This past weekend we decided to explore our local surroundings, Ko Si Chang and Pattaya. Ko Si Chang is a small (12km) island off the coast of Sri Racha (yes, where the name of the sauce came from, although it wasn’t invented there) about a 45 minute ferry ride from a pier about 15 minutes from our town. Ko Si Chang is a fisherman’s island, known for nothing more than an abandoned summer home built by King Rama V (the little prince in the King and I). It is quiet, “quaint” and local as can be. Not many a farang venture to the island. Pattaya is the capital of the sex industry in Thailand is known for lady boys, prostitutes, not-so-clean beaches and its gritty Walking Street/club scene. The weekend was nothing but a juxtaposition of how extreme Thailand can be.
Getting to Ko Si Chang from where we live, or even Bangkok for that matter, is rather simple. You can a bus or a taxi to the pier, which is pretty cool, its on this little island called Ko Loi, and take a ferry that kind of looks like the below to the island. Not kind of, actually, exactly like the below. But with people on it. And there was a forecast for thunderstorms.
So we arrived late on Friday night to Ko Si Chang and stayed at the Sichang “resort”, which it was not. It was in the middle of the island and kind of creepy. But the lady who worked there was nice and gave us a small discount for being teachers. Ko Si Chang is Thai. Very Thai. Most weekends we travel to places that are well known and then subsequently “Westernized”. This was not. Not much development or change has happened there compared to the many islands in the Gulf. Not many Western restaurants, in fact, only one. It was definetely a retreat in that sense. Getting away while still remembering where you are. But we did want to get away a bit- we went to Pan and David, the only western restaurant on the island for dinner and it was pretty good. They had feta cheese. Which was awesome.
Walking home from dinner, on the small, car-less streets (no cars on the island) we ran into a stray dog gang (not unlikey, I hear one meet up and howl at each other every night before I go to bed) and some how made it out unscathed. I had my friend Helen, hiding behind me, ready to sacrifice me at a moments notice. Thanks, Helen.
We went to bed early and got ready to get up early to see the local sights. AKA the palace that was built there and the Chinese temple. The only two things the island was known for. It did have its charm though, the palace grounds were pretty and King Rama V was the first King of Thailand to have traveled and studied in the West I think so there was definetely an influence of Western architecture. The temple he built had stain glass in it- not something you see here. You could see it in the grounds and the temple he built and the “guest house” that looked like it belonged in Newport.
From the view point on top of the mountain you could see the grounds, the sea, the temple and barges upon barges upon barges. We stood on a hill where a royal palace hasn’t been maintained for almost 100 years and watched barges fill up the Gulf. A Gulf that I am pretty sure has no environmental regulations. Maintenance isn’t that big a thing here.
After seeing the palace and Chinese temple we got back on a ferry boat to continue our trek east to Pattaya. One of the first beaches in Thailand to become developed. Pattaya had its first surge of Western visitors around the Vietnam war. Soldiers would visit on leave and take advantage of the beautiful beaches, cheap accommodations and hookers. Not much has changed since. Except the entire town and its surrounding area has been dramatically developed. And like most of Thailand, developed without planning, rhyme or reason. Because of this, for many years you were cautioned to go in the water, it was so polluted. Many people to this day don’t. Anyway, we still wanted to venture down there and see what all the fus was about. The beaches, walking streets, lady boys, prostitutes, night life, the whole kit and caboodle.
We were able to find a guesthouse a little ways away from downtown Pattaya, in the area of Jomtien Beach, which is a bit less expensive and a bit cleaner. The guesthouse was called Richman Poorman and according to my friend trip advisor, was clean and had great beds and breakfast because it was owned by an American man. Thailand has yet to perfect their beds, bedding and breakfast. It was a bit more reasonable than staying in Pattaya and it just so happened we got upgraded because they were overbooked for their normal rooms! Yahoo! We had a room that faced the sea and had a terrace. But only had one king bed. The four of us knew this would still be one of our most luxurious stays yet. After having the best shower I have had in Thailand (hot water, great pressure, shower curtain, etc) we were ready for dinner and to see what Pattaya was all cracked up to be.
This is the part where I can begin to tell you about the sex industry in Thailand. Ironically, I went to Pattaya the night the really funny sketch aired on SNL in America about Thai Rossette Stone. If you haven’t seen it, please watch here, so funny. Anyway, boy, oh boy, did that ring true. Many places I have visited thus far have a prescence of “sex tourists” or old white men living/visiting in Thailand for the young Thai girls. Theres no shortage of big/short/tall/fat/skinny/nerdy/tatooed-/muscley white men walking around holding the hand of a little, bitty Thai girl. However, it’s usually a random spotting in most places. In Pattaya it is EVERYWHERE. And instead of it being the weird scenarios of these guys actually dating these women, they are blatantly paying them to sleep with them. And I’ve heard the going rate is like 2000 baht or $60.
We ventured out into the heart of Pattaya that night, the Walking Street. It looks like a mini Vegas. Street performers, people haggling you and a lot of neon lights. We were fortunate enough to make a friend who showed us the ropes of the area. First he took us to the Pattaya Beer Garden, where you can sit around, have a drink and watch amateur Muay Thai fights every night. That was really cool. Muay Thai is a form of boxing where you can use your legs and is HUGE in Thailand. I had yet to see a match so to sit right there, watch one and meet the fighters was very cool.
Anyway, after that our friend took us to a bar Lucifer, because we said we wanted to see live music. We walked into a club, that looked like a cave and were pleasantly surprised with an AWESOME band of two American guys, one rapper, one like Michael Jackson character and one Thai girl who had a great voice. The best part is, we seemed to be the only people interested. The rest of the bar was old white men and young Thai women. Basically a breeding ground for seedy behavior.
Being that the four of us are exactly what the old men weren’t looking for, we were left alone, jumping around, facing and singing to the awesome band most people were ignoring. It was a blast. On the way home though we were once again reminded where we were. We took a songtao home the some odd 20 minutes back to Jomtien and got to ride it with white guys and Thai prostitutes. My one friends overheard one guy whispering sweet nothings in one prostitutes ear that she was so much prettier than the faring (aka us) and so petite and skinny, blah blah blah. One other guy was at least drunk and belligerent and funny about it. He was asking us where we were from, chatting us up, while having his arm slung around his little Thai doll. Spewing how he was Dutch and comes to Thailand every so often….for obvious reasons. Hey, to each their own. If I have to take a drunk cab ride with you I’d rather you own it then try and make your prostitute feel better about herself because she is daintier than then the American girls.
And so our pleasant weekend came to an end. It was a true taste of Thailand. The extremes. The quiet, quaint local explorations, where there are no roads, no foreigners and not much attention paid to the old, but more focus on the development of the new. The flashiness and vices of Thailand people travel to see and experience.
And now I am in Khao Yai, one of the largest national parks in Asia. I have less than 3 months left on this side of the world so it is game on! Planning, planning, planning, traveling, traveling.