When we arrived in Phuket I knew immediately I wanted to explore the "Sea Gypsy Villages" that I had read about. The more well known village is at the Eastern end of Rawai Beach and although now it has been discovered by and relies heavily on tourists, especially from China, it was once a nomadic fishing community where fisherman and their families sell their catch just meters from the ocean. There has been recent tension here as the local Rawai sea gypsies have been fighting for years to prove they have rights to the land their families have been living and working on for generations.
Today you can walk the narrow gravel street and buy fresh seafood (seriously most of it is still moving!) on the side of the road bordering the sea and then take it in a little plastic baggie to one of the many restaurants across the street to have them prepare it for you. We had to try it and it was amazing! The fresh hot sauce was my favorite (I may or may not have asked for seconds...ok...thirds). Exploring this place feels very Old World mixed with modern and one definitely senses a juxtaposition of the tourist crowd with the life of the sea gypsies and their culture.
I just wandered the streets and looked for interesting folks working and doing daily life and tried to tell the story of this unique place. This village is a must visit while in Phuket if you ask me.
The second village I visited was a different day spent with a Thai national who grew up in Phuket. He knew I wanted to see more of the real Thailand and was very happy to show me around and answer my barrage of questions about daily life and culture (and ask a few of his own questions). He took me to a smaller and less well known Sea Village called Tuk Kae Cape village. The folks here were much more surprised to see me wandering around. I asked lots of questions and got to see families and neighbors sitting together eating, talking, working, and just doing life. This was one of my favorite locations in all of Phuket because the people were so kind and inviting and without any time pressure I was able to just be a guest who wanted to learn and document. People here mostly speak their indigenous language along with Thai and are known to be a bit more shy than the outgoing Thai people although I found them very welcoming.
This man was on the beach replacing the wire of a fishing trap and after I gestured to ask permission to photograph him he invited me INTO the fish trap with him which of course made all his friends watching laugh but gave me some great perspective to capture images. These cages are made with mangrove wood and wire and are repaired and built right on the miles of gorgeous beach and blue green water.
This woman was so delightful and through a translator I learned she was concerned for me and the weight of my bag full of my camera gear. So at her request I was more than happy to rest a while and sit with her and her neighbor while they shelled seafood. The deep lines in her face were just so beautiful and her smile was so welcoming. I also got to sample some local fruits they brought out for me.
I was so grateful for the chance to explore these places a bit and meet the folks who live and work on the sea.
more from Thailand soon.