Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thailand (2011): Pattaya


POST DOSTĘPNY TAKŻE PO POLSKU


We start off from the Balice airport on November 9 at 15.25 to arrive in Vienna at about 16.30. We have approx. 7 hours of waiting here. We wanted to save some money on tickets and now we regret it. The airport is small, there’s not much to do here. From Vienna we depart several minutes before midnight to touch the Thai ground the next day at 15.05 local time.
When we get there, part of the country is still under water, we check regularly the government's website www.thailand.prd.go.th and sites of the two English-language newspapers, “The Nation” and “The Bangkok Post”. We also check the information of the Polish Embassy in Bangkok (www.bangkok.polemb.net), but they seem to frighten you more than to inform – that’s my opinion.


One of the most interesting things I experienced in Thailand was meeting a tiger
When we get off the plane it's seems we've found ourselves in a different world. Suvarnabhumi Airport (read it as: soo-wan-na-poom) is enormous. No wonder, Bangkok is a major hub on the Asian aviation map. But this is much more than we expected. Several levels, each has its assignment. Level 4 for departures, Level 3 for arrivals etc. And what’s interesting, it’s not so easy to move between them. For example you can't take a lift from Level 4 to Level 3. What for? – you could ask. Of course, we find a way to do this, because there’s a cheap grocery store on Level 3.
The airport is located approx. 25 km from the city center. Just at the beginning there’s a little unpleasant surprise waiting for us. Although we checked thoroughly all the information on the airport’s website (www.bangkokairportonline.com), it turns out to be outdated (more about this in another part, dedicated to the capital).

We don’t lose time and find quickly an exchange (there are several points here) to change some money to start with. Close to the exchanges there's a tourist information counter of TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) with sympathetic and helpful staff and free maps. We change jeans and shirts for shorts and T-shirts and run to the counter where tickets to Pattaya are sold. Note: there are two counters of two companies side by side, one selling tickets for 124 THB and the other for 200 THB; they don’t differ much, the one being public and the other private.
The bus goes directly to Pattaya and doesn’t stop along the way. It has several stops in Pattaya itself, the last one not far from Jomtien Beach, on Thapphraya Rd., in front of the “Pan Pan Restaurant” (it’s good orientation point). The last departure from the airport is at 22.00 and it goes only to North Pattaya Rd. It’s not a big problem because songthaews (sort of collective taxis) operate until late at night. You need to be careful when getting on the empty vehicles because sometimes the drivers treat such a course as a taxi course and will ask for much more money than usual fare which is 10 THB per person. Nevertheless they often ask 20 THB from the foreigners. The best solution is to count the exact amount and give it to the driver or his assistant with a bold face.

One of the main streets in Pattaya
Pattaya is situated approx. 150 km from Bangkok, on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand which makes it a good place for rest for those who don’t want to waste time and energy to get to one of the many islands, and at the same time want to enjoy fully the lively night life. Pattaya is famous for that. Many people, having returned from there, bluntly call it a brothel-city. In my opinion, it enjoys deservedly such an opinion and I think it doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
Official website of the city: www.pattayacityhall.go.th

We reach Pattaya at about 21.00 and we don’t really know how to move around the city. We try to hook a few people, but it seems no one speaks English here! It’s strange in a place where, apart from vice girls, tourists are the largest group. Finally, a Frenchman, seeing our embarrassment, shows us the direction to the center and instructs us how to use songthaews.
We get to the center and enter the first alley. Noise, neon lights glare our eyes; girls on one side, boys on the other… It’d be very difficult to fall asleep here. We wander around narrow streets for quite a time and decide to go back to the main intersection. We notice a small sign “Rooms for rent”. That’s the place. Nice, clean and spacious room, a window overlooks the neighboring temple; very quiet; private bathroom with hot water; air-con, fridge, TV set, free wi-fi. 450 THB. We take it. A moment to refresh ourselves and off we go for the first reconnaissance and a dinner.

We’ve heard many good things about Thai cuisine. Friends advised us to eat in the street. You don’t have to be afraid of the lack of hygiene. Well, the establishments here might not be too sterile but we don’t have such objections as in e.g. India. We order a soup and rise with chicken as a second course. We get totally different dishes. Some minutes pass before we manage to explain what we really want. Again, what’s wrong with English here? Indeed, we expected that in the country where several million tourists arrive annually, the knowledge of the basics of English will be a norm.
In Pattaya we spend almost a week in total (in two rounds). Where to start…

Beaches

The biggest attractions of Pattaya are its bars, night-clubs and beaches. There are several parks in the vicinity offering shows of the Thai culture, elephant rides etc. This is the right town to spend a few days' holiday.

Jomtien Beach
Beaches may not be too nice nor clean, especially the one in the center, near the promenade, going off the “entertainment” streets. The best one is located in Jomtien, south of the city. There are lots of resorts and hotels here. A bit calmer is Naklua, north. The central beach, called Hat Pattaya, is suitable only for those whose only need is that the water was wet. At night the shore changes into a crowdy bar and almost every piece of sand is occupied by deck chairs for which you have to pay, of course.

Nong Nooch Tropical Garden

Within a distance of several kilometers from the city there are several complexes offering entertainment for local inhabitants as well as for tourists. One of the most interesting seems to be Nong Nooch Tropical Garden(www.nongnoochgarden.com), founded many years ago by a resourceful Thai woman, Mrs. Nooch. We choose this place tempted by the possibility of an elephant ride and making photos with tigers.

Delightful Nong Nooch Garden
You can reach Nong Nooch on your own but we buy a half day tour in one of the information points. Bus takes people from their hotels or other agreed places and takes them to the park. The price includes admission and two shows. In our case, that will be culture & history show and the other – elephant performances.
When we reach the place we have a little time to make pictures with various animals of what we willingly take advantage. It may seem funny but stroking a tiger is something magical. It’s a very strange feeling to be so close to wild animals and not to feel any fear! Then a short walk through the main part of the garden and we have an opportunity to ride on a back of the elephant. Despite their enormous size these animals seem very friendly and even sympathetic.

Riding an elephant is an amazing experience 
Next point of the program: show. I have to admit that Thais are masters in making this type of performances. History and culture of the country embellished with a bit monotonous, as for my ears, music (such is the music created in most Asian countries), performed by the actors in very colorful costumes (also a characteristic of the continent) lasts just enough to intrigue, but not to make you bored. Then we can watch elephants playing darts, football, riding bicycles etc. We have a few minutes for a soup and there comes a time to return. 
These several hours passed like few moments. Who would like to stay longer in this beautiful place, and I think it’s worth it, they should find a way to get here on their own.

Thai culture show

INFO
Nong Nooch Garden, an organized trip, 8.30-13, cost: 700 THB, including fetching from the hotel + two shows (culture, elephants); additional costs: elephant ride 400 THB, picture with an animal 50 THB.

Other attractions

Wat Chai Monkhon
*Wat Chai Monkhon– well preserved temple in the city center
*Museum of Bottle Art– near the bus station on Thanon Sukhumvit

Attractions near Pattaya
*Elephant Village Pattaya  www.elephant-village-pattaya.com; shows with animals
*The Million-Years Stone Park and Pattaya Crocodile Park – www.thaistonepark.com; shows with crocodiles
*Sanctuary of Truthwww.sanctuaryoftruth.com; wooden building constructed according with the traditional philosophy, sightseeing, elephant trekking, demonstration of wood carving, boat rides

Night life

Night life is concentrated in South Pattaya, especially on Walking Street. This street has impressed me much but I wouldn’t say positively. I’ve never been in any brothel district before, I haven’t seen the red street in Amsterdam or anywhere else. So that is what oldish guys from all over Europe and other places come here for… Yes, yes. Pattaya has the reputation of the brothel-city. On many forums you can read that the city is full of older white men walking around with young Thai girls. I thought these opinions were much exaggerated. But the reality surpassed my imagination. It looks as though the oldest (sorry), bald guys with red noses came here in search of pleasure. The impression is terrible when one sees these guys hand in hand with beautiful filigree girls. I don’t enter here into any moral or ethical issues, they’re adults and free to do whatever they want and it’s nobody else’s business. I just say about my impression. And I don’t mean three-five pairs which you pass by on the street. There are hundreds of them.

Similar depressing impression is made by troops of girls hanging out in bars, pubs and night-clubs waiting for guests who in the company of a beautiful woman, after several drinks, will be more willing to buy a few rounds more, and will spend hundreds of bahts more. Is a drink all there is, I don’t know. I dare to doubt. Similarly, girls are flocking on the promenade waiting for clients, and also in the so called Walking Street, where probably only pubs and night-clubs have remained. And if you prefer boys, you may choose among several alleys with dozens of establishments.

Many clubs offer various kinds of shows. Here – a cabaret, here – imitators singins pop songs, there – a show in the aquarium (incredible!). There are of course shows with a degree of eroticism, but most of them don’t contain obscene scenes or totally naked bodies and sex. It should be noted that although they’re not quite Moulin Rouge type of performances, yet Thai are masters in such short spectacles and watching them gives a lot of pleasure and can be quite entertaining.
You must watch out for one more thing though – so called ladyboys. In Thailand it’s not rare when a girl you just met turns out to be… a boy. There's a social acceptance for that, to such extent that even in everyday situations, e.g. in a store or a restaurant you can’t be sure if you’re being served by him or her…

Cocktail Car - one of the street-pubs in Pattaya


Food tastes best on the street
As can be seen from the above description, Pattaya offers something for every taste. You can also buy here lots of cheap souvenirs, clothes and eat well. Prices – for everyone. A dinner in a place for “locals” may cost 40-60 THB (ie. 4-6 PLN or €1-1,5), but in a place where there are more tourists, even 500 THB. It all depends on your taste, pocket and whether you want to try local cuisine or prefer dishes like at home.

On Sunday, November 13, in the morning we leave for Bangkok where we’ll spend two nights and then on November 15 at dawn we have a plane to Kuala Lumpur. We take a bus to the airport and from there we’ll get a rapid train to the center to avoid traffic jams.
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