January, 2011

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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.

Phuket & Pattaya Jet Ski, the ultimate fun or scam-tool?

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

When the motorcycle powerhouse Kawasaki branded their watercraft with jet propulsion "Jet Ski", they did not expect to brand an entire range of highly mobile miniature vessels. 1973 saw the first prototypes of Jet Ski as stand-up versions with bike-like handlebars. Motorcycle engines gave them enormous power and speeds, yet kept manufacturing cost down to a low level. Other motorcycle manufacturers followed suit quick and designed their own personal watercraft. Yamaha's line was called WaveRunner and featured easier to handle hulls with up to 3 in-line seats. Kawasaki's line was geared more for the extreme sport society and demanded a much higher level of skill to operate. Today's range of so called "Jet Ski" for rent are almost all Yamaha products, which are relatively easy to operate and service.

So expect a WaveRunner, when renting a Jet Ski at any place in Thailand or Malaysia. Prices for rentals of personal watercraft have escalated dramatically over the last decade. While half an hour on a fairly new, fully equipped model in Batu Ferringhi or on Langkawi in Malaysia costs you from 25 to 50 Ringgit (250 to 500 Baht), the charges for older models in Phuket, are about three times that high! That was one of the reasons, the author did his own jet skiing some years ago, in Malaysian waters, for a fraction of the price on better and newer WaveRunners..

Gangs of young men usually surround each Jet Ski on Thai beaches, looking for customers or victims of their scams. Some of them may be regular business folks, but headlines in international media in the past, were reporting frequently on such scams in Phuket or Pattaya. In a concerted action with corrupt police officers, renters were often charged wildly inflated prices for any damages, these watercraft already had upon their pick-up. This was seen as a great source of additional income and some police dudes might have been in this vicious circle. BBC and other reliable news sources, reported knife or gun wielding staff, threatening the renters out of their cash in bulk! YouTube is full of similar reports, just use their search-tool, if interested. Neither Pattaya nor Patong have a month without incidents, but those are  usually suppressed in the local media. Foreign Police Volunteers on Pattaya Beach, have been ordered not to get involved.

The guys there grow in numbers almost by the year, with Pattaya Beach, Jomtien and Patong on Phuket, having witnessed the most dramatic increase in numbers. Other resort islands have decided to keep their beaches clean and swimmers safe, by prohibiting jet ski rental operations. In some cases that must have been a wise decision, because those resorts enjoy a much higher guest satisfaction rating and get a lot less bad press from the Jet Ski scams.

Renters are rarely aware of the potential damage to their wallets. Being in a holiday mood, they just want to max out their fun. Most rental Jet Skis have scratches and damages to their hulls and exterior anyhow, any service is restricted to the engine and exterior decals. Below pictured old-timer (pre-Millennium), should for instance have a mirror inside the yellow casing, who knows how many seasons it is lacking this and how many renters have already paid for it. Jet Ski rentals on crowded beaches are an annoyance to parents with kids and swimmers. I have witnessed Jet Ski races, where diver's buoys (anchored markers of a dive-site, signaling people below!) were used to race around (Koh Larn, Pattaya). Heavy injuries through contact with a speeding Jet Ski have killed  or injured many swimmers and riders in the past. Licenses of any kind, are not required for renters, just your cash. Intoxicated renters race between swimmers, snorkelers and surfers daily in Thai waters. They have a hard time controlling the horsepower of the watercraft and rarely wear suitable eye protection, so they are half blinded by sea water spray on top of that.

The rental guys are polite and friendly during the initial approach, some  of these have been documented to wield knifes or even guns, if the renter returns the watercraft and doesn't fork over huge amounts of extra cash for damages. The damage may be years old, but if a renter took it out for a ride – he will have to prove his innocence. Corrupt cops in uniform are quick on the scene and add pressure to the situation, they always side with the local rental gangs and may even be a part of this scam.

Although Jet Ski driving is a lot of fun to some, the potential risks in Thailand to get taken is latent. Malaysian Jet Ski rentals do not seem to have this burden to cope with. I always paid just for time used and often negotiated a discount or extra time for longer rentals on Langkawi or when on Penang's Batu Ferringhi coast. Parasailing (to hang in a parachute and get dragged by a boat) is also available there at much fairer prices.

The more modern watercraft in Thailand's southern neighbor country, are extremely fast and they do have a selection of Seadoos and real Jet Ski made by Kawasaki. It is quite a difference to what is being offered on Phuket's and Pattaya's beaches.

Thais consider every personal, small watercraft a Jet Ski ;). Even those horrific things with a regular outboard engine, as still available for rent in Thailand. These things are extremely dangerous, as the screws can maim swimmers or dismember limbs in a split second. Cha-Am, Bang Saen and other beaches still allow these right in large crowds of bathing kids and holiday guests!

Harmless objects, like the occasional coconut on tropical shores, can do seriously cause damage to a WaveRunner. They can actually break a hull, if they get between the sand and the bottom of the WaveRunner or Jet Ski. Rocks do similar damage, so make sure to avoid these, when returning the toy.

The Boys in Brown are of no help in any dispute with the local Jet Ski gangs, please keep that in mind and insist on Tourist Police for each and any quarrel you may have, their phone number is nationwide 1155. Better yet, chose safer places to enjoy your holiday fun – if you are undecided.

Those poor patrons, that have fallen victims to these scams, come in high numbers. Barely anyone raises his voice, they pay silently and duck away. If the authorities on law enforcement can't put a stop on this, tourism as such, will hurt significantly. There are a few media outlets, that do not duck away from the Jet Ski Mafia and those would like to have your story. Meanwhile, avoid the most dangerous shores in Patong on Phuket and Pattaya, until they clean up their act. TAT, the Tourism Authority, turns again a blind eye and plays happy-dandy, instead of offering legal help or at least a hotline for victims!

Thailand's beaches do well without this negative and annoying aspect, make it safe again for swimmers and visitors. Eliminate corruption and eradicate scams, where police seems to take an active part in the extortion of tourists!




UPDATE 17.03.2011:

Our Junior Chief Reporter Teddy discovered a Jet Ski ride, guaranteed free of any scam at the Robinson Department Store in Future Park Rangsit! :)

He claims that the ride cost doesn't exceed 10 Baht per 3 minutes of hard use and that they did not have shortened his riding duration, despite the fact that he is a genuine 0% Thai!

He will appreciate any donation in the form of 10 Baht coins to go on an endurance test by readers!