Anyone who spends time on or even close to a beach on Phuket, Koh Samui or Bali will eventually end up in conversation (or negotiation) with a beach vendor. Fortunately, unlike in some other countries, the gentle hospitality of the local people in Thailand and Indonesia means that rather than causing irritation, many of these smiling entrepreneurs are often a joy to meet.
The economic opportunities available to commercially minded local people in Southeast Asia's perennially popular island destinations
attract men, women, even entire families from near and far to ply their trade in what has in some locations become a truly global seafront marketplace.
The range of products and services available to sun worshippers on the high season sands of Phuket
are extensive to the point of bewilderment, and choices expand year-on-year as savvy vendors identify visitors' preferences and carve out their own mobile retail niche. You can stock your beach bag with sarongs, flip flops, sun hats, friendship bracelets and t-shirts, buy beach toys to keep the kids busy, re-hydrate with a fresh coconut or squeezed orange juice, have your hair braided or apply a henna tattoo to see if you'd look good with the real thing. Gaggles of warm hearted ladies even set up makeshift spas on the beach
so you can melt into a massage after a refreshing dip in the sea.
In a lazy and often hot environment, food and drink are obvious sources of easy profit for local sellers, which from a horizontal tourist's point of view means never having to leave your towel or sun-bed. Ice-cream, soft drinks, even cans of beer are delivered right to your outstretched hand, often for only a modest surcharge. You can even indulge in a bag of fresh tropical fruit, dig into a bowl of fried noodles or try local delicacies like fried bananas or home made spring rolls.
Of course, when it comes to food, the quality of fare on offer varies, and those with a penchant for sophisticated cuisine may not appreciate the smell of dried squid mixing with the delicate aroma of their sun tan lotion, but with a brief hygiene inspection and a little common sense, a day of light grazing between sun sessions can be a relaxing and convenient way to enjoy the best of the beach
Unfortunately, even on small tropical islands, the most popular tourist beaches can be as crowded with vendors as they are littered with well oiled bodies, which can mean constant unwanted attention that spoils the serenity of the location. Luckily, private villas
are rarely located in such areas, and although less visited beaches may still have their quota of wandering merchants, the vendors that choose these spots tend to be more relaxed themselves and therefore less pushy. They will also respect their potential clients privacy, especially after a few reminders from the villa staff.
Quite a few villa guests find that getting to know the local beach sellers is an enlightening, authentic and pleasant form of cultural exchange. This is especially true for families, as the local people in Thailand
are often keen to make friends and happy to entertain the kids, simply as a fun way to pass the time. Vendors who have been working the beaches for several years enjoy regular daily contact with people from all over the world and can often communicate, albeit in simple form, in an impressive range of languages. They are also a mine of local information and very proud of their culture and traditions, so always happy to explain local anomalies and share stories. On a longer stay, their smiling welcome becomes a memorable part of the holiday and some guests even send back photos to their new found friends she they get back to their home country.
One massage lady on Samui's Big Buddha beach, known to visitors as Auntie Deng, became well known amongst visitors and actually welcomed return customers year after year who sought her out for her "magic hands". Meanwhile, over on Phuket in upscale Surin beach, a gentleman selling ice cream also performed magic tricks for the children and became something of a beach legend before he decided to return to his farm in the Northeast of Thailand to enjoy his retirement closer to family and friends.
Obviously, not every beach vendor is an oceanfront celebrity and it's always best to check with the villa staff before you engage in conversation or make a purchase. On the whole, most of these sand stomping salespeople are warm, relaxed, friendly folk who work hard for their families and can offer a fascinating insight into the more traditional side of the country and culture they are part of.
by LVH Marketing