Date: 25th November 2010
After managing some sleep at Little Court (the motel I was in), I got up at a decent 8am for my first morning in Pattaya. I had time to check out and move to my reserved room at Villa Panalee. So I decided to go for a walk.
The sand on Pattaya beach was quite coarse. Not the soft white sand you find in most of South Thailand.
I walked back to my room, checked out of Little Court and then took a moped taxi to Villa Panalee, which I expected to be closer to the beach. But instead it was more than a few lanes away from it. I booked my room using the hotel voucher worth Rs. 1500 I got from Cleartrip along with my flight ticket and as per the description, this was close to the beach. It isn’t.
Villa Panalee is a fairly new 3-star hotel, and it’s just okay. The bed and the bathroom were great though — and honestly, that’s all that matters to me.
Once settled, I took out the map of Pattaya and wondered where to go and what to see. This was my first time here. I hadn’t done much research on Pattaya because, outside of nightlife, I didn’t think there was anything remotely interesting to see in Pattaya. One of my girlfriends highly recommended a ladyboy cabaret show called Alcazar, but I have little interest in broadway theatre (sorry Cherie Ann ).
So as I stepped out, I was approached by moped taxi drivers who asked me if I wanted a tour of the city. Taking advantage of that, I asked them what all there was to see. As they listed the sights out, I chose to go to the hill viewpoint first.
Once I reached the top and paid the driver, I felt something on my head. The helmet was still on! Unfortunately, as I turned around and called the taxi driver back, he zoomed off. Great, now I had a bike helmet to carry around.
I walked downhill and decided to check out the Big Buddha statue next.
On the way up is a Chinese Garden.
As I walked towards the Big Buddha statue, a hawker at the footsteps asked me whether I wanted to ‘free sparrows’ as it would bring me good luck. I initially said ‘no’ because I don’t believe in all that, but she persisted and I know it’s such a touristy thing to do — but I might as well just do it for the sake of freeing the birds.
Since there were signs pointing to which direction Jomtien was, I figured it was walking distance again (the signs didn’t say how far though).
I got into a pick-up taxi and reached Jomtien beach in less than 5 minutes.
Since I hadn’t had lunch yet, I first stepped into a sea facing restaurant to eat something and have some chilled beer!
The one thing that struck me about Jomtien is the sheer presence of the Russians. They’re everywhere! So much so that some signs and even the restaurant menus are in Russian. It really did baffle me a bit.It’s like they essentially own this side of Pattaya.
Of course, I’ve heard the myth about the Russian mafia’s presence here in Pattaya. But how much of that is due to the influence of Western media’s portrayal Russians (as the perennial bad guys) and how much of it is actually true, who knows. After doing some research, turns out a lot of Russians do like the sun and lifestyle out here in Pattaya and therefore visit in droves. Not to mention, invest in property too. Of course, the ‘bad’ of any country makes its way among those droves and some claim many bars and hotels are run by such Russians too.
Stomach full, I sat there for a while before strolling the beach again.
I came to Jomtien beach assuming it would be better than Pattaya’s main beach.
You really cannot visit Thailand and not hit a beach. This country is renowned for its beaches… but I wouldn’t recommend Pattaya’s coastline if you want the best of what Thailand has to offer. Since this visit was only focusing on North Thailand, Pattaya was the easiest beach town for me to visit.
By the time I stepped out, which was 10 minutes later, the sun had already set.
But came out in less than 5 minutes. Usual department store fare but with lousy offerings. Saw mostly Eastern Europeans and it looked like they were dropped there by the bus loads.
Walking Street, from its name, implies no vehicles allowed. Lined with go-go bars, restaurants, neon lights and more bars… this is essentially an adult playground.
My legs were hurting a bit because of all the walking in slippers throughout the hot afternoon with all my camera equipment in my backpack. I limped my way to what looked like a ferry station near the pier and sat down for a while.
There was a vendor selling coconut ice cream, which looked good. So I ordered for one (cost ฿25).
As I had my ice cream, I wondered to myself why despite being a city famous for it’s nightlife… I was in no mood to revel in it some how. It wasn’t just that I was tired from all the walking. Right from the time I arrived in Pattaya yesterday late night, I felt a sense of unwelcomeness. Everywhere else in Thailand, I was used to being smiled anywhere I went. Whether it was a local passerby on the street I made eye-contact with or the hawkers approaching you with something or the other — even if I said ‘no,’ I would still get a smile from them.
But in a country which earned the title ‘Land of Smiles,’ I didn’t experience that in Pattaya. I don’t quite sure know why. Was it because I looked young — or do they not like Indians? To be fair, I didn’t see too many backpackers or young travellers like I met in places like Chiang Rai. The few I did see, also felt out of place.
Pattaya is exactly what many people expect when they visit Thailand. It’s easy to see why. Throughout the day, I saw countless tour buses transporting hundreds of tourists from China, India, Eastern Europe — most of whom surely came on tour packages. Problem is, most of these package tours are often 4 to 5 days at best. Moderately priced and promising to offer great value to this ‘exotic’ destination, they see countless takers. Thousands in India do, annually. But in those 5 days, most aren’t taken anywhere else besides Pattaya and Bangkok. Pattaya because it’s the closest (developed) beach destination (with a nightlife) and only an hour away from Suvarnabhumi airport; and Bangkok because there’s some heritage and lots of shopping to be enjoyed (and again, a nightlife).
So when these two destinations are the only places you have seen in Thailand on your vacation, it’s no surprise the very same people go back with memories of a country with a lot to offer in terms of adult entertainment and shopping.
They don’t visit Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Krabi (Ao Nang and Railay), the Phi Phi islands and the other provinces that make up rest of the country. And it’s not like any of these other places are hidden secrets. In fact I don’t believe there any discreet places left in Thailand ever since the release of The Beach. If you visit every other province in Thailand and then come to Pattaya, it really does feel like a whole different place.
It all started in the 1960s when the American soldiers landed in Pattaya during the Vietnam War for their “rest & recreation”. Since then, despite the Thailand government’s attempts, the country’s reputation hasn’t changed much in the eyes of the narrow-minded majority. A few months back, mobile carrier Airtel even launched a stupid (short-lived) TV ad here in India which showed a young man searching for ‘nightlife in Bangkok’ on his 3G service. Surely the Thai Embassy here wasn’t too pleased.
I’m not a judgmental person, nor a puritan. I really don’t care what adults do with their (rightfully earned) money and time. But what irritates me is when visitors (especially from India in my case) come with preconceived notion about Thailand, seek it in places like Bangkok and Pattaya — and then spread the word back home saying that’s the only thing Thailand has to offer.
Some would argue they don’t visit other provinces due to cost. To them I say, trust me, if you actually researched on those places, you’ll realize they are far cheaper than Thailand’s most popular destinations — Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. It all comes down to having an interest first.
Thailand is one of the most visited countries on the planet, with over 14 million tourists visiting every year. Tourism is one of the biggest revenue generators and employers in this country. But unlike Europe, Thailand still offers travellers great value for their money. It’s why many love coming back. (And no, I’m not talking the sex tourists and their reasons)
I walked back through Walking Street, passing a second time, the very same touts shoving peep shows of various naughty kinds in your face (quite literally).
I know it’s hard to believe a straight, single guy didn’t step into a single go-go bar on Walking Street, but trust me, I really didn’t feel like it right now.
And then again, for Michael Jackson… !
He was quite dandy:
As I approached a moped taxi, it quickly dawned to me that I had no idea where exactly my hotel was! The thing about Pattaya City is, there are only 4 or 5 main roads. Everything else in between are countless rows of ‘soi’ or streets. I tried just name-dropping Villa Panalee but the taxi drivers didn’t know it (or at least pretended to not know where it was).
So I ended up having to go look for an internet cafe to find the exact address.
I hopped on one of those moped taxis and got dropped back to Villa Panalee (cost me ฿50). I walked back to the spot where the moped taxis were in the morning and handed back the helmet. My driver wasn’t there but I requested his colleagues to hand it back to him.
Back in the room, I relaxed a bit with the A/C on. Then gladly dumped my camera bag and stepped out again for dinner.
I decided to walk a bit one last time and see just how far Villa Panalee actually was from the beach.
Back on Second Road, I walked past the may bars only to stop when I heard a Thai band play some mean rock covers. I liked their performances so much that I ended up sitting there to watch them perform.
I was approached by the waitress, menu in hand, but no smile on her face. I ordered my vodka drink and watched the band play some classic Scorpions. Done with my drink, I got up and tipped the band. They nodded in appreciation… with a smile.
I wondered if things would have been different if I was white, a bit older… and pot-bellied. Would the treatment have been a lot better? Even in Mike’s Shopping Mall, I barely saw any smiles on the sales people’s faces. Do the Thais here feel like Pattaya doesn’t belong to them anymore? I mean, this city is so overrun with tourists, it maybe possible. It does feel like the outsiders and the few who make their money from them pretty much call the shots around here.
It’s also apparent from the many cheap long stay accommodations available, there are many who make Pattaya their home. Western men (mostly from the UK) who seem to be enjoying their final years spending their retirement money at the countless bars, from dusk to dawn.
It was the first thing that struck me in Pattaya — the bars. There’s sooooo many of them! Not go-go bars, but just plain bars. Every square inch of free space available would see a few bar stools set up and women serving liquor. It really did shock me at first. If you want your alcohol fix day and night, there’s no place quite like Pattaya. From North to South, you’ll never run short of bars to sit at. I wonder how many survive with this much competition.
Oh, I also saw a few Indian newlyweds. The brides with their many bangles (a North Indian post-wedding tradition), some of whom had the look of bewilderment on their faces; while her newlywed husband had the look of disappointment — wondering why he hadn’t come to Pattaya before he got married.
Word of advice to those who choose Thailand as a honeymoon destination. If you want your serene beautiful beaches, head to South Thailand, or Ko Chang, further east of Pattaya. If you don’t mind the tranquil forests, go up north to Chiang Mai. Pattaya is where I would come for a bachelor/bachelorette party — not a honeymoon. Of course, this is all down to the couples themselves. Some say Pattaya can be enjoyed by couples, others may not.
Back in my room, I sat in the bathtub at around 11pm, considered ‘early’ in Pattaya. I wondered what to do tomorrow: stay another day and do the Coral Island tour in the morning – or – head back to Bangkok. Coral Island didn’t look good to me even in the photos, not after you have seen the islands in Krabi.
I also ignored the Sanctuary of Truth, thinking it was just another temple. Only to realize (via Reddit of all the sources!) a few weeks ago (as of this writing) that it’s a private man-made temple carved completely out of wood! It looks mighty impressive from close up and despite the steep ฿500 entrance fee, I’m surely going to see it the next time I’m in Thailand.
Which is why I ultimately decided to leave for Bangkok tomorrow. Pattaya is a place you can easily visit when in Thailand. If you land in Suvarnabhumi (as most foreign tourists do), there are plenty of buses to Pattaya direct from the airport, as it’s only an hour away.
Though as I lay in bed, I imagined what I would have seen had I rented a bike and drove all the way till the end of Jomtien beach and the other outskirts of Pattaya.
As is the case with me and Thailand, I’ll have to do it the next time I visit the ‘Land of Smiles’.
Edit (14/07/2010): Shared this post on Reddit and got some good feedback from other users. Hmm, maybe I should seriously catch one of those ladyboy shows next time.
Previous posts in this series: