Pattaya – away from the beach, closer to the truth.

Most of us associate Thailand with BangkokPattayaPhuket. These three big guys attract tourists from all over the world. The beachside city Pattaya may look perfect on Instagram, but the truth is a bit different. There is nothing wrong with the town but we the tourists have overused it in all possible ways. This post is about the only place I love in Pattaya and why is it ok to drop Pattaya from your Itinerary.

Do you want to explore The unseen or forgotten side of Pattaya? Watch the traditional coconut shell dance at Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya.

Index

How to reach Pattaya

  • By Airport – The Pattaya Airport is small in size. The international flights arrive at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport more than here. There are a few international flights and more domestic flights. 
  • By Train – Cheapest option if you choose non-AC coaches. 
  • By public bus – The easier and cheaper way to get to Bangkok is by AC public bus. We booked a bus at Khao San Tara travel one day before the departing day. They took us to Mo Chit bus station by shared taxi. From there, it was a blue and white bus. It took around 2.15hr to reach Pattaya bus station that is outside the downtown. You can easily hop into Songathew (shared public minivans) and get to the central city.
  • Private taxi: The expensive but most effortless way to get to Pattaya from any part of Thailand is this. Taxi agents run the biggest package scam that includes lame sightseeing and activities along with your pick up/drop services.
  • Ferries and Cruise – The beach town has multiple boarding points for ferries. Hence double-check the port name before you leave to avoid any last-minute hassle. Southern Thailand towns get connected to Pattaya by Ferries. 

Commuting in the city

The traffic in Pattaya was better than that in Bangkok. There are no public buses from the intercity terminal to downtown. Instead, songthaew ( the mini-truck) and taxis connect different parts of the town. A songthaew is the best choice because they are faster and cheaper. If you want to go by taxi, use the Grab Taxi app to book the ride to avoid getting ripped off by the taxi agents.

There are two-wheelers for rent everywhere. Since it is the non-tourist season in June, the roads weren’t flocked by bikes. Ashrith was stuck almost in immovable traffic during a new years time. Do not opt for any packages offered by Songathew or the taxis. They come to you with a flashy postcard showing six activities/places in 3 hours for 2000 baht. Most of them are tacky and not worth your time.

Sanctuary of truth

Let us talk about the best part of Pattaya – The sanctuary of truth. While the entire Pattaya caters to party people, this place is for those who want the opposite. A beachside wooden temple is all we wanted to see in Pattaya. The temple looks so unrealistic in the images that I expected it to be a lot lesser impressive. But what stands there is as magical as the social media photos. 

After you get the entry ticket, there is a viewpoint near the cafe. The 100m tall brown wooden temple floats amidst green with a shining sea in the background. I am not sure if it looks like it hung from the sky or floating on the ocean at first sight. It is unrealistic!

Somehow this reminded me of Meteora – Maybe the floatiness. Nobody will believe that this is a temple made entirely of wood and not even one piece of metal (not even the nails)

Admiring the scene, we spent more than thirty minutes here at this deck.

When you walk down, you lose sight of the temple in the woods. You blindly follow the crowd on the wooden paved walkway. Then, from a distance, you begin to hear the noise ”thud thud.” As you move front further, the noise gets intense. The sawdust, chopped off wooden logs appear. That is the workshop area where Thai artisans have been creating every tiny piece for wooden statues, beams, columns and rafters for the temple. Stand and watch there – Along with skill, patience and perseverance matter most! A bit of history and stories about the builder Mr and Mrs Viriyahphan is displayed here.

When you stand there mesmerised by the artist’s intricate work at the carpentry workshop, two Thai men invites you out to watch a dance show. When you exit the workshop, brown magic appears in the sky! This time you see the bottom of the masterpiece touching the ground. Most tourists loudly say “Ohhhhhhhh” Wooooooow” there. It stirs emotion through the senses. You may have to pinch yourselves to confirm what you see there is real or not.

It had already been almost an hour of standing and walking. So, finally, we just sat in one of the chairs arranged to watch the dance show. The show began with soothing flute music. Then, two girls and two boys dressed in yellow and lavender with lots of gold plated jewellery began slow dancing with rhythmic hand movements to traditional Thai music. The delicate moves, calm body posture, a faint smile – All depicting the simplicity of Buddhism was enchanting to watch.

A more energetic performance followed the slow dancing. I have heard and seen many dance forms but had never seen a form where artists hold coconut shells and dance! This is similar to our Karnataka’s “Kolaata” or Gujaraathi’s “Dhaandiya”, in which the dancers use wooden sticks. In Thailand, the coconut shell dance is called “Serng Krapo” and “Robam Kous Trolaok” in Cambodia. The upbeat music is melodic and can make anyone grove. It is fascinating how Thai artists use simple hand and leg movements to create a spirited performance. The smile is broader; moves are faster.

This is very strange! I knew what Alcazar – A cabaret show by ladyboys is, but not Serng Krapo. The world has to undergo changes and modernisation. Pattaya manifested so much that the heritage part of it is buried deep under its ocean. Admiring the dance performance, we walked closer to the temple. Mom and I both were reluctant to believe that each component in the temple is of wood unless we observed it from a close distance. There were cracks developed in some of the statues. Few parts of the statues were decolourised, and some were painted with lead-based wood preservative liquid. So you see shades of grey and green at times.

There were boards everywhere requesting visitors not to touch anything. It is hard not to touch something so brilliant. I couldn’t resist, I had to touch and make sure that it was real wood! When nobody was watching, mom and I touched the wall. That is when mom finally agreed,” It is real wood.” 

You can’t go inside without noticing ultra-detailed sculptures. More you observe, you see the evident influence of Hindu mythology. Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the protector), goddesses standing on lotus flowers resembling Lakshmi, angels with garlands in their hands – Fascinating!

Take a walk around the temple like how you do in a Hindu temple along the ambulatory path. You may have forgotten you are still in Pattaya. The towering apartments and hotel buildings at a distance remind you where you are when you walk around. The still sea here shines under the sun with no tourists throwing beer cans. The beach may look ideal for sunbathing. Fortunately- the temple authority doesn’t allow visitors to go to the beach. Otherwise, you would have seen beer cans and trash right beside the temple.

The inside is equally artistic. There is not even one part of the wall that is left undetailed. From Chang (elephant god – Ganesh) to the god of fire (Agni), you see hundreds of wooden statues fixed on the wall. The articulation around the statues looks like wooden balls or coconuts hanging. The only disappointing part is, there were scaffoldings at many corners! They have been building the temple since 1981, and it wasn’t over still in 2019.

You find volunteers wearing dark brown shirts to maintain the temple. We met an Australian man who was assisting tourists in explaining Buddhism and Hindu mythology in short. He recognised us Indians because of my mom’s saree. He was fascinated with Buddhism and Hindu beliefs, worked as a volunteer, and explored simultaneously Buddhist spirituality.

You can easily spend five to six hours in the temple. Suppose you are thinking of “doing nothing” on holiday, this is a great place. Three to four cafes serve tasty Thai food. ( A bit expensive, though). The seating areas in the wood are ideal for digital nomads to work if they get their private wifi. It is a fantastic place for people like us to take a break from the city holiday, watching the sunset behind an incredible temple.

Underwater World Pattaya

If you haven’t seen an underwater aquarium anywhere else in the world, this is a good place, especially for families with kids. If you have walked through the underwater tunnels in Shanghai, Singapore and the USA, this is a huge disappointment for you. First of all, these creatures are kept in captivity. Second, the place isn’t big enough to hold what it houses currently. The biggest guy here is the shark, and the next big guys are Rays. My mom wasn’t allowed to go scuba diving because of the fitness requirement. So this was the only place where she could see some marine life.

The sad part is, they have few other animals in captivity other than the sea creatures. A man was holding an orange coloured snake ( I think it is a corn snake, I am not sure). When asked why he was holding it in hand, he came to put it around our shoulder. This is one more sedated animal to make tourists feel proud of abusing the other creatures.
As soon as you enter, you see an Iguana caged inside A 6×6′ glass cube! I wonder how could even someone think of containing an animal forever with no partner for it!

Was it worth it – Entry fees are 800 baht (1600 INR) for each – Not worth the money.

Why it is ok not to go to Pattaya

Every time I write, “Why should I visit XYZ”. But here I am going to talk about why it is ok to miss Pattaya. I don’t go searching totally off-beaten destinations. I travel to Touristy places too. I want to explore all kinds of places. Bangkok is touristy, so is Phuket. Chiang Mai is also on the way to get commercialised to meet touristy needs.

Sukothai and Ayuttaya towns are small in size, and hence chances of them getting over commercialised are less. -But Pattaya is done and dusted. I visited in monsoon, a non-tourist season. Still, I couldn’t bear that “Manicured to tourists” vibe of the city.

Let us talk about the main point – The beaches—endless crystal clear water with hills on one side and a town on the other. Sunbeds and food shacks – sounds ideal. To top it, the guesthouses, hotels and bars are within walking distance. It is a “beer and bath” holiday here in Pattaya. All these were true maybe 15 years ago. Everything remains the same as tourists overloaded. 

When Ashrith went to Pattaya in 2013, he said, “we had to wait to get a sunbed; we couldn’t walk on the beach without being pushed and shoved in public. I was there for a bachelor’s party. But I got annoyed by noisy, irresponsible drunkards at Pattaya.”

If you ask me, “What is a unique thing about Pattaya?” My answer is – The sanctuary of truth. Other than that, everything else is manicured for tourists. I don’t want to go to waterparks and amusement parks in a beachside town! I have similar ones back in India. I can’t tolerate sedated animals getting patted by humans in places like Dolphin show and Tiger park. The Thai temples – great, but there are 35000 temples in Thailand. So Pattaya temples don’t excite me. Other than the sanctuary of truth, the Pattaya Wats are no different from the rest. It is neither archaeologically nor historically unique.

The sea walking on the coral island is so overdone that it is banned now in Pattaya. The tourists have successfully ruined Maya bay by littering waste into water and on the beach. Hence Maya bay remained closed for many years till date (2020). Pattaya is slowly heading towards it. There are other water sports adventures – Parasailing, water skiing and the list go on. Are these unique to Pattaya? Everything is contaminated with mass tourism.

Pattaya is more of a resort tourist town filled with tourists!. While mom and I were having food at an Indian veg restaurant, creepy drunk men in the same restaurant gawked and teased us throughout! We could hear them speaking in Hindi, passing vulgar comments on us! We shouted at them after 10 minutes, and it was enough to get help from the restaurant owner and send the dirty men out.

Forget walking on the beach in a bikini; you can’t even walk with your saree or salwar without getting teased. The other Asian tourists are noisy, trying to click pictures non-stop. Western travellers play their music loud on private Bluetooth speakers, even in restaurants. I could hear two or three songs at a time. There were beer tins at many places on the beach.

My cousin Pratibha, who went to Pattaya through a famous travel agency, had faced similar problems. Men who are of age 50+ continuously stalked Indian girls shopping. The hotel that she stayed in was a family hotel but had many hookers coming in now and then, creating nuisance in the public part of the hotel. After the Alcazar show, she was maddened by how many men behaved with the Ladyboys while clicking the pictures. They put hands inside performers’ pants/panties to check what they have down there. Bouncers threw out some men who went to this extent.

Thai food is overshadowed by Italian, Indian and all other continental food. The party vibe is masked with sexual adventuresomeness. The plastic on the beach/in the water has spoiled marine life. Resorts have replaced local houses. Locals always think of selling you something tacky and useless. The only place where we found Thais pushy is in Pattaya. As soon as you get off the bus, the taxi drivers flock to you. At a hotel, one wants to take you to a resort. The other wants you to sell a snorkelling experience and dumb shows.

The city was neither peaceful nor lively – it was simply a tourist trap. There may be villages near Pattaya which are serene. But I find Pattaya not worthy of more than a day! It is my opinion based on personal experience – It may trigger some who liked Pattaya, but I narrate what I experienced without sugarcoating.

How was your experience in Pattaya? Do you feel the same, or am I alone in this thought? Let me know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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