I only write a post on K-pop when there’s something good out and it deserves the attention. Rest assured, rookie (are they still?) boy band INFINITE are one of those acts that always deliver something good, and a group I truly feel deserves the attention!
There have been quite a lot of new entrants in the Korean boy band scene the last two years. Like the (many, many) girl groups, some are good, and many of them… you’ll never hear of again after their debut single.
The fashion? No comments
Woolim Entertainment‘s INFINITE falls under the category of ‘debuted well, and then kept growing stronger with every new release’. The boys hit the music scene last year with “Come Back Again,” a funky guitar-tinged single that was good enough to draw me in. The one thing that really struck me about INFINITE was how in-sync they are with their dancing! Just watch their live performances and you’ll know what I mean.
“She’s Back” came next and then earlier this year, INFINITE made a comeback with their second mini album Evolution. Though the title song “Before the Dawn” did well, the song from the album that I liked more was “Hysterie,” mostly because it was such a classic Michael Jackson inspired jam.
Two months later, INFINITE released “Nothing’s Over” (though, to me it sounded more like “Nothing Sober” :)). Regardless of their ‘Engrish,’ it was still a good fresh single accompanied by a unique music video. Their live performances of “Nothing’s Over” was a joy to watch. The release also included a remake of the song “Can U Smile“– and this song remains to me one of INFINITE’s best songs to date!
Inspirits (what INFINITE fans are officially called) didn’t have to wait too long for their idols to return to the K-pop charts. They’re back with another great track!
“Be Mine” is from INFINITE’s first full length album ‘Over the Top‘. The track is in my opinion their best single to date! Very hard edged with the guitar hooks (the group’s signature style) and yet, clearly influenced by dance pop from the 1980s. Whoever their producer is surely deserves a lot of the credit. Of course, the boys are the ones who do justice to the song by bringing to life. Can’t wait to see them perform “Be Mine” on the music shows!
Here’s a mini-review of the album ‘Over The Top’:
1. (Intro) – A 54 second teaser of what to expect from the new few tracks
2. “Be Mine” – Already wrote about it above. Definitely the best track on the album! – 4.5/5
3. “1/3” – Smooth track, but lacking in some ways. Should have pushed this down in the track list This track has grown on me in the last few days, and I like it a bit now – 2.53/5 (I did say a ‘bit’ :))
4. “Tic Toc” – Mediocre and the chorus has bits of “Before the Dawn” – 2/5
5. “Julia” – The song sounds a lot like this song and I don’t know what the “A, I, O, I, A…” in the beginning is supposed to signify. – 3/5
6. “Because” – A solo track by Sungkyu. The English is a tad distracting and to be honest, it’s not a very good song. – 2/5
7. “Time” – Another solo track but this time Woohyun fully in charge of lead vocals. Sounds like one of those ballads that end up on the OST of a drama. Good voice though! – 3/5
8. “Amazing” – Decent track. One in which the rap, despite being brief, really stands out. Should have moved this higher up the album order. – 3/5
9. “Crying” feat. Baby soul – The song kicks off with a woman singing, while the boys slow rap the rest. Boring. – 1.5/5
10. “Real Story” – Take the beats out of of Chris Brown’s “With You” and overlay it with Korean lyrics and a slightly different tune, you get this song. – 1/5
Sadly, most of the songs sound very unoriginal and lacking any real inspiration. Had they replaced some of the songs I rated with a 1 or 2, with “Nothing’s Over” and “Can U Smile” (Remake), I would have easily bought the album. But instead, INFINITE’s ‘Over The Top‘ just feels like an album with an extremely good lead single, while the rest of tracks can be best described as album fillers.
My rating: 2 out of 5 (Poor)
Inspirits will cry foul and dismiss this review saying things like: “You are SO wrong!” “What’s wrong with you?!” and what not. So please note: this is my take on the album. It’s okay if you don’t agree with me. Trust me, I know good music when I hear it. And it’s not the first time this year I’ve been disappointed by a group that I like.
I’m not the kind of fan who will support or praise an artist “no matter what”. Especially when they release mediocre songs. I’ve noticed K-pop fans (especially in S. Korea itself) who will outright defend their favourite group, ask for mass collective purchases of an album, all in the name of ‘support’. But you have to understand how damaging that can be for creativity. Fans like that only make producers of content lazy, and in the end, it’s those fans themselves who are being betrayed.
I’m not calling out INFINITE for “betraying” their fans. They haven’t. All I’m saying is, this being their first full album, ‘Over The Top’ could have been so much better. It should have been.
If there’s a boy band that isn’t from a major label (SM, JYP, Cube, or YG), that I believe is going to be big, it’s INFINITE. They have the musical talents to be the “next big thing”. So I’m not losing faith in these guys and I do hope this album makes Woolim Entertainment enough money to give the boys a bigger dorm.
What, you Inspirits thought I didn’t know about that? 😉
Edit (01/09/2011): INFINITE WON THEIR FIRST AWARD!
I’m so happy for them! I wrote this review on 27th July and on 1st September, more than a month after they released “Be Mine”, INFINITE finally won an award on Mnet’s MCountdown! They deserved this for all the hard work they put in to each of their performances. I knew Super Junior would steal the show(s) in August with “Mr. Simple” due to their immense popularity, but I’m so happy INFINITE finally got recognized! Edited this review with this news because… well, I felt like remembering the moment! 😀
After a good night’s sleep, I went downstairs to have the buffet breakfast at the hotel. Then spent an hour browsing the internet on the guest computer at the lobby. After feeling quite relaxed, I checked out as the clock struck noon.
I took a moped taxi to the bus station (฿50) and bought a ticket for a bus heading to Ekamai bus terminal in Bangkok (ticket cost ฿113).
Since it was dark when I left Bangkok to come to Pattaya, I sat by the window to see what I missed
In the bus, I also wondered where to stay in Bangkok. I wanted to stay on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s popular backpacker hub. I really wanted to check it out as it’s a preferred joint for backpackers, but unfortunately located on the other side of Bangkok (some even call it Old Bangkok) — which isn’t connected via the skytrain service (BTS). Trouble is, tomorrow I am to meet up with a friend arriving from Bangalore and the day after, I had a ticket for the Jay Park Fan meet in Siam Paragon Mall. Commuting back and forth by taxi, that too with Bangkok’s mid-day traffic was the last thing I wanted to do in the last 3 days left in Thailand.
Err…someone else’s factory
One and half hours later, we were in Bangkok city
Traffic slowed down (a lot) from here on. It took half-an-hour more for the bus to reach Ekamai bus terminal. The terminal is on Sukhumvit road and is easy to get to because the BTS station (also named Ekamai) is right in front of the bus terminal. So if you are staying in the Sukhumvit or Silom area, and want to head to Pattaya, don’t go to Mo Chit bus terminal, head to Ekamai instead.
In the end, I decided to stay on the Sukhumvit side itself, which meant Thai House Inn again. I paid for two nights in advance and checked into the same room I stayed before. I probably should try and find another place to stay in since Thai House Inn isn’t the classiest of places, but at ฿700 a night, the proximity to Nana BTS station (a minute walk), for a single guy there’s no better deal like it anywhere else.
Absolut had set up a ice bar at Siam Center
Decided to go for a movie to pass some time
Watched ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ in IMAX
Post-movie (which I thought was a bit of a drag), I decided to go to MBK.
The Siam Ocean World aquarium is beneath the food court
The mall was all decked up in preparation for Christmas
Even though less than 1% of Thailand’s population are Christians
There’s an exclusive ukelele store in Bangkok
But as I tried to get to MBK via the pedestrian overbridge, none of us were allowed to… by the police
I looked down and I saw the roads all clear, which usually implies some VIP was passing through
I got back down to the street to see if I could cross the road but there were policemen there as well. I asked them who was passing by, and they said: “The King”.
Tidbit of valuable information when in Thailand. King Rama IX is the most ‘beloved’ man in Thailand. I put beloved in quotes because there is a law which makes it a criminal offense to say anything bad about him in public. So you have no choice but to praise him. His photos are everywhere in Thailand and his birthday is a national holiday. He is credited for developing Thailand, his influence has stopped many political coups and reportedly, he’s the richest royal in the world. (But my point is, if people truly love him, why have a rule criminalizing lèse majesté?)
Sadly for the Thai people, the King hasn’t been in the best of health lately and isn’t seen much in public because of that.
The King’s cavalcade zipped past us and in a matter of minutes, we were allowed to move again
I obviously didn’t get a glimpse of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, but then again, nobody would have. Nobody could identify in which car the King was. Maybe it was a security measure.
Anyway, I was hungry by this point and decided to go back to Siam Paragon because their food court has better options for fast food.
Tried MOSBurger’s rice burger (yes, that’s rice pressed together to make the ‘buns’) :)
In the evening, I decided to check out Bangkok’s Chinatown.
Took a taxi, cost ฿60 from Siam Center
Took around half and hour to get here
As with any Chinatown, plenty of food to go around
From all I could tell, there wasn’t much else to see besides the well-lit shop signs
I kept walking down
When I was doing my research, I read there is even a small community where Indians reside. You could call it Bangkok’s ‘Little India’ as Singapore’s popular community is called, but don’t try asking for it here. I tried it with some Thai locals, and they looked at me with a smile… which implied they had no clue what I was talking about. I wanted to find the area mostly because there is a large gurdwara here in Bangkok (since the Indian community here are predominantly Punjabis). I knew asking for a ‘gurudwara’ would get me more puzzled stares but I did ask if anybody knew where the ‘Indian temple’ was. No luck with that either.
I kept walking in search of ‘Little India’ but no signs of anything remotely Indian
But just as I was about to give up and walk back, I saw a woman who looked kinda Indian (I’m guessing she was a second generation Indian resident of Thailand) and asked her where the gurudwara was. She told me I needed to get to Pahurat Road, which wasn’t very far from here. I thanked her and noted down the name of the road.
Figuring the gurudwara would be closed to the general public at this time, I decided to come back the day after. I hailed a taxi and headed to Patpong.
Patpong is famous for two things: one, it has a night market; two, it also houses Bangkok’s red light district.
The Night Market
There wasn’t anything seedy about the place (at first)
The usual offerings sold here, nothing special
But as I went to the side street to get a glimpse of what the other stalls were selling…
…you could see the other side of Patpong
Which made me wonder if the ‘night market’ was just a cover up :)
There are a few good bars with live music though
Like on Pattaya’s Walking Street, here too you will find a few touts soliciting tourists (quite aggressively) to come watch a peep show. Most them say it’s free but having read people’s experiences on Tripadvisor, I knew these are just tactics to pull you in and then slap you with a huge bill as you leave.
One of the touts, even held my hand and dragged me into one such place. Figuring I wouldn’t be coming back to an area like this again, I followed him. He was rather in a hurry saying the ‘ping pong show‘ would start soon. He led me upstairs into a bar where the girls and the mamasan welcomed me in. There weren’t many others in and the setting wasn’t what I was expecting. While I was expecting a more quiet, dark and sensual setting, this joint was just another typical low end bar with dim red lights, and where every song plays at 2x speeds blurts out from the sound system.
As soon as I was seated, I was surrounded by 3 or 4 smiling girls all of whom tried to chat me up, and when it came to ordering drinks, there was no menu. I ordered a vodka drink and insisted on knowing much it cost. The waitress said ฿100. Fair enough. I also made it very clear I was told this show was free and that I wouldn’t have to pay anything to see it. The mamasan assured me with a “yeah yeah”.
When the performance did begin, it was the amusing act of seeing the two girls shoot objects like bananas, darts (at a balloon), and ping pong balls (of course) — all using her nether region. And that’s exactly what it was, amusing… it was the least bit erotic, surely not in the setting I was in 🙂 The most amusing act was when one of the performers pulled a series of blades on a string out — and she cut a paper using the very same razor blades to prove they weren’t blunt. Now, only women know the true potential of their inner workings, but I’m sure even women in far more respectable professions would squeal if they saw this. As a guy, my face looked more like this: 😕 None the less, I had to praise these performers for their, erm, talents.
After 15 minutes and my drink nearly done, I had seen enough and wanted to leave. I could see the other patrons arguing with the mamasan over their bills and I knew what was coming my was as well. Besides the ฿100 for my drink, I wanted to tip a ฿100 each for the two performing women, so that was a total of ฿300. The bill they handed over?
I told the mamasan I wasn’t going to pay it and ฿300 is all she will get. She raised her voice (she had to, they wouldn’t turn down the crappy music) and threatened to call some men to rough me up if I wouldn’t pay. I replied: “Call them”. When she did, I knew things were only getting easy for me. She spoke in English to her Thai “baddie” saying there is an Indian who refuses to pay and that he better come. Now if there is one thing I’ve learned about Thais is that, you’ll never see one Thai speaking to another Thai in English. Very few in Thailand know how to speak English, that too fluently. So I knew this was just an act.
After she hung up, she said they’re coming. I replied: “Okay, I’ll wait”. I could see some of the working girls try and hide their smiles, so I knew I was going to win this one. After waiting around 2 minutes, the mamasan finally said: “Okay, give 1000!”. I said: “No, 300”. More standing still ensued. Finally she gave up and said: “Ok give!”. I handed her the ฿300 and told her ฿100 each were for the two performers. She didn’t say anything and I walked out.
And that was it 🙂
In hindsight, it made me wonder if I should have gone for all this in Pattaya’s Walking Street as the Tourist Police was right there and by now, I’m sure they heard countless such experiences from other visitors. But even if this happens to you, follow the same advice: just keep your foot down and refuse to pay. What’s the worst they’re going to do? Stab a tourist?
Walking out, I noticed there wasn’t even a name for this bar, so it surely was one of those clearly intended to scam people and only remain operational by paying off the right authorities.
This alley looked like it mostly catered to Japanese
What I just experienced didn’t change my opinion of this wonderful country. If your sole purpose of visiting Thailand is just to hang out at such venues, you will most likely leave with many such stories. Even if you don’t, as with any other country in the world, shit happens — you just have to be on your guard.
The so-called ping pong show is one of those “When-in-RomeThailand” things-to-do. Many tourists, men and women alike, are eager to see it. In fact it was a girl friend of mine who told me “not to miss it,” with a laugh. Now I know why — it’s more a laugh than sensual 🙂 Trouble is, many use that eagerness tourists have to run scams like this.
Sala Daeng is the name of the BTS station if you want to get to Patpong
Patpong doesn’t seem as big a seedy place, not based on some people’s descriptions calling it Bangkok’s largest red light district. Maybe there’s more to it, who knows, I wasn’t bothered to explore anymore of it now.
If you plan to come to Patpong just for the night market, don’t. There’s nothing here you can’t find anywhere else in Bangkok for the same price (or maybe even cheaper).
I took the BTS back to Siam.
Absolut’s open-air concert event at Siam Center
Once back in my area, I decided to grab dinner first and then go back to my room.
Nana has a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants, which was great for me (given how much I miss this cuisine)
You get really good foreign exchange rates here, far better than the rates the banks in the malls give. I exchanged a few dollars.
Picked up a few shawarmas and a drink from 7-11 and called it a night
Date: 27th November 2010
Today, I met up with my friend Sawmteii and her friend, who had just arrived in Thailand. We met up at the Siam BTS and since it was their first time in Bangkok (and came with very clear intentions of shopping – a lot!), I showed them around the malls.
I couldn’t fathom the locals’ desperation to bag Krispy Kreme donuts. There were huge lines everyday at the Siam Paragon outlet.
So much was the demand, there were street hawkers who sell them in ‘black’ outside after doing the tough job of waiting in line just to bag these boxes of doughnuts.
After Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon, we walked towards Petchburi Road.
On Petchburi road, the girls wanted to check out Platinum Mall, which claims to be Thailand’s largest fashion mall.
Boy, was it crowded inside
Eight floors of fashion goodness… well, mostly for women anyway. Hardly anything for men in here.
Despite advising the girls to keep all their shopping towards the end of their journey when they return to Bangkok, they couldn’t help but feel like kids let loose in a candy store 🙂
Who can blame them? Even as a guy, I could appreciate the stuff being sold here. Really good looking dresses and accessories at prices anybody can afford. Dresses which would easily cost upwards of Rs. 1000 in India could be had for Rs. 500 or less. You could buy one, two, three, ten or more — and prices vary accordingly.
A lot of bulk buyers too
We spent quite some time in here. And when I saw ‘we,’ I mean Sawmteii and her friend Mimi. I loitered around wondering if there was anything for guys. It wasn’t until we got up to the 4th floor that I found a store selling some pretty nifty t-shirts.
After walking past pretty much every floor, the girls decided to dedicate their last few days in Thailand in here and we went up to the 6th floor to have lunch at the food court.
Post-lunch, I took the girls to Chatuchak (disembark at Mo Chit BTS).
We sat at the park for a bit before embarking on more walking through hundreds of shops
Sorry, make that thousands of shops!
Jatujak weekend market is the largest flea market in Thailand and sees most shops open on Saturday and Sunday (It is open on weekdays too, just not every shop).
In case you buy more than you can carry… there’s always DHL
Plenty of food to energize you for all the walking you’ll be doing at Jatujak
The famous bags salesman calling every foreigner “Michael” was still at it in 2010 :)
The reason I like JJ market a lot is because they sell *everything* that can be placed inside a house
Bought three kinds of lamp shades
After much walking around and being clueless as to where exactly we were (it will happen), eventually it was time for the puppies to come out. (Real puppies). You’ll only see them being sold once the sun sets — which means they’re probably doing it illegally.
Sawmteii couldn’t help but pick one up
And at the prices the puppies were being sold for (around ฿3000-฿5000 depending on the breed), she didn’t feel like putting them down either. We were seriously talking about how to bring dogs via airplanes.
Eventually we decided to call it a day.
Had one of this: cold banana on a stick dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts
Mo Chit BTS station
We got down at Nana so that the girls could check out my area (they were staying a few BTS stations further down). Got some currency exchanged and had dinner at an Arabian restaurant before wishing each other goodnight and parting ways.
Tomorrow was going to be my last full day in Bangkok.
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.
I was in Central Pattaya
A short walk and I was at the beach
The water was… alright
The sand on Pattaya beach was quite coarse. Not the soft white sand you find in most of South Thailand.
Come on, seriously? Where is there even space to walk on this beach! :)
A lot of parasailing in the distance
As soon as you hit the beach, you’re confronted by touts offering the usual gamut of watersports. I wasn’t keen on doing any of them as I needed breakfast first.
First observation: a LOT of old men in Pattaya
You can walk all the way from North to South, it’ll just take you around half an hour
I sat down at a cafe and had an American breakfast
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.
This was my room. Clearly the ‘poshest’ room this backpacker stayed in Thailand.
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 :roll:).
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.
The ride cost ฿60
I took these photos sitting behind the driver
The drive took nearly 15 minutes
You have to ride uphill
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.
As for the view from top of the hill…
Here’s a panoramic view (comprised of 6 shots)
Don’t know what that odd shaped building was
That’s the pier
Wonder which island that is
Some radio station
A famous Thai Admiral (I’m guessing)
Took out the Tamron 28-75mm lens
I’ll talk about the Sanctuary of Truth later
There was a small temple
A Buddha statue for every day of the week
Is Tuesday supposed to be a day of rest?
It was quite hot and felt like having ice cream — so I did
That’s the name of the admiral statue
I left the viewpoint
I walked downhill and decided to check out the Big Buddha statue next.
I could see the Big Buddha statue from here, so I figured I could walk it there
Though the walk from hill to hill was short, there is a lot of walking uphill now
On the way up is a Chinese Garden.
(Panorama comprised of 9 shots)
I walked a bit further up to get to the Big Buddha statue
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.
I don’t remember how much I paid for the sparrow’s’ freedom, but it was less than ฿100
Hey look, Sylvester the Cat waiting for Tweety!
Big Buddha himself
I left Big Buddha hill and decided to head to Jomtien beach
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).
A lot of posters for real estate here…
… and a lot of them seem to be targeting Russians
It was *really* hot
After walking for around 15 minutes, I decided to go by wheels
I got into a pick-up taxi and reached Jomtien beach in less than 5 minutes.
Jomtien beach (Panorama comprised of 5 shots)
Since I hadn’t had lunch yet, I first stepped into a sea facing restaurant to eat something and have some chilled beer!
Sat inside Sunlight Hotel’s restaurant
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.
Great fried stuffed crab, some fries and two beers (Chang, of course). Cost me ฿250.
Service was good and the food was nice
Stomach full, I sat there for a while before strolling the beach again.
You have the usual gamut of street stores
I came to Jomtien beach assuming it would be better than Pattaya’s main beach.
But alas, the chairs and umbrellas take up much of the sand here as well.
Though I wonder how far Jomtien’s beach extends
I got into the water for some time
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.
If you don’t mind the mostly Eastern European crowd here, Jomtien is a far more pleasant side compared to Pattaya’s main Beach Road
Took a stroll
These two Europeans were singing to raise money for charity (I hope)
After much ‘strolling,’ I figured I’d only reach the far end of Jomtien by sunset. I got into a pick-up taxi and headed back to the ‘other side’.
Pattaya is one place in Thailand you will easily find Indian food
… and Arabic food
Actually, given how touristy this place is, you’ll get pretty much every kind of cuisine
I got down here
I was on Pattaya Second Road
I walked up the road, and into this flea market
It was the usual selection of t-shirts and clothing you’ll anywhere else in Thailand. This was no Chatuchak.
By the time I stepped out, which was 10 minutes later, the sun had already set.
Checked out the only major mall on Pattaya Beach – CentralFestival
(Mostly because they had air-conditioning :))
(Taken on the Nokia E72)
After feeling a little cooler, I stepped out of the mall and on to Beach Road
Walking Street was at the end of this stretch
Dropped in here as well
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.
Mike seems to be a big-shot businessman in Pattaya. Not surprised to find out he’s Chinese.
Pattaya’s (in)famous Walking Street :)
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.
Well, most cars
Elvis is yet to enter the building. At around 7:30pm, most bars were only starting to open.
Walking Street seems like it only comes truly alive as it nears midnight
I walked all the way till the end of Walking Street
You have a few less-seedy looking avenues to have a relaxing evening
It got quiet now
Reached an open area where they often hold concerts
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).
I didn’t ‘decorate’ this photo. The vendor saw me setting up my ice cream for a shot. He placed leaves underneath and a flower, giving me the ‘nice’ hand gesture :)
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.
Pattaya sees over 4 million visitors every year
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)
It was time to go back
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.
Stopped on the way to watch some Muay Thai action
And then again, for Michael Jackson… !
(… the magician that is)
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.
Pattaya Tourist Police — I remember seeing that big bald bloke in a British series called ‘Big Trouble in Thailand’ when I was researching on Thailand back in 2009. You can find the episodes online.
I had to sit 5 minutes in a rather rather expensive internet cafe on South Pattaya Road just to jot down the 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.
How appropriate a name :)
This road was parallel to Second Road
10 minutes later and I was in front of (or behind) Mike’s Shopping Mall
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.
Aging musicians, but they were good
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.
This guy on a bike was selling freshly made pastry. Bought a sausage roll and a pie. It was really good!
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.