Hoping to escape the overwhelming hustle of Bangkok, my Dad and I decided to take an overnight trip to Pattaya, a coastal city that sits on the beach about two hours outside of Bangkok. We were picked up from our guesthouse at 7 am Monday morning (7pm Sunday in Boston aka missing the end of that Pats game) and started our trip to Pattaya. Let me start off by saying that driving through downtown Bangkok during rush hours is like being in a Ruff Ryders video from the late nineties. There is more traffic than you can imagine and half the drivers are on motorcycles or some type of motorbike.
As we drove out of the city on a highway that felt more like a rollercoaster, I kept hoping that at some point the that smog that flooded the air would let up. I imagined that as we got away from the city the skies would clear. This was not the case. As I looked off into the distance as we approached Pattaya, my eyes were met with the same cloudy, grey, fog (smog) in the distance, covering the hotels that littered the shoreline.
We checked into our hotel and quickly made our way to the beach (after checking the Pats score at a local internet café). I wanted to get as much beach time as possible because this would be our only beach travel for my entire trip. As we made the five-minute walk down to the beach, the street scene was very similar to that of Bangkok. Pattaya is an over populated city, jam packed with restaurants, food venders, markets; massage parlors, prostitutes, and 7-11s. This was not quite the escape I had hoped for, but I was excited to at least be on a beach.
The first thing I did on the beach was rent a jet ski. I took one out into the water and raced along the shoreline. The waterfront area of Pattaya looks something like Miami Beach. There are hotels everywhere, people scattered across the beach, palm trees, you name it. Being out on the water allows you to really see the landscape of Pattaya. There are large mountains to one side of the beach area, but you can barely see them through the smog. What should look green is grey. There are skyscraping hotels all along the beach, which looks amazing from a certain perspective, but I couldn’t help myself trying to imagine what the city looked like before it was so developed.
After my ride and lying on the beach for a few hours, my dad and I walked along the beach in search of food and searching for what else Pattaya had to offer (besides water fun). We found a local noodle vendor who had his business built on his motorcycle. I don’t know what the legal food vendor’s rules are in Pattaya, but in the middle of preparing our noodles he said something about the police, and drove off before circling back to give us our dishes a few minutes later. With our food craving satisfied we continued walking along the shore to explore more of Pattaya.
What we found was sex. And a lot of it. The main attraction for Pattaya, besides the beach (and probably more so) is sex. Thai girls and sex. It was very overwhelming. You see a lot of prostitutes in Bangkok, a lot of young Thai women with creepy looking, old white men, but there’s also so much more to the city. In Pattaya it’s literally everywhere and it’s hard to appreciate anything else the city has to offer. As you walk along the street closest to the beach all you see is white men with young Thai women - women that a large percentage of I would guess are under the age of 18. There is a section of Pattaya called “The Walking Street”. The walking street is a section toward the end of the beach where no cars are allowed to travel. There is nothing but go-go bars, seafood restaurants, massage parlors, and strip clubs on this street. My dad and I first walked down it during the day so it was relatively empty, but I wanted to see what it looked like all lit up at night.
As we left the walking street and headed back to our hotel I could not stop thinking about the sex trade in Pattaya or in Thailand for that matter. It seemed like every man I saw walking down the street in Pattaya either had a young Thai woman with him, or was looking for one. These guys disgusted me. I don’t want to be too judgmental here, I can only speak from my perspective, but it really messed with me. It seemed like what was once a beautiful place was now a haven for white men to come and exploit the poor, young Thai women that are forced into selling themselves for money. Maybe I don’t understand the culture of Thailand well enough or the world for that matter, but what I saw definitely upset me. I was feeling depressed and overwhelmed as we walked along the beach so we decided to sit down on the beach for a little while before heading back to our room. The capper came as we were walking along the beach looking for a spot to sit.
Under a palm tree on the beach were two Thai women that smiled at us and motioned us to come over to them. One was much older than the other, but I don’t think they were related because they did not look I alike. The older one could speak decent English and while she did say it flat out, wanted to sell us the “services” of this young Thai girl. She said that this young girl, Nadia, wanted to “spend time with us”. We spoke with the two women for a while to get an understanding of how these situations, agreements, relationships, whatever you want to call them work. We had no intentions of hiring this young woman, but through our conversation I’m sure it seemed as if we did. When we asked how the payment works (purely of curiosity in hoping to understand this system in Thailand as suspicious as that may seem) the older woman told Nadia to go with us. Nadia, this sweet, beautiful young Thai girl picked up her belongings and was ready to go with us and I’m sure do whatever we asked of her. At this point my dad and I had to tell them that we were not interested and we ended the interaction to the disappointment of Nadia and the older woman. At this point I had about had it with Pattaya. I sat on the beach feeling so bad for these young women and angry with the men who travel here just to exploit them.
On the beach there are vendors (mostly women) that approach you every other minute selling food and crafts. Earlier in the day I saw them as a nuisance. After the overwhelming amount of sex selling I saw in Pattaya, I was happy to see these women on the beach. In an effort to support their work instead of sex workers I started buying up little crafts like a mad man. Stuff that they probably didn’t even make, low quality bracelets, I didn’t care. Anything that supported these women who were not selling themselves I was in favor of. I didn’t even care to bargain with them. At one point a woman who was selling bracelets, necklaces, and hats approached me. I looked at her stuff and bought a small yellow bracelet that she said she had made herself. We talked for a while on the beach. She didn’t really speak English, but her spirit lifted me. She was charming, funny, and had a positive attitude – not that sex workers don’t have a positive attitude, it just felt more real. She tied the bracelet around my wrist and was on her way.
My dad and I went back to our hotel unsure if we were going to go out that night. After a nice dinner near our hotel (and another noodle bowl for desert) we decided we would go back to the Walking Street to see if the scene was any different at night. We took a local bus and made our way along the beach again. The beach was more vibrant at night. Pattaya had become more alive. There was still a lot of sex being thrown at you, but the city seemed to be more alive at night. There were more young people out that didn’t all seem like they were in search of cheap prostitutes. We went back down the Walking Street to find it lit up like Time Square. Again, the main attraction was still sex shows, go-go bars, etc. but it felt better than it did during the day. There was young kids break dancing in the street. There was live music everywhere. Including a Thai band doing a cover to “Its going down” by Young Joc that was laughable, but I appreciated their energy. In the end I was glad we went back to the walking street. We even sat at a go-go bar that was showing a replay of the Pats game and had a few drinks. As much as I don’t approve of the sex trade stuff, the go-go bars seemed slightly less exploitive to me, and there was no denying that the women working there were gorgeous.
Pattaya was definitely not what I had expected, but in the end I was glad we saw it. It was indeed just as much a part of Thailand as anywhere else. Having said that, I am very much looking forward to leaving the Bangkok area. As I write this I am traveling on a train to Chang Mai (a city in the north of Thailand). It’s been almost 14 hours on the train and I have yet to see one skyscraper. This area of Thailand should prove refreshing having seen what life in Bangkok is like. From go-go bars to rural jungles, the adventure continues.
P.S. I just have to get this off my chest about the Pats game. I have a serious problem with Bill Belichick’s fashion choices during the playoffs. In 2007 when we went 18-0 he wore his patented grey hoodie every game, then for the Super Bowl he wore a bright red sweatshirt. What the hell? Red is the color of desperation, Bill. Then this year I don’t remember him wearing the hoodie at all this season, then he busts it out for the game against the Jets and we lose. How about a little consistency like the good old days. That’s all. Go Packers or Bears!