“What?” says Bobby, looking around. Then again, “Whaaaaat?” Bobby, Dan, and I are at the biggest tourist trap on Phuket Island, and we couldn’t be more delighted.
Everywhere in Patong you see signs and billboards for “Phuket FantaSea: The Ultimate Cultural Theme Park”. The posters look like Thailand threw up on them… there are elephants, tigers, gods, goddesses, monsters, and golden culturally-appropriate costumes for days. There are dancing girls that may or may not be girls, shadow puppets, a golden temple, and a tuktuk. If you did a statistical analysis of road accidents, I would expect you would find clusters near the FantaSea billboards.
We ask our driver Petch whether we should go to see FantaSea, and he hesitates. “Yes, I think you should see it”, he says, “… once.”
So here we are. Our driver drops us off curbside and we’re immediately approached by a young man and woman dressed in the large amounts of gold filigree. “Sawatdi krap” says the boy. “Do you have your booking number?”
As a matter of fact, I don’t, but I did get an email, so I spend the next few minutes squinting at my phone trying to retrieve it while the two young thai wait patiently. Finally I find the number, show it to them, and they smile as though I’ve just done the most amazing trick. We’re given seat numbers for both our dinner and for the show, and then left standing in the crowd.
We’re surrounded by robo-elephants. Bobby pulls me closer and whispers “I think they’re watching us.” He walks up to one elephant and loudly says “Where do we go now?”
Within moments, a young woman approaches us and says “Please, come this way”, gesturing towards a bridge covered in a blur of lights. The bridge seems to have as many Thai gods on it as people, and as we cross Bobby gives little screams of surprise at each one he sees.
Once we enter the park proper, things get really weird. In addition to the various gods and goddesses, there is a pond filled with body goddess/mermaid hybrid creatures and christmas trees. “OMG,” says Bobby, “This place should have a sign saying ‘you need to be this stoned to ride’!”
We walk between a building built of spinning disco balls and another where four young thai boys dance happily in bright pink costumes. “That’s not gay!” exclaims Bobby looking to our right. “No, that’s not gay either!” he says, looking to our left. Then we’re surrounded by a large crowd of young men wearing only saffron baggy pants ribbon-dancing in the street, multiple shades of pink, purple, and white ribbons flying overhead. “Nope, not gay.” says Bobby.
We turn a corner and first see the Palace of the Elephants, a life-sized palace in the style of Angkor Wat, lit by torches. People and elephants walk around the courtyard, a palace pageant lit only by firelight.
“If I wasn’t stoned before I got here, I am now” says Bobby.
It’s dinner time, so we cross a bridge to the restaurant, which is built over a ‘lake’. We enter and Bobby shouts “Whaaaaat?” We’re in a huge room which seats 4,000 people. It extends away in all directions, and the ceiling is covered with stylized clouds, and large statues of heavenly figures looking on approvingly at the buffet.
This is not our destination, however. I purchased the upgrade to the Suriyamas Seafood Buffet, which is served in an adjoining room. We pass through the sliding glass doors, and Bobby gasps. The room is entirely gilded. Instead of 4,000, it seats 300, and the room is much quieter. We’re shown to our tables, we order drinks, and then go to get food from the buffet.
There are grilled tiger prawns, spaghetti with squid, and sushi. There is an entire island of deserts… cakes, custards, and a chocolate fountain.
When we return to the table, the waitress brings three small wine glasses to the table and sets one down in front of each of us. They’re empty until she carefully pours hot water from a large kettle into each. As she pours a hand towel appears magically from the bottom of the glass.
“I feel like I’m eating inside of Faberge egg.” says Bobby. “I love it.”
After dinner we cross the square, dodging elephants, to enter the Palace of the Elephants. This is where the night’s show occurs, and everyone is moving in that direction. Everyone is laughing, and eyes are wide and sparkling on both children and adults.
Once inside the Palace we’re segregated into two lines, one for those who need to check cameras and those who don’t. Photos are strictly forbidden in the theater, and anything that can take a photo needs to be put into a locker. I don’t want to give up my iPhone… I don’t intend to take photos and I don’t want to have to fetch it after the show. We queue in the “nothing to check” line.
When we get to the turnstiles, a woman stops us and asks “You no need check phone?” “No” I say, and I open up my glasses case as a diversion. “Eyeglasses!” I say proudly. She stares significantly at my left pocket, where my phone sits. I check, and I can’t see a phone-shaped bulge, so I wink suggestively. She frowns, says “zipper”, and waves me on.
I walk into the theater feeling both victorious and embarrassed as I pull my zipper up.
Twenty minutes later the we’re in our seats and the lights dim within the theater. Suddenly elephants are parading through the aisles between seat sections, crossing the theater from left to right, then marching down to line the stage where the curtain has risen to show a temple scene. Dancers appear, leaping across the stage, twirling, somersaulting. “Oh, that’s not gay, not gay at all.” says Bobby.
The next hour and twenty minutes is a blur of acts. There is a shadow puppet show involving something or other and a serpent. There is a farm scene where numerous flocks of farm animals sprint across the stage while the prince falls in love with a farm girl. There is a pair of magicians who are siamese twins, sawing a woman in two and changing a beautiful lady into a bengal tiger. There are trapeze artists in neon ultraviolet, and a demon who steals away the farm girl. The prince wins her back by fighting a 3-story-tall tiger god. There is a sword battle, and a goddess who exits by flying away over the audience. And there’s more, so much more.
When the curtain finally descends over the happy scene (spoiler, the prince marries the farm girl) and we’re filing out of the theater, we’re giggling and laughing and saying “oh my GOD” a lot. When I close my eyes that night, I see flying goddesses and sprinting chickens and goats.
The neon lights over the bridge as we leave spell out “Bon Voyage”, and that’s how I would describe FantaSea. It’s a Good Trip, a peak into the fever dreams of Thai culture, the pageantry of the royal court, an hour spent with the Thai pantheon.
Go. Enjoy the trip!
Absolutely don’t miss…
The web site is psychedelic in itself, with dancing elephants offering a choice of 9 languages, music and tons of information. Make sure you buy the golden ticket, which guarantees central seating, and you can also choose to get the seafood buffet upgrade as well as a car transfer to and from your hotel. Make sure you get to the park early so that you can enjoy the many secondary attractions.