Aug 11

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Planning a trip to the Philippines began with the most unlikeliest of inspirations — an e-mail forward from my father. Not even a good official one, but one of those e-mails that had numerous ‘fwd: FW: Fwd:’ before the actual subject line of ‘can you believe Philippines has such beauty?!’ followed by numerous exclamation marks.

I usually disregard the images I find in such e-mails as they’re usually not from the country they claim to be but upon checking up some of the names of the places they showcased, I was quite surprised about how little I knew of their existence!

It dawned to me I knew very little about Philippines, this despite having grown up in the Middle East where (just like Indians) millions of them come to work. As a kid, all I knew about Filipinos is that a lot of them work in fast food joints or play in a band — and they don’t have the letter ‘F’ in their vocabulary. So I would often hear “500 pils” instead of “500 fils” when asked for change.

I learnt of Banaue and its famous rice terraces, the beautiful beaches of Boracay and Palawan, but the place that made me wish I was there was the remote island of Batanes. It was then, early 2010, I decided to consider making a trip to Philippines.

It was quite challenge really, because trying to study the geography of Philippines wasn’t easy.

Philippines country regions provinces map

(Image source: Wikipedia)

Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. Sure, many of those thousands are really tiny to even identify on a map but still, getting around the country isn’t easy. It requires some learning beforehand. Since it’s not a landlocked country like most of Thailand, you have to commute via road, ferry, and airlines just to get to certain places within the country.

I initially thought of clubbing Philippines & Thailand last year but it was proving to be quite expensive. So I decided to give Philippines it’s own time.

That time was early this year, when things weren’t looking too good at my workplace. We all knew what was coming our way with the fate of the office and so, instead of prepping up my resume and looking for another job, I researched more on Philippines instead :) When things became official in March and we all knew we were going to be laid off, I booked my tickets!

I tried Air Asia first but at around INR19k, it wasn’t as cheap as I thought it would be. Plus the timings were inconvenient. I land late at night and my connecting flight would have been at 7am the next morning. No way I was going to spend that long at KL LCCT! So I checked all the usual Indian travel websites and got the best deal from Travelocity for a Malaysia Airlines flight at Rs. 26,153 ($584/€411) return. Yes, it was more than Air Asia, but it was going to be convenient, so I didn’t mind paying a bit extra for that. Also, I would get proper meals, land at KLIA and not the present warehousebudget terminal. More importantly, the time I had to wait for my connecting flight was lesser.

Philippines Airlines had just launched their direct flight service to New Delhi (only), but it was quite expensive, so flying the Philippines national carrier was not a possibility.

Next came the visa. When I researched on the tourist visa, I was happy to find out Philippines offer a 21-day visa-on-arrival for a 147 nations! Great, I thought… until I scanned down the list and couldn’t find India one among those 147 countries -_-

So I ended up at the website of the Philippines embassy in New Delhi and found out I have to pay Rs. 2320 for a tourist visa (and for just 21 days). Since I couldn’t fly to Delhi just to get a visa, I had to get it done through an agent. Some agents wouldn’t even do it, and one moron even asked for Rs. 10,000 as service charges! But I walked into the nearby Thomas cook office in Koramangala (inside Raheja Arcade) and got my visa processed by paying their Rs. 1000 service charge. At Rs. 3320, this was the most I had spent on a South East Asian visa so far, and that too for a single entry visa. My multiple entry Singapore visa for 2 years cost just Rs. 1800 and my 1 year Malaysia visa cost just Rs. 1500. Thailand was free visa-on-arrival the two times I went.

My travel period was from 16th April to 4th May and I chose the dates keeping in mind the main focus of my trip was to photograph the Easter crucifixions in San Fernando. The rest of my itinerary would see me visit the largest American war cemetery outside of the United States, traverse throughout the Ifugao province for my fix of rice terrace farms, see coffins hung on hill sides, Cebu, see odd-shaped hills in Bohol and finally enjoy the natural beauty of Palawan island. I was looking for ‘interesting’ with this trip, so I ruled out Boracay — the nation’s most popular island destination, and the most touristy. Unfortunately, Batanes was out of this trip plan as well, simply because it was too expensive to even get there. No budget carrier (and Philippines has enough of them) flies to Batanes and even those that do only fly if they get enough passengers. Batanes is that remote an island.

As days passed by, I felt a bit nervous and kept having second thoughts about spending a lot of money during uncertain times. Sure, the Philippines currency value was the same as the Indian rupee, so that really helped! But still, here I was, going on vacation when all my colleagues were busy job hunting. Plus, I was going to be visiting a new country, one that like Thailand (to the eyes of the ignorant) has a sketchy reputation. I knew what I was going to see, and I was looking forward to see if they live up to the hype, but still…

One ray of hope that eased me up a bit came my way two weeks before my departure date when one of my readers left me a comment telling me how much she appreciated my website and that I “should visit the Philippines sometime!”


That blessing of a reader couldn’t have come at a better time and after we got in touch, she would be of great help to me, even helping me out with some bookings. I felt much better knowing I had a local contact, which always helps!

Leaving Bangalore airport Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur

Now I was ready to fly!

Malaysia Airlines seafood meal Bangalore flight

I had pre-booked a seafood meal for a change and while the tuna and veggies were good, I couldn't help but envy my co-passengers with their 'regular' meals enjoying their creamy desserts and chocolates when all I got was cold fruits. It's as though Malaysia gimped on the rest of the meal given how much fish costs. Sucks

Kuala Lumpur international airport tower Malaysia

Selamat pagi* Malaysia! (*Good morning)

Kuala Lumpur International Airport KLIA gates

I landed on time and took this around 7:45am

Kuala Lumpur International airport duty free liqour Malaysia

This was my first time in Kuala Lumpur International airport as last year I flew Air Asia

Kuala Lumpur airport KLIA Harrods store Malaysia

There's a mini-Harrods (Impressed with how sharp this photo came out)

Kuala Lumpur International Airport Cadbury store Malaysia

They have an exclusive Cadbury store here too

Kuala Lumpur International airport duty free Malaysia

I loitered around the Duty Free for a while

Post loitering, I found my gate and sat in front of it. I tried to catch some sleep but ended up going online to kill time for the next 4 hours.

KLIA grey skies Malaysia morning

It was grey skies even until noon in Sepang

I boarded my second Malaysia Airlines flight for this trip in the afternoon and I was now en route to Philippines.

Sepang city Malaysia flight aerial view takeoff

Selamat tinggal Malaysia!

Sepang city Malaysia flight aerial view from skyMalaysia flight aerial view farm fields

Leaving Malaysian shores aerial view flight

Leaving Malaysian shores...

South China sea spotted clouds blue water

... and flew over the South China Sea for the first time

South China sea cloud over islands

Which was a welcome pleasant change of scene for me

I took a break from staring outside my window to eat some peanuts.

Malaysia Airlines salted peanuts allergy information

Well... duh :)

South China sea small hilly island aerial

Back to staring out into the blue

South China sea islands aerial photograph


South China sea huge cloud over islands aerial photography


Malaysia Airlines meal packaging Manila flight

Okay, break time. Lunch had arrived!

Malaysia Airlines seafood meal Manila flight

Seafood meal again. Tuna steak and veggies again. 'Regular' meals came with Cadbury chocolates besides pudding for dessert. I got dried raisins. Seriously -_-

South China sea line clouds aerial view island

Meal done, back to blue

South China sea spotted clouds from plane

South China sea oval island aerial photograph


South China sea ring island submerged aerial photograph

South China Sea boomerang island submerged aerial photograph

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this flight

South China sea small island submerged aerial photograph

South China sea moon afternoon aerial photograph

Hello moon...

It got cloudy after this, so I lowered the shades and caught up on some sleep.

South China sea mountains above clouds aerial photograph

Woke up an hour later to the announcement we were approaching Manila

Entering mainland Philippines shores aerial photograph

Hello Philippines

Philippines Central Luzon hills aerial photography Philippines Manila shores aerial photography

Philippines Manila aerial photography

Manila city

Manila port Philippines aerial photography

Manila port

Manila city evening aerial photograph

Metro Manila is the 8th most populous metro in Asia

Manila city from plane aerial photograph

Manila sunset from plane Philippines

It was nearing 5pm in Philippines

Manila Taguig city building construction Philippines

The flight was a bit early... which is never a bad thing (as long as the traffic control clears it)

About to land manila international airport

About to land

Landing Ninoy Aquino International Airport Manila Philippines

Landed Ninoy Aquino International Airport Manila Philippines

Ninoy Aquino International Airport

So after nearly a total of 8 hours of flying, I was finally in Philippines. Phew, long journey!

Arrival Ninoy Aquino International Airport Manila Philippines

How's the airport? Quite old and in much need for an upgrade. Well, at least Terminal I was in.

I got my passport stamped, got my bags rather quickly, converted some dollars and I was out in around 15 minutes. The first thing I wanted to do was get a local SIM and fortunately Globe was handing out free SIMs (though they were mostly for OFWs*).

I hired a pre-paid yellow taxi (which would later turn out to be a mistake) and asked him to take me to Kabayan Hotel in Pasay, which was close to the airport. I chose Kabayan as it was a popular recommendation online. Plus, I didn’t want to spend too much time in traffic just to get to touristy Makati.

But despite how close the hotel looked on the map from the airport, getting there still took nearly 45 minutes in evening traffic. It cost 250 pesos ($5/€4) which is far more than what I thought it would cost. Anyway, I went to the hotel reception, booked a single room for myself and checked in.

Kabayan Hotel single room Manila Philippines

My A/C single room, PHP950 per night ($22/€15)

Kabayan is pretty cool. They have rooms ranging from dorms all the way up to deluxe rooms and from prices starting as low PHP610, they are very popular. And get this, you get complimentary breakfast and lunch! They also have free wi-fi among other great amenities.

Kabayan hotel rooms Manila Philippines

The toilets and shower rooms are down the hall and in between (clean and well kept)

Oh by the way, they don’t use the word toilets much in Philippines, instead it’s ‘Comfort Rooms’ or ‘CR’ :)

I stepped out again because I needed to buy some credit for the Globe SIM so that I could inform my family of my safe arrival. Since I was out, I decided to grab dinner early. It soon struck me just how much fast food Filipinos eat. Mc Donalds and homegrown Jollibee was everywhere — and they both had multiple branches within meters of each other — and all of them were doing brisk buisness! As the fast food chains are too chicken to sell beef burgers here in India (due to religious politics), a good ol’ cheeseburger was what I was craving. I picked up a burger from Jollibee, a doughnut from 7-11 and some water.

The area I was in was quite a busy part of town as it was a major hub for transportation, so you get everything you need as far as convenience stores, supermarkets and eateries go. It’s also a very noisy area, mostly because of the jeepneys.

But Kabayan does a good job of cutting out the noise once you’re inside the hotel. I took a nice warm bath and then had my dinner. I called my aforementioned reader (whose name is Aimee) and we spoke for a while. She told me the pre-paid yellow taxi at the airport are priced way more than the usual taxis I could have gotten had I just walked a bit further out. Also, there were frequent airport buses that drop people to Pasay and back. Oh well, rookie mistake.

Kabayan hotel single pad LCD tv Manila Philippines

Unlike many hotels in this price range, Kabayan has a good selection of channels which even included Zee TV (the only Indian channel though)

Given that I hadn’t slept properly in nearly 24 hours, I called it an early night.

I couldn’t wait for tomorrow to begin!


Please note: In this series of posts, I won’t be mentioning conversion rates for Indian rupees as both Philippines Peso (PHP/₱) and the Indian Rupee are more or less on a 1:1 value ratio. So Rs. 100 is like PHP98. Therefore only US dollar and Euro conversion rates will be mentioned.

*OFW = Overseas Filipino Workers; similar to NRI (Non-Resident Indian)

Other posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country  (Final post)

Jul 11

Hyderabad 2010: Day 1 — Eat Street, Charminar and Mecca Masjid

Date: 26th December 2010

After beginning this year with a visit to the UAE, then Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand later in the year, I capped off my 2010 travels with a trip to Hyderabad. The main purpose of the visit was to attend a friend’s wedding, but we (my usual travel buddies Ramesh and Loiyumba) decided to go a bit early to do a bit of sight-seeing.

This wasn’t my first visit to the capital of Andhra Pradesh. I first came to Hyderabad in 2002 to visit my brother when he worked there briefly.

In some ways I was looking forward to this trip because it was after a span of nearly 9 years that I got to travel by train again. We boarded the Kacheguda Express from Bangalore Cantonment station in the evening.

Kachiguda Express Indian train sleeper bed Loiyumba

Loi didn't wait too long to cuddle up in his sleeping bag and doze off

We arrived in Kacheguda station (not Hyderabad’s main railway station) at a chilly 5:45am. We had reserved a room for us three at Nand International, a nearby hotel, so we figured we could walk it there. But after walking for around a minute or two, we couldn’t spot the hotel and the auto drivers we passed by were telling us they could take us there for just Rs. 10. Figuring it was cold and we had luggage, we got in… and literally 5 seconds later, up the same Station road we were at, we were dropped at Nand International! Pissed at the fact all he had to tell us was to walk a few steps further to get here, we shouted at the auto driver — but relented from ruining our morning and just paid him Rs. 10 to get lost.

We checked in to our three person bedroom/family room.

Nand International three bedroom Kacheguda Hyderabad hotel

Costs Rs. 870 ($19/€13) per night for this centrally air-conditioned room

Since we were still sleepy, we crashed for a few hours.

Got up around noon, had tea and pondered about where to have lunch. In a city famed for its food, we weren’t keen on hitting up the street food joints near Charminar straight away. So we decided to go to a place called Eat Street.

Eat Street Necklace road Hyderabad India

Cost nearly Rs. 60 to get here by auto from Kacheguda Station Road

Eat Street is just some food court by Hussain Sagar Lake, one of the largest man made lakes in India. We passed through scanners (apparently security is pretty tight in Hyderabad) and walked in to a not-so-busy food court.

Eat Street food court Hussain Sagar lake HyderabadEat street open air food court Hussain Sagar lake HyderabadWe checked out the various stalls, some open open for business… some not. You get your usual choice of South Indian, biriyani (of course), chaats, western fast food, etc. But despite being in the city famous for its biriyani, I wasn’t going to eat it from just about anywhere.

Eat Street biriyani fried chicken fries Hyderabad

So I had burger, fried chicken strips and fries instead. Lame, I know.

Ramesh and Loi both tried out the biriyani and they described the food as: “sucks” and “horrible”. So there.

Eat Street Hussain Sagar lake Mithun Ramesh Hyderabad

Loiyumba took this photograph using his camera

Hussain Sagar lake Hyderabad India

Hussain Sagar lake (Photograph by Loiyumba)

Hussain Sagar lake Buddha statue Hyderabad India

There are boat rides in the evening to go to the Buddha statue (Photograph by Loiyumba)

Post-lunch, we already feeling a sense of ‘boredom’ and wondered what to do next.

Hussain Sagar lake park tarot reader afternoon Hyderabad

We left Eat Street and aimlessly walked through the park around the lake

Hussain Sagar lake park afternoon Hyderabad Hyderabad colourful houses dish antennas cartoon wall

Hyderabad book fair 2010 stalls people India

There was book fair going on

Hyderabad book fair 2010 stalls India

It was the annual Hyderabad Book Fair

Ram Gopal Varma autobiography Telugu book

Hyderabad book fair 2010 stalls afternoon India

Considering none of us have the habit of reading books much, we left fairly quickly

Hyderabad lake park afternoon India

Prasads Imax theatre Hyderabad mall

Crossed the road over to Prasads

The one good thing about Hyderabad is that they have an IMAX screen, and it can be found at Prasads on Tank Bund Road. The security was pretty tight before entering here as well (I take it’s because of the Telangana issue?). We checked out the mall a bit before going to collect our pre-booked tickets for Tron which was playing.

After checking out Prasads, we stepped out, took an autorickshaw and went to see Charminar, Hyderabad’s iconic structure.

Way to Charminar Musi River bridge Hyderabad

Charminar market bazaar Hyderabad

There are many old bazaars leading up to Charminar... and traffic was very congested

We eventually asked the auto driver to stop and decided to walk it further up.

Charminar pearl bazaar shops Hyderabad India

Plenty of pearl stores here, Hyderabad pearls are quite famous

Charminar fort entrance Hyderabad India
Charminar road crowded HyderabadSyedi book seller Charminar fort Hyderabad

Charminar fort Hyderabad India

The road goes all around Charminar

Charminar Tiffin centre South Indian food Hyderabad

I ate from here on the third day, really good South Indian food!

Charminar literally translates to “four towers”. Minar or minaret  being the towers or pointy structures you find in just about every mosque and char which just means four.

Charminar fort blue sky Hyderabad India

Built by ruler Qutb Shah in 1591 AD

Charminar fort entry visitors Hyderabad

There was a queue going half way around Charminar

Charminar fort street kids old coins Hyderabad India

Old coins for sale. Genuineness unconfirmed.

Charminar fort visitors queue Hyderabad India

We queued up, paid the Rs. 5 entry fee and entered

Charminar fort entry Hyderabad India Charminar no spitting sign Hyderabad India

Climbing stairs Charminar minaret Hyderabad

You climb narrow stairs up one of the minars

Climbing up minaret Charminar inside Hyderabad

Charminar stairs minar Hyderabad

The walls were quite cold

Charminar balcony view woman Hyderabad

You obviously get a better picture of the surrounding from up here

View from Charminar bazaar HyderabadBut walking through the halls, I couldn’t really help but not ignore something.

Charminar inside writing damage wall Hyderabad

The walls

Charminar wall damage inscribed Hyderabad

It's quite apparent how badly the walls have been vandalized the past few years by callous visitors

Charminar ceiling islamic architecture Hyderabad

At least the ceilings were hard to reach

Charminar wall names scratched Hyderabad

It's an appalling sight in many of our heritage monuments

No writing damaging walls sign Charminar Hyderabad

Despite the efforts to curb the practice and a law making it a punishable offence...

Charminar wall writing damaging wall Hyderabad

... even to this day, to some worthless citizens of this country, it's still a joke. As if these historical monuments are just another building to them.

Charminar arches ceiling Islamic architecture Hyderabad

Laad bazaar bangles street Charminar Hyderabad

Laad bazaar a.k.a 'bangles street' -- guess why it's called so

Charminar main hall ceiling design Hyderabad

The open hall in between the four minarets

Charminar inside hall wall writings HyderabadCharminar open hall design Hyderabad

Charminar ceiling pigeons Hyderabad

Five pigeons

Charminar Laad bazaar road Hyderabad India

Charminar traffic view from top Hyderabad

Traffic is quite messy (and very busy) around Charminar

Mecca Masjid view from Charminar Hyderabad

Mecca Masjid, where we were headed next

Palace opposite Mecca Masjid Charminar Hyderabad

Nizamia Unani Hospital, opposite Mecca Masjid

Charminar Loiyumba Ramesh Hyderabad India

Charminar circle view down Hyderabad

It was time to head back down

Charminar steps down minar tower Hyderabad

Down another minar we went

Bangles Street bazaar Hyderabad IndiaCharminar arch islamic design HyderabadCharminar ceiling design from ground HyderabadCharminar angle shot HyderabadCharminar done, we decided to sit in a cafe to have something to drink.

Charminar restaurant falooda Hyderabad

Ramesh played it safe with Pepsi, while myself and Loi had *extremely* sweet falooda

Gajini-ki-shaadi film poster Hyderabad India

As seen inside the cafe

Gajini-ki-shaadi Hyderabad poster

Looks like there is a parallel film industry within Hyderabad making low-budget unofficial sequels to mainstream film releases :)

Excessive sugar intake complete, we decided to quickly step inside Makkah Masjid.

Charminar circle crowds Hyderabad India

Nizamia Unani hospital opposite Makkah Masjid Hyderabad

The markets are quite bustling in these parts

Mecca Masjid mosque Hyderabad India

Mecca Masjid is the biggest mosque in Hyderabad and one of the oldest in India

You have to leave your bag and shoes at the counter and walk barefoot once past the gates.

Mecca Masjid mosque Charminar Hyderabad

Mecca Masjid sunset pigeon feeding Hyderabad India

People had gathered to see hundreds of pigeons being fed grains

Mecca Masjid evening pigeon feeding Hyderabad

Not very exciting... but still

Mecca Masjid pigeons Hyderabad mosque

Mecca Masjid pigeons flying evening Hyderabad

It's always such a photo moment when hundreds of them fly away at once

Mecca Masjid entrance hall Hyderabad

I decided to check out the mosque

Mecca Masjid prayer hall muslim Hyderabad India

The main prayer hall

Mecca Masjid prayer hall mosque Hyderabad India

Wonder what those honeycomb-like bags hold

Mecca Masjid side visitors Hyderabad

Went around the mosque

Mecca Masjid behind hyderabadMecca Masjid grounds Charminar Hyderabad

Mecca Masjid pigeons evening lamp posts Hyderabad

Pigeons, pigeons... there are a lot of them

Mecca Masjid pigeons electric wires Hyderabad

Needless to say, there's a lot of pigeon poop on the ground

Mecca Masjid fountain Charminar HyderabadWe left the mosque and decided to call it a day.

Punch Mohalla Charminar Hyderabad

Took a rickshaw back to our hotel

Charminar bakery road Hyderabad evening

That's a heap of bread crumbs and rusk being sold in bulk. Not very hygienic in these conditions I would presume.

Once back in Nand International, I was quite cheesed off. Despite claiming to provide 24 hours hot water, when I opened the tap, I only got cold water. Went to the reception to complain and the man with a straight face told me it only comes on from 6am to 6pm. I then raised my voice and told him “well, that’s not what it says on your website!” and demanded I need hot water as it was quite cold (which it was outside). Only then did I get a bucket of hot water. So a big thumbs down for Nand International because of that.

Post rant, we concluded day one in Hyderabad with dinner at nearby three-star hotel restaurant where we had, yes, biriyani.

It was alright, but I would have much better biriyani in the next few days.

Jul 11

Thailand 2010: Pattaya — Beach road, Viewpoint, Jomtien Beach, Walking Street

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.

Central Pattaya road Thailand

I was in Central Pattaya

Pattaya beach road fountain monument Thailand

A short walk and I was at the beach

North Pattaya beach Thailand

The water was… alright

The sand on Pattaya beach was quite coarse. Not the soft white sand you find in most of South Thailand.

Pattaya beach umbrellas speedboats

Come on, seriously? Where is there even space to walk on this beach! :)

Pattaya beach water morning

A lot of parasailing in the distance

Pattaya beach old man ThailandAs 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.

Central Pattaya beach walk

Central Pattaya beach road morning walk

First observation: a LOT of old men in Pattaya

Pattaya beach walk Thailand

You can walk all the way from North to South, it’ll just take you around half an hour

Pattaya beach road walk morning Thailand

Hard Rock Hotel beach road Pattaya

The Hard Rock Hotel on Beach road

Pattaya beach facing condo Thailand

Pattaya beach road soi in morning Thailand

Pattaya’s not really a ‘morning’ city

Pattaya beach road morning traffic

Pattaya beach road cafe morning

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.

Villa Panalee bedroom Pattaya

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.

Pattaya 2nd road traffic Thailand

The ride cost ฿60

Pattaya third road traffic Thailand

I took these photos sitting behind the driver

Driving to viewpoint hillRoad to viewpoint hill Pattaya

Way to Big Buddha hill Pattaya

The drive took nearly 15 minutes

Road leading to viewpoint Pattaya bay

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…
Pattaya bay from viewpoint hill

Pattaya bay panorama view of city and sea

Here’s a panoramic view (comprised of 6 shots)

Pattaya city buildings Thailand

Don’t know what that odd shaped building was

Pattaya new pier from viewpoint hill

That’s the pier

Pattaya neighbouring island Thailand

Wonder which island that is

Pattaya viewpoint of bay Thailand

Pattaya viewpoint hill FM104.75 station

Some radio station

Statue Admiral Prince Krom Louang Chumphon Khet monument

A famous Thai Admiral (I’m guessing)

Pattaya new pier close up boats

Took out the Tamron 28-75mm lens

Pattaya bay beach sea view Pattaya bay sunset time

Sanctuary of truth art display viewpoint hill

I’ll talk about the Sanctuary of Truth later

Pattaya viewpoint temple

There was a small temple

Weekday buddha Sunday Monday statues

A Buddha statue for every day of the week

Weekday Buddha Tuesday statue

Is Tuesday supposed to be a day of rest?

Week day Buddha Wednesday Thursday statuesWeek day Buddha Friday Saturday statuesViewpoint Temple pagoda panorama Pattaya

Coconut vendor viewpoint hill cats Pattaya

It was quite hot and felt like having ice cream — so I did

Viewpoint hill Pattaya bay

Pattaya viewpoint opening closing time

That’s the name of the admiral statue

Pattaya viewpoint temple panorama

I left the viewpoint

I walked downhill and decided to check out the Big Buddha statue next.

Walking down to Big Buddha hill Pattaya

I could see the Big Buddha statue from here, so I figured I could walk it there

Pattaya hill road

Chinese garden granite stairs Pattaya Thailand

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.

Tao Teck brass bell Chinese garden Pattaya ThailandKwan Yin goddess Chinese Garden Pattaya hillChinese Garden Pattaya Thailand

Pattaya Chinese garden Big Buddha hill panorama

(Panorama comprised of 9 shots)

Chinese garden dog sleeping afternoon Pattaya
Chinese Garden stray dog afternoon PattayaChinese Garden stray dog looking afternoon PattayaChinese Garden Chao Dynasty warriors display PattayaStories of 24 gratitudes chinese garden PattayaChinese Garden golden hall PattayaChinese Garden big buddha hill Pattaya ThailandChao Dynasty warriors statues Chinese garden PattayaChao Dynasty description Chinese Garden Pattaya Thailand

Big Buddha hill Pattaya Thailand

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.

Sparrow cages vendor Big Buddha statue Pattaya hill Thailand

I don’t remember how much I paid for the sparrow’s’ freedom, but it was less than ฿100

Sparrow cages cat Big Buddha statue Pattaya hill

Hey look, Sylvester the Cat waiting for Tweety!

Steps to Big Buddha statue Pattaya ThailandSteps to Big Buddha statue Pattaya hill Thailand

Big Buddha statue panorama Pattaya Thailand

Big Buddha himself

Big Buddha statues cat Pattaya Thailand

Pattaya hill road afternoon Thailand

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).

Jomtien land for sale Pattaya Thailand

A lot of posters for real estate here…

Apartments for sale Jomtien Pattaya Thailand

… and a lot of them seem to be targeting Russians

Flat sale rent Pattaya ThailandJomtien real estate Pattaya Thailand

Road to Jomtien Pattaya Thailand

It was *really* hot

Road to Jomtein beach Pattaya Thailand

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 shops Pattaya Thailand

Jomtien beach panorama Pattaya Thailand

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!

Jomtien beach road restaurants

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.

Fried stuffed crab Pattaya Thailand

Great fried stuffed crab, some fries and two beers (Chang, of course). Cost me ฿250.

Sunlight seafood restaurant hotel Jomtien beach Pattaya

Service was good and the food was nice

Stomach full, I sat there for a while before strolling the beach again.

Jomtien beach road traffic

Jomtien beach shops Russian tourists

You have the usual gamut of street stores

I came to Jomtien beach assuming it would be better than Pattaya’s main beach.

Jomtien beach Pattaya Thailand

But alas, the chairs and umbrellas take up much of the sand here as well.

Jomtien beach kid Pattaya Thailand

Though I wonder how far Jomtien’s beach extends

Jomtien beach sunset view horizon Pattaya Thailand

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.

Jomtien beach tourists Pattaya Thailand

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

Jomtien beach road Oasis Pattaya Thailand

Took a stroll

Jomtien Thani hotel Pattaya Oasis Pattaya Thailand Windsurfers Jomtien beach Pattaya ThailandJomtien beach walk Pattaya ThailandJomtien beach umbrellas chairs Pattaya Thailand

Jomtien beach singers charity Pattaya Thailand

These two Europeans were singing to raise money for charity (I hope)

Jomtien beach stray dog Pattaya ThailandJomtien beach schoolgirl Pattaya ThailandJomtien beach umbrellas sunset Pattaya ThailandJomtien beach sunset Pattaya ThailandJomtien Garden hotel road Pattaya ThailandAfter 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’.

Jomtien Punjabi Tadka Indian restaurant Pattaya Thailand

Pattaya is one place in Thailand you will easily find Indian food

Pattaya city Arab restaurant massage

… and Arabic food

Steakhouse Royal Palace Hotel Pattaya Thailand

Actually, given how touristy this place is, you’ll get pretty much every kind of cuisine

Second road bars Pattaya Thailand

I got down here

Sawadee Sabai Pattaya second road

I was on Pattaya Second Road

Pattaya Second Road street shops Thailand

I walked up the road, and into this flea market

Street store t-shirts accessories Pattaya Thailand

Pattaya street shop clothes Thailand

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.

Madras Darbar Pardes restaurant Pattaya Thailand

Central Festival Mall Pattaya Thailand

Checked out the only major mall on Pattaya Beach – CentralFestival

Central Festival mall interiors Pattaya Thailand

(Mostly because they had air-conditioning :))

Central Festival mall inside Pattaya Beach Thailand

(Taken on the Nokia E72)

Central Festival mall X'mas tree Pattaya Thailand

After feeling a little cooler, I stepped out of the mall and on to Beach Road

Pattaya Bay beach at night lights

Pattaya Bay beach at night umbrellas

Walking Street was at the end of this stretch

Pattaya Bay beach at night lifeguard Beach road at night Pattaya Thailand

Tipp Plaza Beach road Pattaya Thailand

Mike Shopping mall Beach Road Pattaya Thailand

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.

Beach road McDonald's Pattaya ThailandRoyal Garden Plaza Pattaya ThailandPattaya City Walk restaurants beach road ThailandPattaya Beach Road beer barIndian food Soi Pattaya Thailand

Mike Plaza hotel jewelry Beach road Pattaya Thailand

Mike seems to be a big-shot businessman in Pattaya. Not surprised to find out he’s Chinese.

Walking street Pattaya Thailand

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.

Go-go bars restaurants walking street Pattaya Thailand

Well, most cars

Elvis show walking street Pattaya bar Thailand

Elvis is yet to enter the building. At around 7:30pm, most bars were only starting to open.

Pattaya Walking Street neon signs Thailand

Walking Street seems like it only comes truly alive as it nears midnight

Rasputin restaurant end Walking Street Pattaya Thailand

I walked all the way till the end of Walking Street

Bah-hai by the sea food restaurant

You have a few less-seedy looking avenues to have a relaxing evening

International meeting street Pattaya Thailand

It got quiet now

Pattaya City hill sign at night

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).

Coconut ice cream Pattaya Thailand

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 Bay at night Thailand watersPattaya 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 city sign sea lights

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)

Oriental star dining boat pier Pattaya Thailand


New pier station Pattaya Thailand

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.

Dollhouse go-go bar Muay Thai boxing match Pattaya Thailand

Stopped on the way to watch some Muay Thai action

And then again, for Michael Jackson… !

Michael Jackson magician walking street Pattaya Thailand

(… 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.

Walking Street tourist police Pattaya Thailand

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.

South Pattaya road at night Thailand

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.

House of pain tattoo parlour Pattaya Thailand

How appropriate a name :)

Pattaya night bars Sawadee hotels

This road was parallel to Second Road

Mike's Shopping Mall department store Pattaya Thailand

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.

Pattaya rock band playing bar Thailand

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.

Fresh pot pie pastry sausage roll vendor Pattaya

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.

Reddit comment Pattaya

Previous posts in this series:

Thailand 2010: Golden Triangle in Mae Sai; Chiang Rai’s White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

Thailand 2010: Heading to Chiang Rai by bus, Wat Jedyod and Golden Clock Tower

Thailand 2010: Last day of Loi Krathong; Sunday Grand Parade (Day 4, Part 2)

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai Zoo (Day 4, Part 1)

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai Loi Krathong celebrations; first Grand Parade

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai cooking class; Loi Krathong celebrations in Mae Jo, Sansai

Thailand 2010: First day in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong; driving up Doi Suthep

Thailand 2010: Arriving in Bangkok and preparing for Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

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