Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pattaya

I arrived in Pattaya early Saturday morning with Al. We went to his favorite hotel, the V&M Terrace on Soi Boakhao where he had a reservation, left our bags with the night clerk and went off to find some breakfast. We were hopeful that by the time we made our way back to the hotel that a room would be available there for me as well. If not, there are hundreds of places to get cheap lodging here. When we returned, sure enough a room was vacant so I moved my stuff in, took  a shower and hit the sack. I spent the rest of the day napping on and off because even though I'd slept through a good portion of the 9 hour bus ride, it wasn't a good sleep.

I came to Pattaya despite its reputation because I needed to meet up with Albert for a trip to Cambodia, as I've already explained. (More on that later.) I've learned much more about Pattaya than I ever would have had I been traveling solo because I'm here with four friends who, once again, have shown me around, got me hotel rooms and meals, and have made my first weeks in Thailand so easy, so interesting and so much fun. I owe them all thanks for including me in their savvy travelers group.

I should say right off that there is much about Pattaya that I will not describe in this blog. There are many photographs I wanted to shoot, but could not have really, and hence cannot share. I have seen things here that I'd never seen before or even imagined I'd ever see. The bar scene is crazy and wild. It is, at first look, appalling. Women are out working the bars and the beach, day and night. It's common to see older men, much older men than me, with beautiful, young Thai women on their arms. This scene is what makes Pattaya the place it is. Many older falangs come here for vacation or during retirement and stay because of the availability of, well, one wants to call it romance, but that term would invoke the most generous spin one could put on it rather than an accurate reflection of reality. But everyone here seems to enjoy themselves. The dancers in the go-go bars, for example, don't drink alcohol but they seem to enjoy their work and attack it with reckless abandon. I entered a air conditioned bar last night and because I had just come in off the steamy street I was a bit sweaty. A hostess promptly fetched a damp lemon-scented towel and wiped the sweat off my brow. I reckon one could conceivably get used to that sort of treatment. ;-)



As you can see, Pattaya is also a tourist destination for the well-heeled. visible in the distance are the big hotels in this shot of the beach to the north. BTW, I haven't been in the ocean for a swim yet.

I took a walk up the Beach Road the other day and took these shots. I wanted to get a few photos of the street vendors that are everywhere in Thailand. These few photos show people eating in "restaurants" (we might say they're "eating out"), like the ones we usually choose to frequent. The food is excellent and of course, very cheap.

The kitchen on wheels, this one with attached motorcycle, is yet another type of eatery but without a permanent place on the sidewalk it functions more as a take-out shop.





These two pickups are actually taxis, called song thaew, that patrol the streets 24/7. To catch a ride you simply signal the driver to pull over. He stops and you jump on. There are electric buzzers in back so you can signal him when you want to get off. You pay him a fixed price of 10 baht (about 30 cents) and you're done. The only drawback is that you can usually only travel up or down the same street--you can't set up  a custom trip. Think of them as a kind of motorized walkway like the ones the airports have these days. They're a very convenient way to travel--and you never have to wait more than a minute or two before one comes along.



Albert and I had a late supper in a place called the New Plaza near our hotel and it was completely top shelf. There was one item I chose just because it looked different and it was especially good: a combination of fish, coconut milk and curry with perhaps rice, I'm not sure, but it was served in a sort of cup fashioned from a banana leaf. Absolutely delicious! When eating out in this fashion, I typically choose my food by pointing to one or two of the vegetable, curry, fish or meat dishes on display which is then served on a bed of rice.  Practically everything comes with rice with the exception of noodle dishes like pad thai. There are always various sauces and seasonings available too - nam pla, or fish sauce, various sorts of chili pepper-laced variations on that, some pickles, sometimes sugar and salt too as the Thai like to have a combination of hot, sweet, salt and sour all together in one meal. I haven't had a bad meal the whole time I've been here although not all dinners are as good as that particular one. It's hard to understand why any Thai would ever visit a McDonald's or a Kentucky Fried Chicken when they can eat high quality food like this for less money. Maybe it's simply the power of advertising in action because McDonalds and KFCs, along with Burger Kings and Starbucks, are fairly common in the bigger cities. Go figure...


I include here a few pictures that I consider funny in a certain way. The lushest piece of greenery in all of central Pattaya is this vacant lot on Soi Boakhao. It is enclosed by barbed wire and probably destined to become the location of some large hotel. Next is a picture of a utility pole and what I call the "Wiring Diagram", a common sight all around Thailand. How anything works considering this rat's nest of wires is beyond me. Albert tells me it's worse in India. No wonder cell phones are so popular in 3rd world countries--they're wireless!




This last one is a picture of the bathroom in my hotel. This configuration is the norm here and all my hotel bathrooms have been set up this way. First note that the entire space is tiled. That's for a reason: the shower and toilet are close together and share the same floorspace. The only real problem with it is that after you shower the toilet is wet. Also note that the water is heated by an electric wall heater. You all probably know that in the states our bathroom electric receptacles have built in fault or shock protection because simply put water, electricity and the human body simply aren't meant to be together in the same small space. Also notice the small kitchen-type sprayer near the toilet. Thais do not generally use toilet paper. Rather, after using the toilet they simply spray themselves clean in bidet-like fashion. After a negative first impression I decided to try it. I can report that, at least in these tropical climates, the system does work and has some merits. But I wouldn't want to use it in Alaska!



Tomorrow Albert and I leave Pattaya for Phnom Penh by taxi. Albert set this up with a local cabbie. The trip will cost less than if I were to go by airplane and has some added advantages. We will be driven literally door to door from our hotel here, the V&M Terrace to our hotel in Phnom Penh, the Superstar, the timetable completely our own, we will see more of the countryside as we travel through it rather than over it. We will make stops whenever we want and perhaps see some interesting local color.