Visitors may remember Phuket’s tourist destinations, like Patong and Karon, as cities bursting with life, fun and people. Now, as a result of the pandemic, these same hubs are mere ghost towns. Once bustling beaches, bars, restaurants, viewpoints, public parks, resorts and schools have had their life sucked out of. The virus has left Phuket quiet, hollow and empty.
It has been decades since Phuket has been ridden of gnarled traffic and has an environment that can only be described as: quiet. Recently, after driving to one of Phuket’s busiest viewpoints (Laem Promthep), except for one security guard, we had the view all to ourselves. Within the same day, we drove through a neighborhood known for its nightlife and to our great surprise, the once lively and crowded Bangla Road we’ve known for decades, was eerily silent. The sight of a deserted Patong Beach, abandoned by massive crowds of tourists, Tuk-tuk stands, masseuses and street-food stands, was haunting – like a scene out of a zombie-apocalypse movie.
Some may describe this change to Phuket’s atmosphere as peaceful, even necessary for Phuket to restore back to its paradise state without human habitation. However, a great price has been paid for Phuket’s new, tranquil setting.
As the streets of Phuket saw less activity, many businesses and restaurants have ceased operations. Once-popular tourist spots have been stricken by unemployment, sending thousands of locals back home to their respective provinces. Many locals, who relied on Phuket’s tourism, can barely afford to pay rent or purchase groceries. Some restaurants have been able to continue running as they have turned to takeout food, relying on popular food-delivery apps. Many of the unemployed have turned to work for food-delivery companies to create income during these uncertain times. The two most popular are Food Panda and GrabFood, employees clad in respective green or pink puffer jackets can be seen zooming through Sois to deliver their takeaway orders. Additionally, the more profitable restaurants have used their venues as make-shift free food banks, providing boxed meals to the newly unemployed and their families who can’t afford food.