Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Visiting Pattaya and Coral Island, Thailand

It is high season in Thailand. Almost all of the published hotels and guesthouses are fully booked. I've been turned away by a guesthouse I visited the day before for a reservation. Silly girl.

After an interesting trip from Pattaya, the beachside city 2 hours north of Bangkok, as well as a 1 hour boatride to
Koh Larn aka Coral Island, I realized I haven't had reservations for my Chiang Mai leg upon my arrival from Yangon (another overnighter in Bangkok). I have choices already but I can't seem to get their "booking website" nor a correct email address, thus my reservations keep bouncing back. I don't wanna be turned away again. Calling was not an option.

Earlier today, after an hour of boatride from Pattaya, I got turned off when the guide I personally call Barbarosa (coz of her commanding demeanor towards her clients) recited "numbers" just a few minutes after getting off the boat. B300 for sitting on that couch, B400 for parasailing, B1,500 for jetskiing, B5 for the toiler, B700 for talking, B900 for breathing... It is just exasperating when she enumerates numbers instead of being welcoming to guests. I later learned that she just doesn't have the subtle facility of words thus her "commanding demeanor". nevertheless, for a trade like hers (tour guide), she won't be getting a lot of tips. (I am a softee, I gave her B100 secretly. hehe)

Pattaya City is a bustling city full of farangs. The beachfront properties are lined by bars and highrises. The bars are still full of girls housed in a special area where men can pick one to his liking. In short, it still has its notoriety down pat. Prostitution is still a heavily practiced trade, and the main beach itself has already undergone a good cleanup. There are better-looking guesthouses compared to Bangkok itself. Lonely Planet AVOIDS mention of it so as not to condone the flesh trade, leaving its guidebooks kinda lacking. It is very obvious when you can’t find one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations in a traveler’s bible like the Lonely Planet.

A boat ride to the nearby island of Coral Island isn't also bad. AKA Koh Larn/ Koh Lan, it is a must-see sidetrip I would pay to visit (though I wouldn’t necessarily come back). Parasailing is especially interesting. We were brought to a floating platform just off the coast of Jomtien Beach. For just B400, you will be hooked to a parachute that would fly you around the platform, speedboat hoisting you up the sky. That is no-frills adventure, if you ask me. After a single round though, you end up wanting for more, though you’d have to shell out another B400. But if it gives you the rush, B400 isn’t really an expensive price to pay. What I didn’t appreciate is that some speedboat drivers actually derive pleasure in hoisting you up the air THEN dunking you in the sea for a few seconds. Anyway, some people find it an extra thrill so…

From parasailing, we started almost an hour of travel to an island that locals call Koh Larn, aka Coral Island. We were transferred to a smaller boat where, once all seated, the wooden planks of the floor were removed to reveal a glass-bottom observatory. We were shown some coral formations. Though they were nice, I would say I’ve seen better, and the activity felt like scraping the bottom. There were a hundred population of urchins on the area. After that unremarkable part, we were brought to the island where, as I mentioned earlier, the guide religiously made her litany of prices per activity. Pay this for that, and that for this, and so on. The sand was fine and beige, but the strip of sand is rather limited. Needless to say, there were so many farangs all over the place, burning their sun-resistant integuments. The water, cool. Gosh!!! So many farangs in the flimsiest of garments. :->

Jontien Beach in Pattaya

The nice Indian couple who was with me, Melroy and Daphne, from Mumbai, were recalling how on their first day, they were taken to 4 gem shops by tuktuks who were suppose to bring them elsewhere. This annoying practice has to be regulated as they take advantage of the tourists forced on visiting shops - against their will. Tuktuk drivers are given gas coupons everytime they bring in tourists but this practice has gone on unregulated. For newbies visiting Thailand for the first time, it is hard to escape this practice. It's a rite of passage. And by the time we reached Pattaya, our first stop was, you guess it, Gems Gallery. I was just livid but could do nothing.

Parasailing in Pattaya for just B400!

Melroy works for Vodafone and it’s their first time in Bangkok where they have 4 more days before flying back to Mumbai. They flew in from Singapore (they have relatives) the other day. They recommended visiting Mumbai with a sidetrip to Goa (their Boracay) which is a 4-hour drive from the big city. At lunch, the couple were already complaining about the food (“They’re not spicy enough!” – and I begged to disagree.)

From Coral Island, we asked our van driver to give us 30 minutes to walk around Pattaya. The beach front was teeming with tourists, bars, tiangge, etc. I roamed the inner lanes, through rows of old and new guesthouses. Further on were some medium-sized malls. It is a touristy city. On my way back, I saw someone selling garlic-fried chicken, so I bought one. Ohmygawd! I'm salivating as I remember how scrumptuous it was! It is kanto food I don't mind patronizing!

The ride back to Bangkok was exhausting. Traffic was horrible, and when the road finally cleared, the driver sped off like a maniac. I've never been queasy with speed, but this driver, who spoke mildy, was speeding with 120 kph. He would swerve from lane 1 to lane 4 the whole darn time and I tried to control myself from grabbing the hand rail beside me.

Before lunch, there was a commotion at the beach. People gathered around to see something incredible! Some local fishermen caught... a FISH!!! Silly farangs! And there I was thinking someone caught a mermaid!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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