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The 15 island pleasure cruise on the Kontiki

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

We used Halloween day for a family trip on a boat in the Koh Chang archipelago. There are plenty of boat operators, with most belonging to dive-shops or trip companies. We opted for the Kontiki, because their tour seemed to be most suitable to our needs. 15 islands were to be visited with numerous snorkel opportunities and a great catering throughout the fun trip.

Traveling on a boat with an active 19 month-old is a task in itself, but Teddy loves fish and water and to explore things with mom and dad. :)

The permanent crew of eight on this boat did everything imaginable, to make this trip perfect. Here are the boat-boys that serve drinks and later ferry the passengers to the shore landing zones with a small boat.


The breakfast was served right after departure and that cut the traveling time to the first snorkel site very practically. The lower deck doubled as a buffet and there was ham, eggs and fresh bread along with a larger number of pickled goodies. Coffee and tea was on free flow and this all-you-can-eat breakfast was just the beginning of a true catering frenzy. ;)

Fruit juices complimented the array and the ham was a true favorite with most passengers on board.

Everybody had plenty of room and a seat with a stunning view. The temperature was getting close to 30° C on this sunny day, but in the great breezes on the boat, nobody felt the urge to hop into the air-conditioned room on the middle deck.

Mrs. Cat was the catering angel, always refilling trays with food and glasses with drinks. You can also spot the plenitude of life-vests on board, virtually every seat was providing an individual one.

We relaxed after a neat breakfast for a short while, then our first snorkel stop came into view – Koh Wai

The trip began with a trouble free pick up of the passengers by Songtheauw, the typical island style transport, which is complimentary for passengers as well as a island-wide drop-off in the evening. The short walk along the Bang Bao pier, gave everyone the opportunity to gear up on bags of fish-food for later use (just 20 Baht per bag!).

The only negative thing on this cruise was the unusual high tide, which made the wide beaches look like a sorry excuse for a dream beach. It was the week of the highest water level all year and this lead to the big Bangkok flooding. The high tide had no significant effects on the archipelago, just a minor inconvenience for the beach lovers on our cruise.

The selected boat was a triple deck vessel with an enormous space provided. With the top deck reserved for sun worshippers to deepen their tans on cozy mattresses, most of the vessel provided for plenty of shady spots as well. The middle deck hosted the air-conditioned cabin, the bridge and a forward sun deck with the lower deck geared for extra comfort. Two toilets were outfitted with western style toilets and a fresh water shower waited for all swimmers and snorklers to rinse off the salt water.

We even had a documented case of fall-foliage, right on the water's edge on the beach. Beautiful autumn colors looked great with a perfectly blue sky as a backdrop! The island on the horizon is Koh Chang.

The powdery, bright sand was here to please the eye and caress the feet. The Kontiki had to anchor far from the shore, but the small boat took every one close to the beach. During a normal high tide, this beach really spreads out, but now a large part of it was submerged, offering us a great color play in combination with the turquoise colored, ultra clean water.

The crew was grilling and cooking meanwhile, out at anchorage. Occasionally, the wind blew a whiff of BBQ or cooking smells over to us. Still full from breakfast, we didn't pay too much attention at first. Although the mouthwatering aromas from the Kontiki did gradually attract more attention by the snorkel crowd, as time progressed.

Melona took several trips with the little dinghi back and forth, in order to get some nice photographs. We knew the schedule and water fun for us could wait until further stops on the cruise.

The shallow waters provided a good training ground for first time snorkelers to get acquainted to their gear. Everybody had a great time, but there were only few fish to watch on this flooded beach.

The next stops on the cruise provided a different aquatic environment, with two reefs around rocky islets, not far from the first stop.

Here, there was aquatic life in abundance and the clear waters did hide only little of their beauty. During the trips from one snorkel site to the next, we almost forgot about having lunch. But the smells of BBQ and a neat selection of tasty delicacies from the good sized buffet were lingering in our nostrils.

The following lunch equaled or topped good restaurant quality and every person on board loaded up their plates. Home cooked Thai dishes complimented the salads and grilled meats, for a time everybody was having his chow. Snorkeling does make one hungry, but in combination with the perfect weather and free soft drinks and juices – nobody run out of power prior to his or her dose of water fun.

The next reef waited to be explored, every part of this journey was smoothly timed and no one was in a rush

A quickly tossed piece of the bread bait was transforming the ocean waters into a spectacular arena of activity.

It didn't take Melona long to be convinced and hop in, doing the fish feeding by hand!

Under the watchful eye of Teddy, our wonderful son, his mom enjoyed playing with the coral fish here. Teddy could hardly control his excitement and kept pointing at each creature, yelling out "Fish!" "Fish!"

The third stop was again in a very protected bay with little or no waves. With waters like in a huge swimming pool, it was now the perfect time for our youngster to join the fun in the water.

It didn't take much convincing to have Teddy have a life-vest attached. It was much too big for him, but did the job well enough. Water temperatures at a pleasant 28° C added pleasure value to all.

It didn't take long until the fish came close enough, everything was so easy to spot in these clear waters.

After the 4th and final snorkeling episode of the day, we were greeted back on board with a marble cake, grandmother style, baked fresh from scratch. Hard to resist, even with a tummy in the overload position already, after all that great food on board. Truly said, this catering did set a standard that will be hardest to beat!

Hint: It tasted as good as it looks! ;)

 

We were done with the snorkeling part of the journey, as the sun was getting closer to the horizon.

A rocky coast-line near Bang Bao was our final adventure. Upon closer inspection, the rock was literally covered with monkeys and they were alerted by the boat captain's tooting with the horn of our arrival there.

The boat boys threw fruits and leftover food items onto the steep rock, some even bounced back into the water – only to be quickly retrieved by a brave monkey.

After a while everybody was munching down the donated delicacies and the monkey tribe here had a little feast by courtesy of the Kontiki crew.

We were close to our pier already and had only a short distance to cover. The famous lighthouse on Bang Bao's pier was, where the team with the gangway was already waiting for us to be back once again on Koh Chang.

This fantastic trip was well worth the fee, the 1.500 Baht (approx. $ 30) included the transport from and to the hotel or residence, rental snorkel gear, all soft drinks, juices and coffees plus a wide selection of first class food throughout the day and the great trip with a decked out pleasure boat with all described activities.

We sure weren't seen the last time on the Kontiki, as we have so many friends to come and visit us here.

 

Addendum:

Kontiki Pleasure Cruises cost 1.500 Baht per Person (approx. 48 $), which includes all transport on land and sea, your personal snorkeling equipment (free rental) and all foods as described or similar. It is a full day out at sea and suitable for people and families or groups. Bookings can be done through all travel agents within the archipelago. Pick-ups and drop-offs can be arranged from all tourist resorts on Koh Chang. A discount for children is offered as well.

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.