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Pattaya 2011

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

 

Pattaya today is a magnet for all kinds of people. Unfortunately, not all of them are wanted by all groups. The nightlife here is without any comparison elsewhere in Asia, but the red-light presence, accounts for a majority of the tourists here and that is very visible. We do not want to report on the thousands of sex workers in town, on the GoGo-bars, sleaze-shows or perversions of the sex trade, as media already has an overflow of that. We want to give you a detailed report on the situation here, regarding the tropical beaches. After all, Pattaya isn’t being marketed as a huge whore house, but as a beach community with some holiday destination character. So we looked deeper into this matter and visited all the major shores in 2011:

Part 1: Wong Amat, North Pattaya or Naklua

The seaside resort of Pattaya attracts a lot of visitors, tourists and holiday guests from many nations on this planet. The beaches were untouched and almost free of people, when the US soldiers came here in the 60’s and 70’s on a break (R&R) from the nearby fighting zones in Vietnam and Cambodia. The birth of Pattaya as a touristic destination fell into this time frame. Coconut trees, sand and shallow shores provided everything, the early soldiers and few backpackers needed.

From small straw-huts to two floor-hotels to mega-towers for thousands at a time, the transition period was relatively short. Today’s Pattaya hotels have every thinkable option of accommodation for you, offerings to suit every taste and budget are present.

The three major beaches are Wong Amat, Pattaya and Jomtien beach. Wong Amat in the North has just witnessed some huge developments, predominantly for their visiting Russian clientele. Russian holiday seekers do now control the northern part of Pattaya, also known as Naklua. This used to be a holiday ghetto for German and Austrian tourists, but their numbers continue to dwindle further. Some signage on older buildings remind onlookers of those times, when Deutsche Marks and Austrian Shillings were the currencies of choice here. Marks have vanished and along came the Euro, of which the Russian tourists bring big bundles. Nobody there likes their own, worthless Communist currency, so they bring stacks of € and US-$. The Russians do score big with any vendor here and gladly pay any inflated prices asked. Most signage visible these days, is in Russian or Thai, even the former German or other European food temples, now feature Cyrillic (Russian) signboards.

Every square meter of beach is used to generate money, expect hawker goods to be labeled in Cyrillic fonts (Russian) here. Vendors roam the sun loungers and restaurant tables on the beach, selling copied software or cracked Hollywood movies on DVD and sun-screen and ice-cream to the folks. Touts for tours and time-share condos walk their rounds too, peeking for potential prey.

It was peak season here, but many tables remained empty. Not everyone fancies a menu in Russian, Thai or Chinese language and/or sky high prices. A 100 Baht daily rental fee for a sun lounger has to be forked over here, these prices seem to be charged citywide though. Cheaper beach chairs still run 30 Baht a piece per day.

Part 2: Pattaya City Beachfront

Pattaya does have a large beachfront, which is fully developed and commercialized. The so called Beach Road, stretches along the Pattaya Beach and the bumper-to-bumper traffic here, is a sheer nightmare to cross.

Seventeen pedestrian traffic lights along the main roads, are supposed to reduce the fatalities and accidents in Pattaya. But although located on zebra-striped crossings, their sheer existence is wildly being ignored and the law enforcement does absolutely nothing about that. Red light isn’t a signal to stop for a Thai driver, it is merely a colorful dot of light that is to be ignored. We observed even police pickups and motorcycles, running a clear red light. They make great model citizens to others!;(

Once pedestrians make the dash across Beach Road in on piece, they face a concrete path, flanking the road on the beach side, before the forests of umbrellas on the beach itself. The beach is making headlines as a crime scene weekly and is noted to disappear further. Ocean currents take their toll and flush away massive amounts of sand daily.

The thin stretch of coarse sand did not appear as dirty, as on previous visits. During the day, some sun worshippers come here for a tan. The Jet Skis here are world famous for their inflated prices and extortion of tourist’s cash with fake damage compensation demands, read our own Jet Ski Scam report on this matter!

Powerboats with oversized twin outboard engines, ferry new tourists to outlying islands, like in the old days. The few swimmers, that do not have health concerns about the water contamination, are now restricted to cordoned off sections of the water. But hardly anyone braves the floods here. I don’t blame them at all! Occasionally, some Arabs or Indian tourists can be seen swimming, but the warm water has lost it’s appeal to most guests.

The former beach and nightlife GI R&R resort of Pattaya, is now one of Thailand’s foremost cash generators for international tourism. The thousands of hotel beds offered, are fighting hard for occupancy rates. The sleazy red-light districts attract probably more touristic interest, than the mediocre beach itself. Hence Pattaya’s public image remains low in the western world and lots of rather violent crimes, discourage many families to come. Police here has since long seem to have left the “to serve & protect” standpoint, as is accused frequently with corruption and extortion too. That they turn a blind eye to openly visible underage prostitution, child pornography and other side effects from society here, is known and documented well by others. At times, imported law enforcement commandos from the capital Bangkok, do raid large discotheques, entire whore house avenues or run so called sting operations. But their success is always very temporary and therefore limited. Whole loads of night club visitors were forced to give urine samples to check for substance abuse in the most recent past and road accidents with fatalities or serious injuries outscore the counts of much larger cities by far. Local transport appears to be a big scam in itself. Inner city bus lines were forced out of business and their passengers were bullied by the omnipresent blue “bahtbus” society. Except for a few fixed routes, they charge as much as 150 Baht for 2 or 3 km. That is for rides in the back of a pick-up truck! Extortion and scams follow the visitor here at a close pace. This is maybe on reason that the hotels have a hard time to fill their rooms outside the peak season.

Several international hotel chains run objects here. While some have built their guests a new place to stay, others have resorted to a quick-cash operation and refurbished an older beach road tourist hotel. One of those is the Hard Rock Hotel (shown below), that tries hard to hawk the well-known brand amongst the newcomers with bigger budgets.

Cafes, restaurants and gourmet temples all want their piece of the potential profits here, while only a few accomplish their goals and satisfy their customers well – others opt for a quick buck and rake in whatever they can.

Discos have cheap or free drinks for single ladies to lure the abundance of girls for the night into their halls, but male guests pay way above average for their drinks. GoGo Bars and Beer Bars with “hostesses” are offering sex and drinks citywide and often open until late. Our own sleep in a very remote part of town (North Pattaya) was disturbed until 4 AM by some ultra-loud Karaoke Bar nightly.

Part 3: Jomtien or Chomtien Beach (South of Pattaya)

The only real part of Pattaya, where we considered the beach clean enough for our baby, was several km south of Pattaya at Jomtien. Here the red light and sleaze seemed to be less dominant, we enjoyed time spent here very well. Plenty of others liked it here too and the beach appeared fairly full. If ever we have to stay in Pattaya again, it sure will be clear away from the city. At least up on Pratamnak hill on the way to Jomtien.

The sand here is also fairly coarse, but that was actually better for our youngster. He found other kids to play with, anytime we needed a break. We did not have a boring minute here. Chairs were 30 Baht per day and drink prices were reasonable as well. The ocean’s water appeared clean and free of any plastic trash and oil slicks.

Nothing real nice, if compared to the much prettier island beaches of Koh Chang or Samui for example. But surely good enough for a picnic at some beach as well as some chillout and fun in the sand.

As an essence, we would like to state – that unless you are a single traveler, looking for a hired female or male company, Pattaya can not be a serious holiday choice or destination for anyone. Pattaya’s public image as Asia’s biggest whorehouse, is a very true statement by some. A few man-made attractions around (zip-lines or wooden temples) do not change my opinion. Public transport is extremely substandard and mafia-style in terms of exaggerated fares. Send Pattaya’s politicians to Penang or Georgetown for a learning experience about these issues.

Location of your accommodation does make a big difference here, a wrong choice and there goes your nightly sleep. If you want to party wild, Pattaya may be a place to hang around. But if you want to spend a holiday by the sea, there are hundreds of much  better options alone in Thailand. A positive aspect for some is the above average availability and selection of ethnic foods from all over the globe, but we like Thai food and that is being sold here in remote areas only. Folks that fancy African Couscous, Arab Shaowarma or Russian dishes can really dig in here. Good Pizzas, Schnitzels and Steaks are also to be had everywhere.

Koh Chang, a complete guide to the beaches

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

 © Frank P. Schneidewind

The past gave us plenty of opportunities to explore this tropical paradise in depth and over a wide variety of weather conditions and side-trips across the entire island. The largest island in the Gulf of Thailand, has an abundance of beaches, jungles and places for the exploring traveler and we want to give true beach lovers an overview  and updated guideline.

In order to help with any decision making, when locating your holiday destination. We have added quite a few pictures and short videos, to show you a 180° degree cam-swing of the different bathing beaches, which we found suitable for individuals and families with kids as well.

Enjoy the sights on Koh Chang!


This map gives you a basic idea, how the layout of Koh Chang is and where the shown beaches are. The island is in Trat province, roughly 300 km southeast of Bangkok.

We start our beach reviews in the geographical north of the island. When you arrive on the island by ferry in Ao Sapparot or at Centerpoint pier, almost all beaches are located like pearls on a string along the island's main road. If you follow this road counterclockwise, you come to the community of Khlong Son first. You are near the northwesternmost point of any road and can access Khlong Son Bay to your right via small side roads. The first beach access is possible at Chang Noi Beach, a classy residential development close to the forested Koh Chang Noi peninsula (uninhabited) as shown below:

This area boasts few residential bungalows and a restaurant, luxurious accommodation on a daily or weekly basis is available. Check with Royal Park View! The natural beach appears fortified to avoid erosion, but fortifications appear not to be disturbing the paradise here.

More can be found at the Aiyapura across the bay. A multi-star facility with plenty of luxurious bungalows and villas. Unfortunately there is no natural beach there, but the management trucks in huge amounts of sand from elsewhere, it never seemed to last long though.

The man made coast line here is a sorry excuse for a tropical island, but the resort is trying their best to make their well heeled guests happy. A fabulous entertainment on site is granted, other villages are only accessible by own transport. There is no footpath to access Chang Noi Beach, a canal with commercial fishing trawler traffic and no bridge prohibits that.

This overlook gives you an idea of the concept here:

Loungers on sea side turf welcome sun seekers, from here you can watch the trawlers go by.

The main area for all touristic activities follows if you cross the final hill on the north end of the western side, from here you have a fantastic panoramic view of White Sand Beach and the villages and beaches south of it. As you can see, most developments here, do follow the main road. The primary accommodations being on the beach side. There is a year round crowd here and businesses do not have a tendency to close for the rainy season. Banks run branches here and there is a plentitude of shops, spas, massages and bars here. The beach itself stretches for miles and is completely free of any sand flies !

White Sand Beach has always carried the vast majority of our stays on Koh Chang. The unique blend of food offerings and accommodation options, did suit our taste best. The Top Resort at the southern end of town, on the cliff, had been our home for almost all nights in this eastern part of Thailand. No other location offered us more comfort and cozyness in a relative close proximity to a fabulous bathing beach for their kind of prices.

There are plenty of reports on this location alone, so we will almost skip it here now and move on with our guide to the island.  Read our day-by-day chronicles, if you like to learn more about White Sand Beach.

South of White Sand Beach community, over a hill or two south on the main road, Pearl Beach in it's rough beauty attracts few guests at their single resort here. No other businesses nearby, make this location ideal for patrons, that want absolute peace and isolation. The Resortel here has plenty of meeting facilities and rooms.

Concrete slabs are intended to make a passage into the deeper water painless, but to us this resembles more of a sea side quarry, than a tropical beach.

Kai Bae Beach, the northern part, has shady trees and plenty of fine sand. A few restaurants and shops in walking distance, makes Kai Bae village the main competitor to the dominant White Sand Beach area. The restaurant here, is quite unique with its setting near bathing and kayaking facilities.

 

The southern part of Kai Bae is dominated by fine sand and a great view over some small islets.

Bang Bao Beach is the last regular beach on this side of the island and can be found about a kilometers past the parking lot for the picturesque fishing village on stilts, bearing the same name. Going any further south, will get you onto private property at the Lagoona Resort. They currently charge a whopping 200 Baht admission to access their property, but Bang Bao Beach is by far the better option for swimming and sunbathing in our opinion.

Some local folks rent ocean kayaks or umbrellas with a pair of sun loungers, things are rather laid back here, no accommodation options were spotted nearby. The beach offers fine sand, but is fairly narrow.

Refreshments can be bought locally, their prices do not justify bringing your own cooler and picnic-basket. Snacks can also be had here cheaply. A good place for a day trip or half day trip from White Sand Beach, Bang Bao community has plenty of restaurants, mainly locally caught seafood.

Here is another of Melona's cam swings, to give you an idea of the entire layout here. Note the white lighthouse in the short video, that tells you the distance to Bang Bao pier.

Below photos show Long Beach, an area not accessible by the main road! In order to get here, one needs some form of off-road transport and some time. Follow the island road clockwise 'till it ends and then follow the rough dirt road for a few more miles. The marine battle monument (French war ships sunk half the Thai fleet here in the 40's) is here as well. Chances are, that you are the only person on this neat stretch of natural beach. Accommodations a few kilometers away, are rather basic backpacker-style huts. This was by far the best beach for swimming on the island!

The town of Salak Phet offers unique wooden bungalows on stilts with your personal pier. Dock your yacht here, if you're hungry;), or need a bed for the night. Their seafood restaurant claims fame beyond my wallet.

There is no beach here, but boats ferry guests to outlaying islands with great beach opportunities. Again, their tendency to overcharge lets us look for alternatives with no needed boat transports. There are plenty of them on Koh Chang, the last of the large islands in Thailand, that still retained some of it's old charm. We'll be back there for sure!