The drive from Phuket airport to Kata Beach Resort feels like one long contradiction. The overall feel is of traditional Thai countryside and slightly ramshackle houses, but each time I come there are more Western influences.
Jostling with the mass of scooters driven by bareheaded youths (the occasional one does wear a helmet), pickups with crates stacked with coconuts or carrying workmen, and men pulling karts full of ladders there are smart pickups, vans and cars. But the smart pickups will be parked under a very flimsy looking homemade carport which looks as though it would fall down in the first strong wind. My taxi was a pimped minibus with wall to wall leather, so much so I felt the need to take a photo of it!
But the main Westernisation is the shops. There are still roadside food outlets (neither 'restaurants' nor 'cafes' is really the right description) and scooter repair shops and traditional Thai shops with Thai writing. There has been a large Tescos here for some time, but on the drive down today I noticed more large superstores, and a retail park that wasn't there 2 years ago. Nike, Adidas, surfer clothing, Xara - it was as if someone had taken a bunch of shops from a designer outlet in the UK and dumped it in the middle of a bit of Phuket wasteland.
As well as the scruffy scooter roadside hire and repair shops there are big flashy motorbike show rooms with new bikes from Honda and Suzuki and the like; on the car front I saw a massive new building which was obviously going to house several motoring companies.
Large billboards in English: adverts for Lifestyle Living, new apartments, spas, home-improvement centres, IT centres, MacDonalds... some of it seems very incongruous, especially when a few minutes later there is a place selling Thai noodles or gilt statues of elephants or very elaborate gold and red ornaments to put outside your house. It makes you mind shift all the time between the familiar and the unfamiliar, which is really quite a strange feeling.
And amongst it all is the love the Thai people have for their King. Yellow flags flying on gateposts; posters showing the King and his wife at work with their people; gold framed photos of the King outside houses and shops. Maybe this is because the week I come here is the week of the King's birthday, but somehow I know this is an all-year love and respect shown openly, something you would not expect to see in the West.