Just south of Thailand, about two hours by bus, is Pattaya on the sea. It was not high on my list of places to see. It’s reputation is for overdevelopment, all night partying, widespread prostitution and a whole slew of foreigners most of whom are doing things they would never dare to do in their own country/culture. The sea is murky if not polluted and in a country of so many amazingly beautiful places, it just doesn’t seem worth one’s time. But my first weekend in Bangkok, friends invited me to their condo for a night. I was surprised by a few things there that made the trip well worth it.
We rolled into town late on a Saturday and passed along the seashore where we could have been in Cancun or any tropical resort town, just substitute Cabbages and Condoms for Carlos and Charlie’s. (OK, not the same–one is a restaurant for boozing, the other is a eatery with an ambition for teaching the health values of condom use–but the alliteration was nice, no?) The beer bars (normally called bar beers) stand out, generally open-air pavilions with several little square bar areas centered around poles at ground level (so you have to be at the bar to really have a look at the occasional dancer), and the establishments are easily spotted with their pinkish (not quite red) lights inside. The streets are loaded with a whole assortment of Thai and foreigners, scooters move in chaotic paths around both sides of the cars. A great place to people watch to be sure. We ate noodles on a sidewalk place outside the city center and turned in at a towering condo highrise on the beach. The next day I saw there was more to Pattaya than the entertainment mill.
Not to be missed is the Sanctuary of Truth. The grounds encompass a botanical gardens and offer short carriage rides. It’s set on a point jutting into the sea. The centerpiece is the awesome 300-foot-tall pavilion built completely of intricate wood carvings. It’s still a work in process and you can stop in at the nearby workshop to watch carvers at work and perhaps even hammer a few gouges here in there if you smile. Stick around for a mediocre dolphin show and a Thai dance display. (Weird dolphin species: one pink and very long-nosed, the other more like a Beluga whale, with no nose to speak of)
The second place I can recommend is Anek Kusala Sala (Viharnra Sien). The colorful museum done up like a temple is chock full of bronze statues collected by a famous Chinese spiritual leader before his death and includes replicas of the terra cotta soldiers from near Xian. A series of statues show all the basic fighting maneuvers of kung fu, so I felt it my obligation to add one that was missing (above). A wax replica of the old man is in one of the rooms. One of my Thai friends thought I was nuts when I asked, “That’s not really him… er, right?” But in my travels I can say there have been a few times it really was the person in question, mummified. I mean, hello? Lenin?? It happens.
So ok, I get it. Much more to Pattaya than I knew, from orchid farms and elephant camps to Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the standard offering of temples with some sort of Buddha relic involved. I’ll post a gallery of these two sites at the home page soon.