Well, I haven’t had much time for writing but I thought I would give a small update before I had back to Bangkok.
Thursday evening I did my first Thai class. Pretty basic stuff. Introducing yourself and saying where you’re from.
I have three other people in my class. One guy is German and is a travel writer who was initially sent to Thailand for three months and has now been in country three years. The other two are African. One from Ghana and the other from Sierra Leone.
I think I’ll learn a lot in the class but I do find it a bit frustrating. The school seems to have concocted their own phonetics which don’t really match to how I’m used to seeing Thai.
For instance, the teacher writes “May” when I’m used to seeing the same word transliterated as “Mai.” Technically, according to the sounds they’ve assigned each letter “May” would be correct but to anybody who speaks English it is too easy to pronounce it like the month May when in actuality it is supposed to be pronounced like “Mai-Tai” with “Mai” being the standard transliteration used by most people. In fact, if I wrote “May” instead of “Mai” when chatting or texting a Thai friend they probably wouldn’t understand it. And if Thais don’t understand it and farangs misread it as the month of “May” then it seems like a pretty awkward system to use.
I guess I’ll adapt.
I think the two African guys are going to have a tough time of the class. They didn’t really seem to get the whole concept. We were going through the examples and in the first part they introduce you to characters you’ll see in the rest of the book. Then the instructor asks you the same questions about yourself (name, nationality, job, etc). One of the characters is named Somchai and the two African dudes kept saying their name was Somchai. When they were told that was wrong the one said his name was Somchai Justin. The teacher gave up and we moved on.
So, class finished around 7:40pm and my friend was supposed to arrive at 7pm. I headed down to the Big Mango Bar on Soi 4 (Nana) to get something to eat and wait for his call. Around 8:30 I finally got a text from him saying that he tried calling but no luck. He and his brother were already on their way down to Pattaya.
I headed home to pick up my bag and then caught a taxi.
So an hour later we roll into Pattaya and the taxi driver stops on Soi 8 and says my hotel is down that road. Well, I’m no expert on Thai street naming conventions but I said “Soi 8, Beach Road” and there’s no beach! I mean, if I told him I wanted to go to “Out in the middle of nowhere road” then this might be the place. But with “beach” in the name and being a costal town I better see some water. It’s not like it’s the main road that runs along the beach or anything.
I tell him “No, no. Beach Road. Water. Soi 8 near the water.” We drive around some more and he finally asks a motorcycle taxi where Beach Road is. Eventually I’m safely deposited at my destination.
I hadn’t booked anything because I didn’t know where my friend was going to be staying and just assumed that this being low season and tourism being so bad this year it wouldn’t be any problem getting a room. My friend had pinged me to let me know he got a room at the Eastiny Inn. I think the rooms were 1000 baht a night (about $28). When I checked in they told me that they had arranged for a room next to the two rooms my friends were staying in. Nice customer service considering none of us had reservations.
For the most part I’d recommend the place for an inexpensive hotel with good service and facilities. The staff was always outstandingly polite and helpful. The rooms are pretty basic and there is only free internet in the lobby but if you’re just looking for a place to crash then this is the place.
Right on queue, as I’m checking in my friends stroll in. I throw my stuff in the room and head out into the night for what would quickly become a long alcohol fueled evening.
You know what kind of weekend you’re going to have when you’re nursing a hangover and your friend says, “I feel sorry for those people who don’t drink or smoke because when they wake up in the morning that’s the best they’re going to feel all day. At least I have something to look forward to.”
We stopped in this one bar one afternoon that was right up the road from a place called Kittens. My friend from kept insisting we had to go to Kittens later so I was a little surprised when I went outside for some fresh air and a smoke and the manager of the bar we were at told me that it was a transsexual bar.
Bar Manager: I wonder what they’re building over there in the tranny bar.
Me: Which one?
Bar Manager: That one. Kittens and Obsessions.
Me: Really? Ladyboy bars?
Bar Manager: Yeah.
Me: Kittens? My friend has been telling me we have to stop by that place later.
Bar Manager: Well, he’s either taking the piss out of you or he likes ladyboys.
So I go back inside and I tell my friend.
Me: Dude Kittens is a ladyboy bar.
Me: That’s what the manager just told me. Ladyboys.
Friend: No. I’ve been there several times. Never seen a ladyboy there.
Me: Maybe you did but you didn’t know.
So we ramble on down to Kittens and sure enough it’s packed with guys who chose to endure the cruelest of cuts. My friend was pale. Not that the site of ladyboys is overly strange in Thailand but because he knew I wasn’t going to let this one go unpunished.
Eventually we would find out that they kept the same name but changed the target market several months back. My friend claimed that this redeemed him but when you’ve got such good material to work with there’s no way that the truth is going to get in the way.
Everywhere we went I would wait for him to go to the bathroom or become distracted and then I would get the bartender or other staff girls to ask my friend if he liked ladyboys. Soon a good chunk of the staff would be in on it and girls would come up to him all night asking if liked ladyboys. He would look up and shoot daggers at me as he tried to explain that he didn’t like ladyboys to whoever asked. I would just shrug my shoulders and pretend I had nothing to do with it.
I said I would wait to pass judgment on Pattaya until I had finally been here so now I can.
It’s both better and worse than I expected. I think my suspicions about it attracting the worst type of farang are spot on. I’ve never seen such a diverse collection of way-past-their-prime old men walking around with their shirts off to expose their disgusting beer bellies. I think a lot of people just come down here and lose all touch with what’s acceptable behavior.
The beaches were what I expected. Lots of trash and garbage littering what otherwise might be a nice place to take in some sun and relax. And that’s just the foreigners. Heeyaa! Seriously, the beach isn’t any place I would like to spend any time. And staring out at huge cargo ships all day isn’t exactly paradise. Thailand has so many awesome beaches that to see Pattaya beach is somewhat shocking.
The thing I was positively surprised about was that the bar scene was not as aggressive as I had imagined it to be. I thought it would be like a massive city of Patpongs with touts and scammers everywhere. Some places were better than others but for the most part people were friendly and low key. The one bar we found out about the ladyboys at the manager said he forbids the staff to hassle customers for drinks. And sure enough, not a single person asked. We offered but were never asked. Same could be said about a few other places we went to. Not a single person tried to work us for free drinks.
In fact, at this beer bar across the road from the hotel I laid a wager on a dice game with the bartender. I win, she buys me a beer. If she wins I buy her a drink of her choosing. The game we played isn’t really skill based so it was a bit lucky that I won the first two times out of the gate. Usually you might play 5 or 10 rounds before someone wins but I hit both. And she paid up the beer!!! That almost never happens. Sure, they want paid when they win but when you win they always look for a way to weasel out of paying. And to top it off she wanted to pay up the second beer she owed me but I told her I didn’t want to take her money. Hell, she probably makes less than $300 a month. In fact, I tipped her enough to cover the beer she did buy for me.
When you get stiffed in Thailand it’s not about the money because we’re usually talking a couple of bucks. It’s just the whole idea that they’re being dishonest.
But like I said, some places are better than others. At one place we popped into we stayed for a few rounds and the owner asked if I could buy her a drink. I said “What the hell” and as she slipped the check into my bin I stole a glance and saw that she ordered herself a 170 baht drink while the other drinks were about 100 or 110. No need to argue about it because I did agree but that was that last drink I bought there.
And there were three of us so that’s a good 300 baht per round and we might have stayed another round or two so 600 baht total. Plus we were buying drinks for the staff so we’re looking at a loss of over 1000 baht in income to stick it to me for 60 baht. If there’s one thing I’ll never understand about Thai bars is how short-sighted they are. There’s a saying often used in poker that you can shear a sheep many times but you can only slaughter him once. A lot of places just don’t get it.
But that’s sort of Thai bar economics which work on a completely different system than any normal economics. Tourism is at an all-time low. Even though this is the slow season, normally many hotels would have 30% – 40% occupancy rates. This year some are as low as 10%. There are “For Sale” signs up on nearly every road. Less tourists and more frugal expats means everybody’s hurting. Yet, in Thailand that just means you raise your prices. If there are less customers you have to make more per customer.
I have a hard time figuring out whether that’s part of the allure of this place or one of the things that will eventually drive me insane.
So the final verdict is:
If you’re looking for a boozey holiday where it’s a party 24/7 then Pattaya might be for you. It’s cheaper than the nightlife districts in Bangkok and probably less hassle prone.
If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend on a white sand beach and tropical breezes then stay away. Go to Samed, Samui, Phuket, Hua Hin, or any of the hundreds of other spots where you can enjoy some peace and quiet with some breathtaking views.
Photocred to Roman Lashkin