After leaving Bangkok we caught a bus to Pattaya for 109 baht. It was a lot more than expected for the bus, and it took nearly 2 hours, but it is pretty much the only option for transport so we had little choice. It was fairly cramped with our backpacks at our feet, but for such minimal discomfort, the anticipated excitement of Pattaya definitely overpowered it.
Pattaya was like nothing I've ever seen before, if I thought the sex tourism industry was busy in Bangkok, in Pattaya it was 10 times worse. There is a street called walking street, which is probably about ¾ of a mile long and consists entirely of strip clubs, bars, more bars, 7-elevens (which are EVERYWHERE here), mens tailors who will make a custom suit for about $100 usd, and little independent shops selling knockoff watches and sunglasses. In just that short stretch of road there were probably 2-3,000 prostitutes, and plenty of men looking for company. Telling which was a lady-boy (katoy) and which ones were real women was a fun game, but seeing all the men who were clearly there to drink and play STD roulette was shocking. One would think that the prototypical customer would be a man who for whatever reason (age, weight, etc.) would be unable to find a girlfriend or company in his home country, and surely there were many examples. However it seemed that a lot of the men there were average looking and there for the party.
The city was just dirty. Thailand in general is pretty dirty, they don't seem to have a concept of cleanliness in throwing their garbage in cans or whatever, and recycling is unheard of. Pattaya was worse. There is garbage everywhere, there are empty lots full of trash. It is very much a city of contrast, with what seems to be a beautiful beach upon first look with many tall and shiny looking condos and apartments, when you look closer there is a coat of dirt everywhere, and the beach is unfit for walking barefoot.
The first night we just walked around and took it all in, because even though it is sad, repulsive, and disappointing, it is surprising to see with your own eyes, and shows that improvements in the quality of life from the spread of globalization have yet to be realized by many people, and there are hordes from the more developed countries who still seek to exploit this.
These pictures are from Sunday at about 7pm, Saturday it was MUCH worse and you couldn't see through the crowds at all. As you may be able to guess, Boyz town is for the gay crowd and the lady boys.
The second night we decided to try to enjoy it a little bit, for what it was, and went out to Mixx Discotheque – a dance hall with 2 parts, one hip hop and one electronic (techno). After a couple hours there we wandered back down Walking street to another smaller bar where I was glad that I was not alone, because even walking 5 feet ahead by myself, I was accosted by Thai women who weren't just trying to dance.
Monday morning we couldn't escape Pattaya fast enough, and hopped a bus to Rayong for 50 baht each - which is the jumping off point to Koh Samet. We met a couple at the bus stop – Nathan from Michigan, and his Thai girlfriend whose name I cannot even imagine how to spell. They were also headed to Samet for a couple days, and we sat with them on the bus. Nathan teaches English in Myanmar (Burma) and offered that If I wanted to experience a very slow, friendly way of life, I could very easily get a job there at one of the language schools because it is hard for them to find teachers. I can't imagine why with such an oppressive and restrictive military junta running the show. The only way for westerners to enter the country is by air – they won't let you come across at a land crossing. Apparently the visa process takes 2-3 days, and you better not say you're a reporter. It's an option I'll keep in mind, he said the pay is about $2,300 a month, and the cost of living is maybe $500. With not much to do in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) it would be easy to save quite a bit.
Koh Samet is beautiful. It is the first time I have ever seen white sand beaches, and they stretch out for quite a ways. Because we got to the pier at about 4pm, we had to pay 300 baht per person to take a speed boat there, but it was a pretty fun ride, and they dropped us off right on the beach. We started to walk down the beach and wondered how much it was for rooms which were directly on the beach, but the cheapest we could find was 1,200 baht per night, and we decided to wander into the small town. The town is pretty much one road, with buildings on either side and not much else – no side streets or anything to speak of. We found a guest house which had rooms for 400 baht per night, which seemed ok, so we checked in and went to have dinner on the beach. The prices are a little higher than in the city, 40-50 baht for a plate of chicken and rice with vegetables, more if you wanted seafood. It tastes delicious, the sauces they use are always a little different, but always very good. These pictures are from the night we arrived.
We'll be here through Sunday and have met a hand-full of characters since arriving. An old British woman who lives in Goa, India and was only here for 10 days so she can go back and get another visa. “Audi” the bartender at Mbar – where buckets of the local whiskey are only 130 baht from 10-midnight daily. He is quite the entertainer, he also plays guitar and does Thai boxing (Muay Thai). A pair of ex-pats from Bangkok who were here to celebrate the birthday of the older one, Jessica who is a 28 year-old South African, and apparently still has quite strong feelings about the post-apartheid government. Her partner in crime was Erin, a 17 year-old English girl who is living in Bangkok with her parents – they met at a South African discussion group because Erin's dad is Afrikaans.
Wednesday we rented a motorbike for 250 baht for 24 hours, it was an automatic and easy to ride, though on some of the roads it took some getting used to. Think some of the worst forest service roads with massive ruts from the flash floods, peppered with large rocks and random areas of pavement. We managed to get about 2/3s of the way down the island before it started pouring down rain and we decided to turn back. Before too long we found a little shelter near one of the resorts and pulled over to wait it out. By then we were thoroughly soaked so after waiting for the rain to lighten for about 30 minutes we took off back towards our guest house. We wasted away most of the rest of the day and got ready to go to the bar.
We hung out with Audi, Jessica, and Erin for pretty much the whole night, and after he closed Mbar we walked up the hill to a Reggae bar to get food. I definitely ate too much yesterday. Today (Thursday) I wasn't really hungry in the morning and all I wanted to do was get rid of all the food that was in my stomach. 3 normal sized meals and 3 pancakes was apparently too much, and today I'm paying for it. I'm sure I'll be just fine, I've definitely felt worse in the past and I'm drinking plenty of Gatorade (Yep they have it here, though for half the price you get the Thai knock-off) and eating easy foods.
Thursday morning we woke up early and went to the north end of the island so that Emilie could learn to ride the motorbike, because she probably never would on her own. It was fun, but being tired all day and not feeling great kind of put a damper on the fun. Hopefully I'll be back to normal in the morning.
That's all for now, and I've taken almost 3,000 pictures since landing 9 days ago.
All the pictures I've uploaded can be found at: http://picasaweb.google.com/105962156335543450490/Thailand?authkey=Gv1sRgCLebqoP63Y2c3QE&feat=directlink