What’s the best beach in Phuket? It all depends who’s doing the asking. Partygoers naturally head to Patong; families generally stay in Kata and surfers prefer Nai Harn. But what if you came to Phuket to find ‘real’ Thailand and a ‘real’ Thai beach? There is one such beach here, even though, up until recently, it wasn’t that at all. Welcome to Surin beach.
Surin beach is located almost precisely in the middle of Phuket’s west coast. Some of the island’s most luxurious hotels such as Amanpuri and The Surin are a stone’s throw away from here and even closer is the popular Twin Palms, a couple of good restaurants and a small shopping mall made up of boutiques. But they’re not what made Surin famous. What first and foremost lured Phuketians and tourists to this part of the island, apart for Surin’s natural beauty, were clubs: beach clubs.
Not so long ago, the seaside promenade in Surin was home to some of the most popular beach clubs in Phuket – Catch, Bimi, Pearl, and a few others. Apart from these, there were a bunch of seaside restaurants, some shops, a Nepali tailor outlet, in short – civilization. The aforementioned clubs were wildly popular with Phuket expats, many of whom preferred to take selfies with magnum-sized bottles of Champagne here, rather than in the tourist ghetto of Patong.
All this came to an end when Surin ended up in the crosshairs of Thailand’s military government and when someone decided to use Surin as an example of the regime’s determination in its fight against corruption. The conflict regarding Surin and its adjacent land plots was nothing new and local business had been threatened with eviction more than once before, but words were never followed by action… that is until the military took matters into its own hands. One more warning, one last deadline, and bulldozers rolled down the promenade. In a day or so, what was once one of Phuket’s most popular beaches, became a pile of rubble.
All this was done under the slogan of ‘returning the beaches to Thai people’, but instead of a beach, the people got a wasteland. Heaps of debris lining the road, piles of garbage everywhere; a truly pitiful sight. And then the monsoon rains came and what was left of Surin turned into a river of mud.
As a result, Surin was more or less forgotten, at least by some, at least by me. Once in a while a reminder would pop up in the local press, with updates about the constantly changing plans of turning the beach and its surroundings into a historical park (with an estimated budget of as much as 800 million baht at one point), but apart from that, I more or less erased Surin off my personal map of Phuket.
That is until a few weeks back, when I happened to be driving past that part of the island. Having some time to spare, I decided to sway of the main road and head down to the beach, to see how things were. What I discovered, took me off-guard.
The piles of rubble and trash were mostly, though not entirely, gone. Shops and restaurants were nowhere to be found, but what the beach was full of…were people. The beachside promenade, as well as the nearby parking, filled up with street food stands, BBQ carts, fruits and beer vendors. Some makeshift eateries unfold in the morning and fold back at sunset, so does a no-less makeshift bar. There are no clubs, but you can get a drink; there are no restaurants, but you can fill your belly up; there are no parties, but Thai masseuses, the sound of crashing waves and a joyful, local ambience await.
Truly local. I can’t remember when was the last time I’ve seen so many Thai people on the beach. Whole Thai families come to Surin to spread their beach-matts and celebrate food and drink together, like only Thai people can. Those joyful beachside picnics accompanied by countless bottles of chilled beer and Thai pop music blasting from Bluetooth speakers, are the utmost affirmation of the Thai way of life. And tourists take part in it too; they rent out matrasses in place of the already banned beach chairs, apply sunscreen, buy chicken on stick and som tum and enjoy the beach – Thai style.
Surin is not the cleanest beach in Phuket, far from it. Someone mean would say that it is that what makes it local. Luckily, there’s more. Local food, local people, local ambiance and local prices – Surin is now maybe the most local beach in Phuket.
Operation “Returning the beach back to the people” was a success… mostly thanks to Thai people themselves. Maybe sometimes all you need to do, is let them be and they will take care of the rest? Inch by inch, they will reclaim whatever plot of land there is to be reclaimed, and slowly, day by day, they will turn it back into…Thailand.
by Maciek Klimowicz