Public transport is cheap. Planes, trains, buses, minibuses and taxis from town to town. If you’re in a minibus or taxi, tell the driver you’ll tip him if he keeps the speed below 90/100 kmph! National speed limit is 90kph (120 on motorways).
Around Bkk try to use meter taxis with the meter on - it’ll be cheaper than the tuk-tuks (take a tuk-tuk once for the experience then use meter taxis).
Don’t let the drivers take you out of your way...they’ll try to take you to some store where they get commission.
Bring an International driving licence – although most national ones are accepted by motorbike and car hire companies and anyone else who wants to hire you something, you may not be insured without an IDL! In Thailand they drive on the left - cars are right-hand-drive. However driving is really only for the experienced. Be especially careful on a motorbike - Samui has the highest accident rate in Thailand. If you are stopped by the police, it is advisable to have 200 baht handy as you may be required to pay an on the spot “fine”; it is inadvisable to get out your wallet and display a large amount of cash or the “fine” might increase.
The new airport is now open (for how long!!?!?) this is about 30 mins nearer Pattaya and the eastern seaboard. The taxi fare is about 105 to 1300 baht to Pattaya (1.5hr). If you’re travelling further than Bkk, make a friend on the plane and save money on a taxi to your destination. This requires caution and common sense; it is most useful if you’re going further e.g. Pattaya.
Thai food is very unlikely to give you food poisoning but can contain more chillies than you ever thought possible. Street food is usually safe (and delicious!), check for numbers of customers and general looks of the stall. Western (“farang”) food is much more likely to give you food poisoning – fridges are not part of Thai cooking lore yet…beware of western fast food outlets and hotel buffets - food that has been out for over an hour or so. Drink bottled water - not tap water. Even consider not brushing your teeth with tap water. Ice is usually safe in drinks and for anything else.
Very few clothes – they are so cheap here and you’ll only bring stuff that is too warm. Very little luggage – this makes you more mobile if you need to be and less vulnerable to taxi touts and undesirable men. (before you go home you can buy any extra luggage (cheap) to take souvenirs etc).
Don’t rely just on travellers checks in any currency - they are too much hassle. I have witnessed a friend being refused. Bring ATM and/or credit cards. - check fees and tell your bank your are going abroad. Bring very little cash – you tend to get a better rate of exchange here than any home country. Just enough to get you out of the airport to somewhere nice for the first night - avoid carrying large amounts of cash...you’ll lose it when drunk or get it nicked.
Beware! - The 1000 baht note looks very similar to a 20baht note. You might give an overlarge tip!
Bring a cell phone “unblocked” and buy a Thai SIM card for it on arrival, they’re cheap (apprx. 250 baht) and include some credit already on them (e.g. - International calls to UK are about 5 - 8baht per min). Internet access is everywhere – even on the beach… you can get all your photos copied to CD. If you have a laptop you can connect it (broadband) at most cafes.
If you are finding the heat a bit too much there are plenty of enclosed air-conditioned bars with a western theme, be they Irish, English, Belgian or whatever. Here you can eat “comfort food” and watch replays of your favourite old TV shows and live football.
If you’re tired out by all this...get a massage. Make sure it’s actually a massage establishment and not a “gentleman’s relaxation” facility! There are plenty of small boutiques you can go in and get a 1or 2 hour leg rub for about 200 to 400 baht and some beautiful spas that will pamper you for the best part of a day for a few grand.
Pattaya remains one of the few seaside towns where anyone can do just about anything they want.... But at half the price!
For something a little more “wholesome” - on 2nd road spend an hour or so at the Malibu Bar - it’s a girl and lady-man show....a low budget affair, they make their own elaborate costumes and mime to well-known western songs. Every night they tread the boards from 8 till about 12.00 midnight - sometimes poor and amateurish but always entertaining. DO NOT miss Tina Turner! This guy is actually quite professional and very good indeed. He does a couple of performances every night and the place fills just to watch his act. Unfortunately sometimes he has to take time off (twice a night, 7 days a week, year in year out - who wouldn’t?!?) and the act is performed by a less talented stand-in. All -in- all a great friendly atmosphere, lots of couples and even kids - and no smut!!!! No admission charge, and they do food.
The nightlife in Pattaya is legendary. Although the bars now officially close at 1.00pm, this does not stop some places from turning music down and carrying on till the early hours of daylight.
There are discos, clubs bars of sorts including the girlie places....
The sex trade ripples through the town like veins through a stilton, and in a similar way gives the place its distinctive character. Unlike the red light areas of Europe and America, they aren’t really sleazy; mainly it consists of small open bars where (middle-aged) men sit drinking beer and talking to the “bar-girls”. If a tryst is arranged it will take place in one of the hundreds of hotels. There is very little open display of lewdness as this is not approved of in Thailand. The “Go-go Bars” are behind closed doors and have naked or semi naked girls pole dancing or rather holding a pole and swaying to music. You and your family would not be admitted to a Go-go bar. If you went to an open beer bar you would be treated as a perfectly ordinary customer and the girls would dote on your children. (They are mostly mothers themselves). And as for the “seediness” how many men do you know go to Hamburg or Amsterdam and find a wife?
At the other end of the price range there are the small Thai restaurants and street stalls dotted all over town, many won’t have a menu in English so just walk in, sit down and look hungry - let them bring you something and try and guess what it is you’re eating for (a lot) less than $5 for 2 (you can’t go wrong!). A bowl of street noodles can be as little as 15 baht.
Just one phrase you might find useful...."Mai Pet" (one for the Geordies!) - this means “not hot”...it won’t mean no chillies but it might bring it down to a level where you can just about eat it! - “Mai Prik” is NO chillies at all.
And for the mindless, bootless and unhorsed, the culturally stagnant and the grossly obese, there is the usual plethora of fast food outlets - McD’s, KFC, and Burger King....how can people eat that stuff!?!?!? And WHY when you are in a land of gastronomic delights, would you? (My comfort food of choice is a big plate of liver and onions - mmmmmmm!)
Eating out in Pattaya & Jomtien is a treat. There’s everything form every country and it’s all cheap! Even the upmarket stuff is half what you’d pay in Europe. You can eat US, French, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Full English Breakfast, Italian, Belgian, Dutch, German - what am I doing? The list is endless.
There’s one I’ve missed out....THAI food! Thai food is wonderful - everything from mild Chinese based noodles to hot and spicy Issan food, seafood, barbeque, Tom Yam soups - try it, you’ll love it.
If you want to spend a bit of money try Ruen Thai on 2nd road or Sugar Hut on Thap Phraya Rd, the hill between Jomtien and Pattaya.
Ruen Thai has great food from all the regions in Thailand and puts on an ethnic floor show of music, dance and even Thai boxing demonstrations!
Sugar Hut is in fact a very beautiful resort, the restaurant is in a traditional Thai style wooden house. The atmosphere is amazing - you remove your shoes on entering the dining area and the seating is either traditional low or for those of us who are less flexible there are “normal” height chairs and tables. Everything is teak and silk....just a pity the menu is so badly written and the food is a little on the bland side, but for a one off evening out it’s a must.
Pattaya offers some of the best shopping outside Bangkok, and it is actually more accessible being sited in a much smaller area. Along the beach, stalls, shops and arcades offer all the usual souvenir stuff and some things that might cause a few raised eyebrows (a Samurai sword or replica gun?!?!). Lots of ersatz stuff and big brand copies, CDs and DVDs for 150 baht, computer programs.....
The malls (Check out Mike’s & Royal Garden Plaza - accessible from Beach Rd or Second Rd) offer more quality goods still at great prices. Royal garden has a good eatery on the top floor and Mike’s has a public swimming pool on the roof!
Other malls around town include Big C on 2nd road, Tesco on Pattaya North (Nua), and Carrefour on Pattaya Central (Klang). All these have a range of other shops and restaurants all under one air-conditioned roof. Tesco and Big C also have stores on Sukumvit Rd - the main road from Bangkok.
The Sanctuary of Truth is a rather unexpected attraction given the nature and reputation of Pattaya as a holiday destination. Built by a wealthy business family to celebrate the religions of the world, it is an enormous hand-carved wooden building built on a small promontory at Naklua, the northern end of Pattaya. You’ll need a Sawngthaew or motorcycle taxi to get there and it is rather dear to get in (current price unknown).
Work on the building seems to be continually in progress, and provides employment for many artisans and craftsmen from all over the country. Walk around the site and you’ll see carvers at work, inside the building are signs explaining each section of the building, and just marvel at the wonderful carving.
The building itself is amazing but there are also some peripheral attractions that don’t seem so wonderful. One can rent a horse to ride around the site. At the time your correspondent was there one of the animals had got out of control and was being chased around the site by clearly untrained staff.
Another “attraction” is the dolphin show. Here a small species of Dolphins are put through their paces in a muddy pond, balancing balls and splashing the audience - it’s all rather embarrassing really.
However, all in all despite the rather second rate attractions the site is well worth a visit.
206/2 Moo5 Naklua 12 Naklua Rd, Banglamung, Chonburi 20150 Thailand
On the mainland, Pattaya offers a range of amusement parks, gardens, and theme parks. Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens although recently scandalised by the Beeb for their treatment of elephants is worth a visit, just don’t support the elephant rides. Elephant village is similarly not to be supported.
Pattaya Park is a Water World amusement park that offers all the usual water rides plus a revolving restaurant and some hair-raising ways of getting up there and back down.
Mini Siam is a miniature tour of Thailand - full of busloads of tourists with a MacDonald’s at the entrance.
Million year-old Stone Park has beautiful gardens - feed the 5ft long catfish! And cringe at the abysmal treatment of tigers and crocodiles.
Further afield is Sri Racha tiger Zoo (to be avoided at all costs), and Kao Keow Open Zoo, a refreshing change from the usual callous way animals are treated in Thailand. There is also the Water World Aquarium on Sukumvit Rd. Any hotel or travel shop will arrange to take you there.
Visually, the beaches in Pattaya are not up to much compared to elsewhere in Thailand; it’s a very urban environment with rows of umbrellas and deck-chairs. Although people do swim, the sea is rather polluted, (how much is unclear) they claim to have cleaned up the water a lot in the last few years and have marked out areas for swimmers.
Neighbouring Jomtien beach, about a 15 min bus ride away looks to be more swimmer-friendly but there is the occasional bout of untreated sewerage there from time to time. (This IS Thailand!).
Cosy beach and Sugar beach between Pattaya and Jomtien offer less crowded or urban alternatives. Bear in mind that what is done to monitor pollution on any of the beaches throughout Thailand is not clear. Inevitably, ALL the main holiday beaches in Thailand are subject to pollution from time to time depending on season wind and tides.
At both Pattaya and Jomtien beaches you can hire all sorts of watersports stuff, and it’s all pretty cheap. All beaches have plenty of people selling drinks and snacks etc. Have a fresh coconut and drink the liquid inside through a straw - very refreshing!
Off shore there are one or two islands with much nicer beaches, they are easily accessible for a day trip. If you go to Ko Laan, the main beach is really just a row of restaurants etc, but it’s well worth hiring a moped and driving over to the other side of the island - views from the top are great and there are some very quiet beaches there. Or simply walk along the coast for a bit to get away from the crowds.
I've been five times to Thailand but, with this Thai-run bicycle tour company, I had one of the best days in Thailand ever. They run small group one or two-day bicycle tours outside BKK.
The tour leaders are extremely friendly and they take you to markets, villages, and even a school. It was great fun to see the real Thailand. Highly recommended!
www.AbsoluteExplorer.com , Tel +66-870779696), based in Sukhumvit Soi 103, Bangkok
Its a all-day trip (about 11 - 10pm) run by John Grey Sea Canoes, that takes you into the beatutiful hongs of Phang Nga Bay. It is a truly spiritual journey that is away from the crowds, and is the only trip that allows you to experience this magical world after sunset.
Pick up is from your hotel, and you are provided with complimentary food and drink all day (the food is great also). You have only 2 people per canoe plus your own personal guide. This company has won so many awards ... and with good reason.
Pick up is from any hotel in Phuket.
This cooking school offers half-day, full day and week-long cooking courses. They were absolutley great, combining practical cooking demos with theory - and you get to eat what you have cooked afterwards with your fellow students.
They will pick you up from your hotel and take you back again afterwards.
The Blue Lagoon's a fantastic wee, reasonably budget place on Klong Prao beach. It has idyllic little clean, modern (we stayed in much, much worse - do not try KP Huts...) bungalows with verandahs over the lagoon - a non-stinky, non-mosquito-ridden lagoon I would point out. Brilliant for sunsets and relaxation, and just down from all the fancy resorts with much lesser views and more noise. The big bonus is they have a cooking school so the food's amazing.
Khlong Prao beach, Koh Chang.
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com