I decided to visit one of the dozens of massage parlors on our street to get a foot massage. With business being down, all the masseuses were out front of the store trying to lure in more customers, so they were happy when I just walked up and said I want a foot massage, no hard sell required. One took me in to the main room and we began.
It was nice and peaceful. But then a group of four Russian women arrived, also to get foot massages. My masseuse softly said “I’m sorry” to me as the loud Russians walked in. Their chattering mellowed out to conversational levels after a few minutes, and soon thereafter we all settled into our places. There was one American (me), four Russian women, and five Thai woman, all in the foot massage room.
The music on the sound system was strange. It was all cover tunes of famous Western rock music, but done in the same style as the original. I encountered this phenomenon before when we were in the Philippines, but still can’t explain it. Anyhow, I was enjoying it, even though every tune made me think of the original version.
But I started to chuckle when a cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” came on. The cover tune singer tried, and ultimately failed, to imitate James Hetfield’s famous growling. That was funny enough, but then I realized that not a single person in this whole massage parlor had probably ever heard the original. This isn’t one of Metallica’s super popular songs. And if you are a 20-something woman from either Russia or Thailand, you wouldn’t have heard the song when the Black Album came out (1991) and was popular, because you weren’t even alive then!
But it gets better. After Metallica, the next song was a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. And if you think it’s tough to do an imitation of the singer of Metallica, it’s impossible for a mere mortal to imitate Freddy Mercury, at least on that track. The guy who got the job had vocal pitch that was everywhere but where it was supposed to be, and it sounded like a mediocre night at the karaoke bar. The singer was better than I am, but not even in the same league as Mercury.
So the song is rolling on, and I start thinking the same thing as before – none of these Russian or Thai women were even alive when this song came out, and probably none of them have seen “Wayne’s World” either. And so when it gets to the part of the song when everybody in the Western world sings along (“Galileo, Galileo, Galileo”) and the faster part when you are required to bang your head like Wayne and Garth, the room was deathly silent and calm.
I was the only person who knew what you’re supposed to do! I looked around. The Russians were still having their same conversations with each other or fiddling with their mobile phones, and the masseuses were still rubbing and chatting softly with one another in Thai. But nobody was participating with “Bohemian Rhapsody”! And that is just wrong. I can forgive the Thai girls; they were on the clock working. But four inebriated young women on a girls night out and they all ignore the time-honored Queen rituals? This dude cannot abide.
I’m gonna leave you with this link to a humorous article called “Russians in Phuket are Angry People“. I especially love the photo with the caption “A Russian man scowls at his family while they scowl at fish.”