Archive for August, 2012

20
Aug
12

the walking street stereotype

Walking Street, Pattaya.

Think Soho on crack but with brighter, shinier, flashier neon lights. With scantily clad woman (and ladyboys) left, right and centre trying their best to convince customers the bar they work in is the best option of the hundreds of identical bars that line the outlandish strip. Thousands of tourists, both Thai and foreign congregate down Pattaya’s most famous haunt every night to drink, dance and observe the actions of all that dare stroll down a street that epitomises the western world’s stereotyped perception of this country.

In old school Hereford Rich style here is a breakdown of the ‘types’ that can be found fraternising along Walking Street –

the strutting soldier

The easiest group of people to identify thanks to their numerous tattoos, tragic tank tops and sub-conscious aggressive struts. Quite often seen clutching an expensive looking mobile phone to the ear to avoid being dragged into a conversation with one of many bar girls. Pattaya became a favourite haunt of the American military during their downtime in the Vietnam War – it seems there are still plenty of lonely soldiers spending their downtime in hedonistic Thailand today.

the excitable korean

Koreans seem intent on sticking together no matter where you go in the world. ‘Everybody pile on the Korean-only tour bus before we go to the latest Korean only-food restaurant’ comes the cry from the surgical-style face mask wearing tour guide. The many Koreans that visited Walking Street seemed only interested in taking a few snaps of the culturally shocking district before jumping back on the Korean-only tour bus to get a lift back to the Korean-only hotel. The immature giggles behind the lenses suggested they were having fun though.

the loitering indian

Another group not keen on splashing the Baht when strolling down Walking Street. Many can be seen eying up the bar girls up until eye contact is made when they quickly down around and dash off out of arms reach. With no real intention of spending any money on ‘extras’, or even an ice cold Chang, the bar girls tend to hold back with the ‘hello, welcomes’ that the average male traveller gets in this part of the world. Look out for the slightly voyeuristic, very unsubtle mobile phone videos being taken, archiving their night out.

the local entrepreneur

Laser pens, cigarettes, books, chicken kebabs, lottery tickets, teddy bears, nightclub tickets, bracelets. With Delboy-esqe enthusiasm, the local salesmen and women believe they can flog a book to a blind person or a hairdryer to a bald bloke. Though the constant barrage of people shoving goods in your face can be tiresome, I have a lot of respect for the work ethic of the average-Joe sales people across Asia. I’m still not sure what use I’d have for a fifteen foot statue of Buddha…….

the pervy old man

You just can’t avoid or ignore them in this part of the world. We all know why they come to Thailand and no matter the rights or wrongs or opinions we may have on their intentions, they bring a massive amount of money into this country. Usually found supping beers alone through the afternoon before pairing up with a younger, local woman in the evening. It might be a sweeping judgement, but to me it epitomises a sad, lonely lifestyle.

the inquisitive tourist

Coming to Pattaya and not having a look down Walking Street is a bit like going to Rome and not visiting the Coliseum or stopping in Siem Reap and not witnessing Angkor Wat. OK, culturally they are light years apart but you get the picture. This is a major part of Thailand and from a people watcher POV it is a non-stop assault on your eyes. We weren’t the only people just going for an inquisitive observation of Pattaya’s main attraction – many tourists come here not for the well documented seedy side, but to have a good old fashioned stare at the general carnage that is Walking Street.

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14
Aug
12

life’s a beach

Let’s be honest, there are few things in the world as brilliant as spending a few days at a beachfront hotel. If that said hotel faces warm, crystal clear blue waters and golden sands then great. If it has an excellent poolside bar and restaurant some fifteen paces from the ocean then even better. If that same hotel happily rents motorbikes out to irresponsible tourists keen on tackling hills similar in gradient to Mount Everest just to try and find a golf course then kudos is awarded to that hotel (more on that adventure later)

We arrived in the bliss that is Koh Samui with the intention of spending five nights here before heading back up to Bangkok for a night via the same plane/bus/ferry/taxi combo we took to get to Samui. That happily materialised into an extra sixth night and I write this sat in the open air of the domestic departures terminal ready to board a flight direct to Pattaya.

The journey here from Surat Thani airport was great – after a slightly uninspiring hour and half bus ride from the airport to Donsak Ferry terminal (advertised as 45 minutes – welcome back to SE Asia) we stepped aboard our ferry to Samui. I’ve taken a few ferry rides in this part of the world but none as cool as this one. As it was a ferry built for cars as well as passengers it meant the ship was built with a cracking upper deck, allowing myself and Naomi to catch a few rays whilst saying goodbye to the Thai mainland.

Getting lucky on arrival in Samui by sharing a taxi with a lovely Italian couple called Francesca and Daniel (For the record Italians are fast becoming my favourite group of people to meet on travels, very polite, funny and laid back) we arrived at Samui Beach Resort, knackered but happy.

We were so tired because of the exploits in getting there. An overnight flight via Abu Dhabi was followed by the drama of having my card blocked as the airport ATM in Bangkok. Luckily we had some left over Dirhams, Euros and Sterling in our wallets that meant we could afford the taxi ride south to the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. After a quick call and an explanation my card was released and we could afford our hotel, the difficult to find Amarin Inn.

It was so difficult to find that our knobhead of a taxi driver left us on the main road, pointed down a side street and told us it was ‘just down there’ Before I could think and ask him to show us to the front door we had our backpacks strapped onto us and he has sped off. It was strange walking down what turned out to be completely the wrong road as I was soon recognising several bars I had frequented back in 2010. Naturally this was annoying for Naomi who didn’t have the past memories of boozy nights out to distract her from the disconcerting fact we were lost!

We eventually found Amarin Inn after what must have been a half an hour trek round the back streets of Bangkok. Luckily, the chap running the place called Allie was a star, quickly bantering with us both to lighten the mood after the previous couple of hours exploits. He took a shine to Naomi in particular when discovering her mum is Thai, calling her ‘Suay’ – or ‘beautiful’ whenever we walked by throughout our short stay.

Bangkok was everything I remembered. Noisy, sweaty, hectic and somewhat hedonistic when the sun when down. It was slightly odd walking down those old stamping grounds where the trip started out, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Watching Naomi speak to the locals in the local lingo was a great experience. From street coffee cart vendors through to the taxi driver back to the airport, she helped paint an entirely different picture to the ‘dollars in eyeball whenever you see a westerner’ impression I unfairly built in my mind from the previous trip here.

Back to Samui and what we have been getting up to here. Staying at the quiet end of Lamai beach, the second of two main beach areas of this tiny, tropical paradise, we soon discovered we would need some wheels in order to explore the island and the hotels surrounding area. This became apparent after a somewhat fruitless stroll on our first night when looking for a place to have dinner. The place we stumbled upon was a standard street corner affair, serving the usual selection of Thai delicacies, but we knew would need to be more adventurous if we wanted some variety and a change of scenery.

For 200THB (£4) a day we hired a similar two wheeled friend to the ones I enjoyed so much when in Vietnam and Malaysia. This allowed us to find some decent places to eat, plus more importantly a way to explore Samui without having to take out a mortgage to fund the expensive taxi’s here.
After a quick five minute buzz up and down the hill on the main road outside the hotel I returned to pick up Naomi. This was the first time I’ve ever rode with a passenger on the back – after a bit of a wobble we were away, quickly burning rubber to discover places such as the islands ‘Big Buddha’ statue as well as enjoying the scenery we found ourselves in.

Riding a bike in this part of the world is great fun, if not a little hairy at times. The main trick I have learnt is to do what the locals do which is pull over to the side of the road whenever one of the many stupidly oversized SUV’s come speeding past plus if you are in any doubt, keep going straight on! One of things I did wrong in Nha Trang, Vietnam was panic when I saw a local doing a U-turn in the middle of a busy junction and I was sure he hadn’t seen me when it turned out he had. Slamming my brakes on right in the middle of a large puddle when on a downhill really isn’t advisable and it’s a miracle to this day how I didn’t come off. I clearly remember that moment of panic when my back wheel slipped beneath me and I was sure I was coming off. Luckily I somehow stayed on, accelerated through and kept both my dignity and limbs intact.

Believe it or not it’s those kinds of experiences that gave me the confidence to continue riding motorbikes over here. We had no dramas in the many miles covered in Samui other than taking on the ridiculously steep hill that led to Royal Samui Golf Club, a place I’d earmarked as my holiday treat to myself.

It was a scorching afternoon. After getting up the first part of the 800m ride uphill we decided to park up in somebody’s driveway and tackle the rest of the hill by foot. Now walking up a gradient as steep as this whilst wearing walking boots or trainers and in non-tropical temperatures would be fine. But doing it in 35c and flip flops, slippery through the perspiration pouring out of you isn’t. Much to Naomi’s despair I went back to get the bike. After an embarrassing attempt at turning the bike around, I tried starting it on the small driveway to get up some speed before tackling the hill. I turned out sharply left but realised just in time I wasn’t going to turn in time before driving into the bushes. Covered in sweat and trying to lift the bike off the floor, I cursed loudly. A local chap appeared out of nowhere, seeing I was struggling to get the bike started on the hill. Eventually I got it going thanks to his help and I was soon back trying to convince Naomi to hop back on.

The next 100m or so was steep, but OK– we were going in the right direction. Coming round a corner I gave the bike full throttle but half way up it became apparent we weren’t going to make it up the hill. Running out of puff, we ground to a halt on the steepest of steep hills. Naomi jumped off and after five minutes of trying to start the bike again I managed to get it up to another flat verge. After a moment to catch our breath we both bit the bullet and turned back. Not a very relaxing half an hour in our relationship!

Samui Beach Resort was waiting for us and after a quick dip in the sea and a game of volleyball we both could laugh at the hilarity of the situation we had found ourselves.

For the next couple of days we barely left the beach or the poolside – only going out for the odd motorbike ride along the main roads – well away from any shoddily erected roads towards golf courses!

Koh Samui is a beautiful island. If you ever get the chance to come here, then I suggest you do. I’ve been luckily enough to visit some stunning tropical beach resorts such as the Gily Islands in Bali, or any of the 365 beaches that can be found on every corner of Antigua.

Samui is right up there.

06
Aug
12

back to the start

On the 1st October 2010 this blog came alive. I was on a smelly train on the way to Bristol, ready for a couple of nights with the family before taking off from Heathrow to Bangkok – location number one on ‘that’ trip. Fast forward on just short of two years and I’m back on another smelly train (this time with a seat and a plug for my laptop, what an improvement) ready to re-visit Thailand’s crazy capital city.

Whereas that particular train journey saw me start an adventure all on my lonesome, this one sees me sat next to a pretty special person, my lovely missus, Naomi. Despite Thailand being far from my favourite place in the world I’ve only gone at got myself into a relationship with a girl who spent her early teenage years growing up with her family in Pattaya.

It’s the perfect chance to re-visit a country that both holds a special place in both our minds – special to me not because I particularly feel in love with the place like a Langkawi or a Cape Town, but because that’s where my big adventure started out. It’s naturally special to Naomi because that is where she grew up and where some of her family and friends still live.

If I am honest I didn’t take a great deal in when I was first in Bangkok. It might have had something to do with the fact I was still a little overawed by the fact the trip of a lifetime had actually started. It might have had something to so with the fact I was still exhausted from the stresses of moving houses and finishing work. It might even had been down to the fact I spent my three nights in Bangkok partying with Fred and a lad I met at the hostel, Simon, that blurred my memories somewhat of the Thai capital.

Over the next weeks we’ll have some city time, some beach time, some adventurous travel time and some reunion time. After a couple of nights settling into Bangkok which will no doubt see me annoy the shit of Naomi with tales of my past boozing in numerous bars that we walk past, it’s off to the luxurious looking island Koh Samui via a plane, bus and ferry. Then we’ll get ourselves back up to Bangkok (some way, not yet decided) before catching a slow third class only train to Pattaya.

Returning to South East Asia is ridiculously exciting. I can’t believe two years have nearly passed since my first visit, yet at the same time I’ve squeezed in so much travel, work and hacks round golf courses since, I can’t help but feel like autumn 2010 was a life time ago.

But overall the most exciting prospect of all is sharing it all with a loved one.

Excellent.