Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Pattaya Day 1 - Sawasdee Krab

Long Time No See.   Love You Long Time.


Frasers arranged a car to drive us to Pattaya straight from Bangkok Airport. I had been to Pattaya once in my younger days in the 1980s.

Thai airline at Bangkok aiport
Thai airline at Bangkok aiport
touch down
Giant mythical giant Yasha at Bangkok airport, Thailand
Giant mythical giant Yasha at the Bangkok airport

After a 1.5 hours, the various shops' signages told me that we were in Pattaya. My first impressive was....holy cow!!!

My vague memory of the trip that I took with Darren 25 or so years ago told me that Pattaya was a sleepy fishing town with rustic cottages that was invaded by a red-light district, and a small scatterings of 3 to 4 stars hotels fringed along the beach that made up of Pattaya.

Either my memories played tricks on me or Pattaya's growth have exploded in the last 25 years. I think it's a bit of both, with the latter being playing a larger part.

I guess things do change a lot in 25 years, but Pattaya is now resembling more like a bustling town (or even city) than a red-light district next to a beach. There was not a trace of what I can recall left (I meant the fishing cottages, not the sex industry. That grew in size (let's get our mind out of the gutter).

The fishing cottages are replaced by mega malls. I think the fishermen who were here still here, but instead of catching fishes, they now catch tourist dollars. Upwardly mobile. Pattaya has become so big that the ASEAN Summit will be held there next week with leaders from countries like China and Japan will be there. It's no longer just a red-light district, but a tourist destination for the whole family, and you do see them here.

I told David, an Aussie expat who worked in Pattaya, how heavy was the censorship on Thai TV. Many images were being blurred on the screen: anything from a knife, naughty bits, obscene gestures, gun and even cigarettes. Thai TV audience needs lots of imagination to understand its content. I told him this heavy handed censorship is in line with Thailand being a traditional Buddhist society.

After hearing that, he commented what a schizophrenic society Thailand is. I understand where he came from considering that he was working in a red-light district that would make Amsterdam's counterpart blushed. The contrast between Pattaya and what I said pretty extreme.

I told him that Pattaya was no more weird than Kings Cross. He looked at me with the incredulous expression like I just told him that Aussies came from Mars. For those who don't know, Kings Cross is Sydney's red-light district. I didn't mean Kings Cross is a stark contrast with Australian culture, just its geographical surrounding.

Why is there a red-light district in Kings Cross, which is smacked bang in the middle of surrounding dandy neighbours of Potts Points and Elizabeth Bay? The whole area around Kings Cross are upmarket, upper middle income eastern bay areas. You don't usually see a red-light district in such suburb. For one thing, the rents in these areas are typically high.

USS Kitty Hawk docked at Woolloomooloo wharf, Sydney in 2007
USS Kitty Hawk docked at the Garden Island, Sydney in July 2007
Kings Cross is only a walking distance from Garden Island where the US navy docked its aircraft carrier while its crew cruises down to Kings Cross for some red hot R&R. Like The Village People (not the Pattaya villagers. Ok, maybe) would sing, "you can't stop the sailors..." Oops music...(Yeah I suspect Village People is popular in Pattaya).

All this was created by the US navy during the Vietnam War when the sailors popped down there for R & R. As a side note, I bet large percentages of Asian (and Australian. Ok, the world's 20th century) red-light districts are probably single handedly created by US Navy.

As it turned out that the fast pace of growth of Pattaya wasn't due entirely of tourism (now much more than just sex industry), but Thai government conscious effort to expand it, at least in recent decade. That have also added a growing population of Western expats, whom could easily be mistaken as tourists. Their 'natural tan', as supposed to three-days lobster tan, should be a dead giveaway.

Farang cycling in Pattaya, Thailand
Is this farang trying to get some extra attention?

But if you look closely, its vestiges of fishing life could still be found plying their trades alongside with international tourism.

Fisherman casting a fishing net, Thailand
Fisherman does it with good old-fashioned elbow grease

Of course, with the explosive growth of Pattaya, it isn't just the farang tourists and expats who contributed to the breakneck population pace of growth. Most Thai you meet here would likely be born somewhere else in Thailand.

Motorcycle with the side trolley for the whole family, Pattaya, Thailand
In the West, if you have extra members come into the family, add a house extension
In Thailand, add a side trolley to your motorbike

Mcdonald fastfood restaurant open 24 hours sign, Thailand
Pattaya never sleeps
Ronald Mcdonald greets customers with a Thai wai, Thailand
Ronald Mcdonald greets customers with a Thai wai