Here I go again. My third official trip to Thailand (fourth according to my passport). This time though, I wasn’t going to be alone. Ramesh, a friend I have travelled extensively with, was going to join me this time. But since he is working, he could only take a week off. Whereas I would be in Thailand for nearly two weeks.
I’ve been meaning to return to Thailand ever since my disappointment of 2010, when I first tried to capture the Yi Peng Lanna festival. I was still bitter about missing the big lantern release and vowed I would go back to do it right.
So it was good fortune when I landed a return ticket from Bangalore to Bangkok on Thai Airways for just Rs.14,558 ($266/€204)! How? Well, Cleartrip to the rescue again! I have been keeping a check on prices since January. For the first few months of 2012, the price was around Rs. 25k! Same airline and about the same travel period. Which was quite shocking, considering I paid Rs. 15k and Rs. 16k in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Then in early September, I was served an ad banner from Cleartrip promoting a discount coupon where by I could save some money on international flights.
This time the same Thai Airways flight cost Rs. 16k, a far more reasonable fare. I used the coupon code and got a further Rs.1600 discount. At Rs.14,558, this was the lowest I had ever paid for a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. I immediately told Ramesh and he booked his ticket as well.
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
The Hard Rock Hotel on Beach road
Pattaya’s not really a ‘morning’ city
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 ).
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 Stre t
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.