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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 12.92, 100.9
I had a lot of time on my hands in Pathum Thani, and, urged by Bill and Ariel and Laila to travel around and explore Thailand, I went to Pattaya for three days in early December. Pattaya is known as a tourist destination, but also for its beautiful beaches. Bill booked me a reservation at the Shakespeare Hotel on Jomtien Beach, and I set off on my journey. I took two buses and one minivan to get into Bangkok, then I took the Skytrain to cross Bangkok to reach Ekemai Station, the eastern terminal. This all took some time, but that's what I had most: time. Taking a taxi would have been far easier, but I wanted to see Thailand as regular Thai people see it, not as a tourist. Traveling this way also gave me a lot of practice in speaking Thai; I had to ask many people many questions, eg: where can I get the minivan, where can I get the Skytrain, where was Ekemai bus station from the Skytrain terminal, etc. Always people were kind and helpful. That is the best thing I love about Bangkok!
At Ekemai I bought a ticket to Pattaya on a first class bus; it cost 113 Baht, around $3.35 for a two and one half hour bus ride in a comfortable coach bus. Most of us on the bus dozed along the way; entering or leaving Bangkok can take hours because of the interminable traffic. There is no rush hour, as the whole day long is one big rush hour. You just learn to plan on that.
Once I arrived in Pattaya, I didn't know where to go; I had never heard of Jomtien Beach before. Many tuk-tuks (pronounced took-took) are lined up at the bus station; I was directed to them. One driver said Jomtien Beach was far, and pointed way down south on the map of Pattaya, but I needed to take his tuk-tuk to get part-way there, so I got in. Tuk-tuks are fun to ride in, and usually not too expensive, although prices can be negotiated, depending on where you want to go. If you pay enough, the driver will even leave his regular route to get you to your destination; at the point where his regular route diverges from where the driver is now taking you, other disgruntled passengers will jump out and give you dirty looks. Tuk-tuks reminded me of the trolley cars in San Francisco where, if the seats are full, or if you simply wanted the experience, you could hang on to the bars while the rest of your body is hanging outside the tuk-tuk or trolley. Same same (as they say here). But I got a seat. At the end of this run, I was directed to another tuk-tuk that would take me to Jomtien Beach, so I got in a second tuk-tuk that day and hoped I could find the Shakespeare Hotel. As I have seen everywhere so far in Thailand, and as it was in Hua Hin, we drove through mostly cityscapes, even in Pattaya; it is always a disappointment to me as I expect to see just miles and miles of beaches. But once we got through the city parts, I saw the most beautiful sight: miles and miles of beaches! Unfortunately, one side was all tourist stuff: stores, hotels, more stores, more hotels, but the other side was all ocean and beach. And, also unfortunately, rows and rows of beach chairs and umbrellas all lined up in front of it. This was Jomtien Beach.
I got off the second tuk-tuk, and, on directions from a kind expatriate who lived nearby, I started walking up one of the side streets looking for the Shakespeare Hotel. I passed so many street vendors and stores, all selling tourist stuff at tourist prices, but didn't see the Shakespeare Hotel anywhere. So I kept on walking, around a corner, around another corner, heading back towards the beach. I asked another woman if she knew where the hotel was, and she pointed: there, way at the end of the street, almost at the beach, was the Shakespeare Hotel! One of the women at the front desk spoke English, so it was easy for me to check in. Another receptionist spoke Russian, as most of the other visitors came from Russia, she told me; Russians like to come to vacation in Pattaya. My room was on the top floor, as I had asked for a floor higher up. There are no elevators here, so I walked up five flights several times each day, a good workout in itself. I quickly dug out my swimsuit and flipflops (which are the footwear of choice in Thailand), wrapped a towel around my waist, and headed to the beach.
Even with all the beach chairs and umbrellas the beach was beautiful. It was already 4PM, but much of this part of the beach was still crowded with loud, fat, mostly old foreigners in ill-fitting, skimpy swimsuits. This was not pleasant to see. I sat down in one of the beach chairs, just to look at this stunning ocean for a bit, and rest my senses in beauty. Then I swam, as far out as I could without being beheaded by one of the motor boats racing around pulling tourists in rafts behind them, dunking them on a fast turn. The water was perfect, not quite as warm as the ocean in Hua Hin, but the waves were nicer; perfect ocean swimming. I love to swim in the Gulf of Thailand! I would do it every day if I could.
While I was showering back at the hotel, there must have been a short downpour because when I looked out my balcony window, everything was wet. Clouds had been building up before, but I thought I did not know how to read them here in Thailand, and, it being the dry season, I thought it wouldn't rain. But as I looked over my balcony I could see people side-stepping puddles as they walked to the shops; I could also see the umbrellas and beach chairs being taken down for the night. Apparently the Thais do this every night, take down all the hundreds of umbrellas, and put away the hundreds of beach chairs, and put them all up again the next morning, a daily routine. They also rake the sand. I dressed, and went back to the beach to watch the most beautiful sunset in the world: the big old bright red sun sank right into the sea, casting its red path over the waters even as I watched. Like in cartoons, I almost expected to hear a hissss as it set in the ocean. It was incredibly perfect, beautiful beyond description.
After the sun set, it was time to look for dinner. While I was walking on the sidewalk alongside the beach, I suddenly heard this tremendous noise, apparently coming from the trees. There were birds, thousands of them, "talking" from sunset until full night. This noise was astonishing! I stopped and stared, just listening to these birds. How could people just walk by and not be captivated by this incredible sound? I was transfixed. What an unexpected gift beside all this beauty! Who would have expected this community-speak from birds?
Dinner was rice and veggies, my usual fare as a vegan when I eat in restaurants in third world countries. I enjoy a glass of fine wine every now and then, but everyone tells me there is no good wine in Thailand, as grapes do not grow here, so if you find an imported wine it is usually very expensive. Beer is cheaper, everywhere, I think, but I don't like beer. At the table next to mine there was a large Russian family eating their dinner. They ordered so many dishes, plates and plates of food, enough to serve a small village; I didn't expect them to eat everything. But they did. Along with their dinner they ordered several glasses of beer; after consuming those, the dad, very irritated, kept tapping his foot, trying to get the attention of one of the overworked Thai waitresses at that nice little restaurant. He kept looking around, apparently no longer enjoying his family or the food. He just wanted more of something that wasn't readily forthcoming. And when a waitress did appear, he was rude to her, short, demanding. And this wasn't the only time I saw such rudeness on the part of a foreigner to a Thai; in fact, it seemed more the norm.
After dinner I wandered along the stores situated on the beachfront. I didn't want to buy anything, as we are trying to give all our material possessions away, so I don't want to take anything more home. This is very freeing, as I can just walk and look, but not feel I should buy some overpriced, tourist stuff that no one needs. But this is what I don't like about Pattaya: the only Thais I saw were in subservient positions, serving the foreigners, most of them Russians. The Thais would bow and smile, and the Russians and other foreigners would either ignore them (at best), or respond rudely. Even with those beautiful beaches, I do not want to go back to Pattaya. I would prefer going where people treat each other as equals, or at least treat them with kindness. Where is that?
I stayed one more day in Pattaya, swam in the warm Gulf of Thailand again, walked along the beach again, observed more fat foreigners sitting on the beach chairs and eating and drinking (while their children played in the water), watched the sun set again (not as beautiful as yesterday, as there were more clouds blocking the horizon), and listening to the birds as they sang in the night. I would have loved to see this place, this beautiful beach, before the Russians (and other foreigners) found, and changed it! It must have been paradise.
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