Recently I visited Thailand for the first time and spent a few days on the Island of Phuket, an area famed for its glorious weather, warm seas and lush food.
It is also where the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami occured. Locals were hit hard and are still rebuilding the area. Despite this, Phuket is a place looking to its future. It is a place of vibrant colour and a thriving tourism industry. To better understand the area, I wanted to talk to a true life-long local, much like the people I've interviewed in Wellington.
Sun of Phuket
I met Sun Sorin on my second day of being in Thailand, a local guide who kindly helped along on the trip. Sun is a Phuket native so knows everything there is to know about the area - from the best cheap eats to what beer to drink. Her boyfriend Daniel also works in the tourism industry as a diver. I asked Sun if I could find out a bit more about her life as a resident of Phuket. Luckily for me, she agreed.
Sun considers Phuket the best place to live and work in Thailand, mainly because it is close to the sea (something many Kiwi’s will relate to). “We work hard but when we have downtime we have fun. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Thailand. There is nowhere like it. The people and the atmosphere of the beach and the sea. Bangkok, I don’t feel like I could ever move there. I did like Chang Mai but I missed the seaside” she explains in her deep, measured voice over Chang beers at the Foto Hotel Phuket.
When she was eight, her father - a truck driver - passed away so Sun grew up with her mother who owned a cake shop. Sun also has one sister who lives in another part of Thailand. “When I was young I ate lots of cake - but not any more” laughs Sun. “Sometimes I will eat things and they will remind me of thing my mother used to make. The food reminds me of my old life in Phuket.”
Hometown: San Kong
Growing up in a small town - San Kong - in Phuket, Sun loved that she knew everyone. “That has changed now - there are so many people from other parts living there and the area has expanded” she explains.
“We work hard but when we have downtime we have fun. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else..."
When it came to university, like many people in her area of Thailand, Sun studied tourism at the University of Phuket. “It Phuket, it is popular to study tourism - like hotel management and business accounting.” While Sun didn’t enjoy studying economics and maths (“I failed again and again” she laughs), she loved studying languages which continues to be a passion. “To work as a guide was my first dream when I was young,” Sun says. “When I finished, I decided to do it. Now I work with many companies as a freelancer.”
Good location, good balance
Before Sun’s current job as a freelance guide, she worked in a hotel. Now, she loves meeting a wide variety of people, showing them both sides of Thailand, and being her own boss. “When I take people to the beach in Phuket, or take them to adventurous activities, people see our great nature. But when I take people to see more cultural stuff, I feel proud to be the host of my country” Sun explains. So which does she prefer? “Both are different. We are lucky to be born here."
So what is the secret to living well as a local? Sun thinks the key to happiness is to know how to live a balanced life. “In Phuket, you have seafood, rice, good weather. You can live a good life if you live in a balanced way” she explains. “I don’t dream big. I don’t dream of going to New York. I like the idea of going on holiday to a place where there are less people! I want to visit Nepal and Indonesia to go jungle trekking. I would like to go Prague though, maybe for my honeymoon!"
Love & the Death of the Thai King
Recently, the King of Thailand passed away after ruling for seventy years, making him the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. This was something of major importance to the Thai people, Sun included although she stresses she only speaks for herself, not all the Thai people. “No one ever told me how I had to feel about the King. I felt strongly about the King all my life - I remember seeing the Kind and Queen when I was a little girl but only from a distance. When the King passed away, the Thai people were crying. Thai people love him. When he was younger, he helped poor people in the countryside of Thailand. He did not need to do that but he tried to help” she explains. She admits some Thai people have wanted to move to a republic historically but many Thai people feel the loss of the King like that of their own father.
Sun explains that when someone in your family dies in Thai culture, you mourn formally for a month. But for the King, the Thai people will be mourning for a full year. She strongly feels that Thailand would not be the same without its Kingdom. This is a view that is common across the Thai people as a whole population.
"You can live a good life if you live in a balanced way”
During this time of mourning, Sun says some people may feel like they should not visit Thailand as tourists. She stresses that is is a misconception. “Thai people, we are alway welcoming. We just are asking for a bit of respect. Outwardly, we are going about our work and day-to-day life but inside were are still mourning our King’s death. Some people do only want to come here for the nightlife. Straight after the King’s death, all the night clubs shut. Some people didn’t understand. While I am always polite, I asked these people “Would you go clubbing if you had just lost your father?” These people closed their mouths."
Opening your eyes to Thailand
Thailand is a multi-layered country, full of contradictions. Sun, however, hopes people see past their preconceptions when they visit. "There is so much more to our country than just that [the nightlife]. The sea, the beach, the nice culture. If you open your eyes, you will see something else. If you talk to the local people, you will feel more that you are in Thailand." May the Sun continue to shine on Phuket, to help people see such beauty and culture...
Disclosure: I went to Thailand with Tourism Authority of Thailand.