Pattaya does everything to keep a tourist happy, says Ashwin Achal — though he is quick to add that he kept his morals intact
F or a 27-year-old Madras boy, whose greatest travel experience (without family) would be a drive to the Marina at two in the morning, a trip to Pattaya was truly an eye-opening experience. I have been fortunate to travel to Turkey and Singapore with my parents, but a trip to Pattaya is best restricted to the ‘boys', and thus I myself in this wonderful city accompanied by an old school friend.
Pattaya's policy is simple and evident from the moment you arrive: Do anything it takes to please the tourist. Parties, alcohol, food, live music, a mini-tent on the beach. Pretty much anything a tourist needs to enjoy his stay.
Here are a few features an average traveller will encounter in Pattaya, written from the perspective of an Indian city-slicker with minimum travel experience. It must be mentioned that these are observations that can be made by anyone who visits Pattaya, and does not mean I dived straight in and participated in ‘immoral' shenanigans myself.
You can find local live acts for all popular genres — metal, rock, hip-hop and just plain commercial pop. But since these live acts mostly play in famous bars populated by demanding tourists, the only viable option for these musicians is to play popular covers. For example, a hard rock band will play Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin), Paranoid (Black Sabbath), Enter Sandman (Metallica), etc. This set list will continue night after night, and requests for original compositions will not be entertained. Here is a good example of talented musicians having to cater to the needs of a ‘music lover' tourist who is interested only in singing along with his favourite (read overplayed) Pearl Jam song. The concept of ‘posers' is prevalent here, as it is in India and elsewhere, when you see members of the audience acting ‘hardcore' and flashing the metal horn sign when the band plays ‘Sweet Child Of Mine'.
Taxis are the easiest and most efficient way of getting around in Pattaya. There are two types of taxis in use here — a motorbike taxi, and a common taxi similar to Indian share autos, where close to 10 people ride on a modified pick-up truck which stops at major points in the city. Haggling with motorbike taxis is a must, very similar to what you would do with an auto here in India. Ask for taxi driver's expected fare, and cut it by 20 percent. It is also essential to have a rough idea of the route to your destination, because the taxi driver could well demand extra midway through the journey if he picks up that you do not have a clue where you are. The common taxi, however, is less of a hassle in terms of bargaining, but your hotel may not be on its route.
Go-Go bars are widely popular in Pattaya, and are considered the main tourist attraction. A Go-Go bar typically consists of about 80 girls, who work in the capacity of bartenders. When a patron enters a Go-Go bar, he is courted by the girls, who will go to great lengths to catch his attention and get him over to her table. Once the patron chooses a table, the Go-Go girl entertains with alcohol and conversation. This is a precursor to the ultimate aim of both the girl and the patron. The concept of Go-Go bars is completely alien to Indians, and moral judgment of these practices merely defeats the purpose of your travel – to view a city for what it is. You may not want to partake in these activities, but grumbling about a ‘loss of moral values' will not find any takers.
Pattaya has two main beaches — Jomtien beach and the Walking Street beach. Both offer a relaxed experience, where you can sit on a folding chair with a glass of beer. This is the ideal place to spend time if you are not into the bustling main streets. This is what I did – lie down, watch people indulge in water sports, a drink in hand and an intense argument with my mate about the state of Indian sports. The atmosphere is less hectic than what you would experience in Marina or even Goa, as beaches in Pattaya are less crowded.
The 7/11 store turned out to be my best friend in Pattaya. They are open 24 hours and can be found literally on every street in the city. Water, cigarettes, snacks, alcohol, mobile recharges and everything else is available round the clock, and is enormously handy when you return to your hotel at 4 A.M. and realise you cannot find a bottle of water.
Impression of Indians among Thais
Unfortunately, Indian tourists are not highly regarded in Pattaya. This had valid reasons that one learns of when talking to the locals or the tourist police. According to the Thai tourist police, Indians are the chief offenders when it comes to physical and emotional abuse of Go-Go bar girls and other sex workers. There are many cases of Indians physically injuring sex workers, which attaches a terrible stigma to our entire nation. The Indian's haggling skills are legendary, but haggling often turns into a disrespectful tirade against the vendor. Indians must also remember that waiters at restaurants are not your ‘property', you cannot shout at them for not bringing you water or not taking your order quickly. A firm request with a smile goes a long way in getting your work done without annoying a fellow human. It is appalling that an Indian must first prove that he is in fact not a ‘typical Indian' with his actions, before he can draw a smile from a hotel owner or a T-shirt vendor.