Getaway in Pattaya

While Thailand has done very well in terms of keeping COVID-19 infections under control, the price of that has been a near-total shutdown of the Kingdom’s borders since earlier since year. Whereas I used to travel on a regular basis, this situation has left me itching for a change of scenery, so a few weekends ago, we took a long weekend trip to Pattaya.

Pattaya is a beach town in Chonburi province, about a two to three-hour drive southeast of Bangkok. Located on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya Pattaya became a sizable city during the United States’ war in Vietnam, when it became a popular destination for soldiers to take rest and relaxation breaks.

The city’s reputation has not always been so reputable: polluted water, underage sex available for purchase on the beach, and all sorts of sin on the famous “walking street” after the sun sets. That reputation was, of course, never the full story of Pattaya and the city has cleaned up much of its image in recent years. This was only the second time I have visited the city for any length of time and it was a chance to see a bit more of it.

We chose to stay at the Renaissance Resort & Spa, located about a 20-minute drive south of the city on a much quieter stretch of beach. The resort is fairly new and features a ten-story tower with ocean views and two three-story buildings that overlook the pools. One of those buildings has ground-floor rooms where you can plunge directly from your deck into the water.

The hotel is in fine shape and the staff is attentive and friendly, reminding me how much Thai culture is well-suited for the hospitality industry. It was also a reminder of how appreciative these employees were to have guests back in their hotel, as as much as seven percent of Thailand’s economy depends on tourism. Only recently has domestic tourism started to pick up and the borders are still closed to foreign tourists.

Sights to see

There are many things to see and do in and around Pattaya but many of them are quite touristy: the Pattaya Dolphinarium, the Cartoon Network Amazone water park, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, etc. We spent most of our time at the hotel, relaxing.

One thing we did enjoy was a visit to the Sanctuary of Truth. This privately-owned site is both a museum to wood-working skills and an artistic expression of the philosophy of love and goodness. Started as a passion project by a wealthy Thai businessman and his wife, it continues into perpetuity as the nature of this all-wood project is that it will forever need to be rebuilt.

From the outside, the structure looks like a Thai Buddhist temple. As you go on the guided tour, you begin to realize that it is a fanciful mish-mash of styles and symbolism from all the world’s religions and philosophies. An army of craftspeople, nearly all Burmese as few Thais still practice these wood-carving skills, chisel, carve and cut away at three types of wood, rebuilding the structure and refining the intricate details. It really is quite exquisite if a bit overwhelming!

What to eat

Sitting on the Gulf of Thailand and with a sizable local fishing fleet, seafood is a great option and Pattaya has opened many tasty and Instagram-friendly places to eat, see and be seen.

On the drive down, we stopped Chonburi town, to the north of Pattaya, and had lunch at Charin Nongmon. This family-run, open-air seafood restaurant has been around more than 40 years and continues to produce excellent food at reasonable prices.

They are best known for two crab-based treats: buu jaa and hoy jor. The buu jaa (shown to the left) is a crab cake – crab and pork combined with seasonings, placed in a crab shell and deep fried. The hoy jor, which the restaurant lays claim to originating, is a crab meat dumpling wrapped in delicate tofu skin and deep fried. All the dishes are excellent and these two are outstanding.

We had a sunset dinner at the Glass House. There are two locations and we chose the one on the south side of the city, close to our hotel. This highly-Instagrammable location offers an extensive menu of Thai food, heavy on the seafood, and some “international” items, too. The food is good and while not memorable, the location on the beach very much is.

Book ahead to get a table on the beach. If you arrive early, you will be quite exposed to the sun, but in the last half-hour before sunset, the weather is pleasant and you are just a few meters from the gentle waves lapping on the sand. As the strings of lights are illuminated and the sky turns all shades of pink and baby blue, you really will be charmed and feel very relaxed.

A few other places worth considering:

Rimpa Lapin is a more foreigner-friendly restaurant, terraced along a cliff with a commanding view of the sunset. Book ahead for a nice table. They also have a decent wine list.

For a more local flavor, visit Preecha Seafood or Jai Sang Ma not too far away in Sattahip.

Is it worth a visit?

A lot of tour groups visiting Thailand, include a stop in Pattaya. I presume it is because the city is close to Bangkok, offers a pretty beach and many tourist-accessible amenities. While I am not the biggest beach person, I feel like there are better options if you are visiting Thailand. If you are a Bangkok local and looking for a quick and easy gettaway, Pattaya is a convenient choice, especially if all you want to do it hole up in your hotel, relax and unwind.

First Trip to Pattaya

After having lived in Bangkok more than eight years, I am greeted by expressions of surprise when I tell people that I have never been to Pattaya, the famous beach resort town just a two hour drive southeast of the Thai capital city. Well, I can no longer truthfully earn those expressions of surprise because I finally made my first trip to Pattaya last month.

Why didn’t I ever visit Pattaya? Well, there was an image I held in my head of a city that was a sleazy and crowded tourist trap with a nice beach, questionable water quality, and even more questionable businesses operating until the wee hours of the night.

It turns out, that image was pretty accurate. Sure, there might be corners of Pattaya that are reasonably nice (someone told me Jomtien Beach), but the main section of town where I was staying for work was exactly as I had expected it.

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The hotel I stayed in, the Hilton, was gorgeous, with an infinity pool and lounge that offers a breathtaking view of the sunset. But even up on the 29th floor with very heavy balcony doors with thick triple-pane glass, I could hear the music amplified from the surrounding entertainment venues and it didn’t take long until I had reached my fill of seeing bright red rotund foreigners accompanied by barely legal (or maybe not legal at all) tiny brown girls or boys a quarter of their age and a fifth of their size.

The work experience was lovely – a two-day leadership development workshop for a multinational company – but I am comfortable that I can check Pattaya off the “to-visit” list and add it to the “no need to return” list instead.

 

Day trip to Pattaya

First of all, let me make this clear to those of you who might think we’re running around enjoying adventure after adventure: these blog entries are not chronological.  Instead, there is a delay as I process photos and videos and then I arrange entries to provide some variety.

With that administrative tidbit out of the way, let me share a day trip we recently took to Pattaya, the beach side city of sin located less than two hours to the southeast of Krungthep.  I’d never before been to Pattaya because its scuzzy reputation (although the beaches are supposedly gorgeous) kept me disinterested.

“I wonder how long it will be before we see our first fat farang on a scooter with a tiny Thai girl behind him?” Tawn asked as we pulled into town.  Within two minutes, we had our answer.

We didn’t go to Pattaya to explore the town or even to try and dispel my perceptions.  Instead, we went to exchange some silk that Trish had purchased from the factory in Nakhon Ratchasima province that, upon inspection once we returned to Krungthep, turned out to be 1-ply instead of the 2-ply for which she had paid.

The factory owner has a retail shop at a recently opened faux floating market in Pattaya, so we arranged to meet her there to do a swap.

While there, Tawn wanted to find a boulangerie that had opened recently and had been featured in Thai Vogue.  It looked very cute in the magazine but of course we left home without noting its address and location.

Using the tiny internet browser on Tawn’s phone, I was able to find another boulangerie called, appropriately, Le Boulange.  Turns out it is the cousin (or sister location?) of one on Convent Road in Krungthep, owned by a real Frenchman.  The Pattaya location is just a modest storefront and is mostly a bakery, producing for stores and hotels in town.

P1130830 While there, we witnessed the chef talking with a French expat and his Thai fiancée about a wedding cake.  In this case, the expat was much closer in size to the Thai and they were not riding a motorbike. 

The sandwiches – only available combination is baguette de jambon et de fromage (ham and cheese) were très authentique.  A robust crust that fought you back when you bit into it and a wonderful textured crumb.  And for only 35 baht (about $1) for a mini baguette, a real bargain.

Left, Tawn poses with his baguette as a local woman looks on.  Or, at least, pretends not to.

The desserts were less spectacular, but what can you expect?  At least we enjoyed a good lunch.

The chef came over after settling wedding cake decisions and asked how our lunch was.  Answering him in English, he quickly apologized and explained in French that he only spoke French and Thai.  So we continued the conversation in Thai, since neither Tawn nor I remember enough French.

Afterwards, with the disinterested local’s directions, we drove to the outskirts of the city to Talat Naam Si Pak – the Four Regions Floating Market.  Floating markets are very much a part of central Thailand’s culture, as the myriad waterways in this flood plain made waterborne transportation the easiest way to get around until the 20th Century introduction of the traffic jam.

For the tourists – and, most noticeably, for the Thai tourists – Pattaya now boasts an entirely artificial floating market that runs from dawn till dusk, every day.  Located to the south of town around an manmade lake, the shops and boardwalks connecting them are ostensibly divided to represent the four regions of the county.

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Sadly, there is little to distinguish the regions as the building are identical except for tiny emblems on the roof line meant to evoke the different regions.  From a central cooking area, vendors paddle their boats around the “canals”, offering authentic Thai food (and two-litre bottles of Pepsi products) for sale.  The Thai tour groups we saw seemed to love it, setting up mats and eating in the shade, reveling in a near-cultural experience.

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While wandering about, we located the Silk merchant’s shop.  As it turns out, she changed plans and decided to come to Pattaya the following day, but had not called Tawn to tell him.  When Tawn tried to call her, she didn’t answer.  After explaining the situation to the clerk in the shop, the clerk called the merchant, who answered the phone promptly.

The clerk then handed the phone to Tawn as he proceeded to read her the riot act in a polite, nice way – as Thais can do so well.

She promised to bring the correct fabric to us in Krungthep the following day, so we left the single-ply fabric and a sample of what the correct fabric should be.  Needless to say, she never showed up or called Tawn, and we’re now two weeks later with no resolution.

We decided not to waste any more time at the floating tourist trap, but on the way back to the car park we found something endearing: a pen of baby goats and one sheep, all three months old.  They were the center of everyone’s attention, young and old alike, and for twenty baht you could feed them a bottle of milk.

Here’s a brief video showing the scene as Tawn fed them… and plotted to shear the sheep so he could make a wool coat!

We were back in Krungthep just after sunset, delayed by my exploration of the route near the airport that Peter, Stuart and I would ride the following day.