Thailand- no strings attached

Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Where I stayed
B.R Hotel, Pattya

Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, April 5, 2010

My first impression of Thailand was formed from actually landing at the International terminal which to me, resembled one great meccano or leggo building set. There appeared to be more nuts and bolts and iron girders in that building than any I had seen so far on my trip to anywhere in south east Asia.  We had flown from Saigon or Ho Chi Min city as it is now known, on a Lufthansa 747 flight and it was a smooth journey all the way.It only took us about an hour or so, and I was most impressed when I saw how far we had flown in such a small amount of time.  It seemed that, no sooner had we taken off from Vietnam that we were down and taxiing along the tarmac eventually coming to a halt in a different country. This scenario really turns me on, knowing that I've just left one adventure and mentally begin preparing for the next in another country and entirely different culture.

This almost was certainly an experience I was going to enjoy for Dave had contacted some people he had met years beforehand whilst they were his guests in Perth Australia. They were waiting to meet us at the Airport upon our arrival.  They were a youngish couple who appeared quite shy at first, but most Thai people seem that way in their behaviour. Their names were Oil and Mem. Yes, unusual names for foreigners but they probably thought the same about us. Despite this fact, their manners were and remained impeccable, for the time we knew them. Because Mem held a very high profile job with the Thai government in Bangkok, she was very busy and was unfortunately unable to spend much time with us. Still, she had arranged a hotel for us to stay at in Bangkok on our first night there. I was most grateful just to put  my head down on the pillow after our flight from Saigon in south Vietnam. I don't recall the actual name of the hotel we first stayed at but it was comfy with hot shower and dining room. I can't say much for the view as most of it was brick wall. We were not there very long as we had some travelling to do, and we were chauffeur driven by Oil into the city, then on from there to visit his parents who lived on a tree plantation, which was quite a distance again out of the city itself.

 One thing I did notice about Bangkok, is that it had a long multi-laned freeway system, built high up over the outer suburbs and it stretched for miles. Living in Australia, I am used to free ways bypassing suburbs and townships, however this series of freeways were built above the suburbs and industrial complexes and gave a terrific view of the lay of the land in all directions, for miles as we sped along. I was amazed at just how much Thailand reminded me of places in rural New South Wales, especially the farming districts of the north coast. Yes, I thought, just how a windmill looked the same, no matter where it was built and a water trough looked the same sitting in a farm yard.  As a boy I would dream of travelling to other lands and comparing the differences to my own country. A lot of what I initially observed as we journeyed away from Bankok, towards the coast, was rich soil along wide flood plain, with wide rivers meandering off into the distance. It all resembled other farmland and river delta, through which I had roamed as a kid long ago and far away in another land.

The three of us were bound to visit Oil's mother, who lived on the plantation some distance off the sprawling freeway and eventually we were driven to an area where bushland seemed plentiful. Finally we arrived at an old iron gate, drove across what appeared to be a cattle grid. We then drove along a gravel drive way and into a yard on which was built a grand old, white washed, Spanish colonial style mansion. This really reminded me of a scene from a movie. ('Gone with the Wind' perhaps, but then again it doesn't take much to trigger my imagination when I'm really in travel mode.) The homestead was old but put together quite well and in a way I noted at the similarity in architecture to that of houses built on country properties in Australia.
There also appeared, all of a sudden, many barking dogs to greet our car. But they  snarled quite furiously at first, probably  because they had sensed that we  were strangers.  I noticed that there were several different breed of dog, all jumping up with paws on the window of the car, peering inside to see who we were. I was a bit apprehensive at first but as soon as I opened the car door, the dogs were not that brave and backed off towards the front steps of the house that we were now about to visit. Oil our host, quickly shunned the dogs with a short whistle from his lips and the click of his fingers, and that was that for the rest of our visit there at the plantation.
As we headed up the well worn front steps, an elegantly dressed elderly Thai woman, greeted us and smiled as she stood just inside of a fly screen door. She said something to me in Thai, then took my hand and directed both Dave and myself inside and motioned me to be seated on an old leather couch.
As my eyes scanned my surroundings, they suddenly stopped and momentarily fixated on a large photo of the Thai Royal Family that hung over a huge marble mantle place, upon which other smaller personal family photos were placed. Thailand still has a king, who I believe is much loved and respected by his country men. Apparently the king goes out of his way to make sure that his people have the things that they need in their communities.
Apart from the photos, there were very colourfully crafted tapestries hanging on walls and of course the obligatory golden Buddha, sitting in a place of his own. Our host's mother went and prepared some tea for us all and we sat in a small corner of a huge marbled floor, loungeroom and dining area, where the elderly Thai woman fired many questions at myself and Dave, none of which we could answer. Oil, her son and our driver, could just speak a little English language, so had to do the best he could as impromptu interpreter. This arrangement did not work particularly well, as I could not discern exactly what it was that I had been asked, but I smiled a lot and this seemed to get me out of immediate danger of looking ignorant. I was later to discover that the elderly woman was really asking me where my wife was and why she had not accompanied me on our journey and where were my children?. Later I sent her a message saying that I was not married and had no children.  To this she replied that she could fix that, no worries. Looking back I can see now that she was really being polite and inquisitive all at the same time. There are many things to learn about different cultures and Thai was certainly no exception.
I would have liked to spend some more time in that grand old house, as I felt relaxed there and at home sitting there but alas we had to continue on with our journey which was going to end in Phuket but really got no further than a tropical coastal resort called Pattaya. Pattya was a delight for close to journey's end, I was tired from travelling and wanted a rest and I think Dave had also decided that he was wanting to stay put a little longer and put his feet up for a while.
We had the option of travelling on a bit further and then both decided that we would see how we felt in a few days time. Often, it takes time to sit and rest for a while and to get to know a place when you are travelling.
 We had been on the road, so to speak for almost eight weeks now and had adventured through five countries, all of which had just begun to show me different things and suggest different opportunities when we had to move on.  This can be one of the things about travel, you know you have to keep moving and it really is the freedom of leaving your current environment and not too much later arriving in another country. Whilst it is exhilarating to be experiencing another totally different culture, there are times, I wished we could have stayed in one spot just a little longer. The reason was usually potential romance that could have been but for the fact that we had to fly on the day our visas and air tickets dictated. Sure I'm no Romeo, but still, travel isn't the only thing that makes the heart grow fonder. It would seem just my luck that I would meet a girl somewhere but had to fly away soon after, making it impossible. Pattaya was about the longest stay, both Dave and I had experienced on the whole Journey.
The next place, where we stayed in Pattaya, was a place called the B.R. Hotel. I'm not realy sure what the B.R. stood for, but it was located on a side street off the main beach drive. Our street was called SOY 12. Soy is Thai, for street as far as I am lead to believe. At first I thought it was a brand of milk but learned quite differently in the two weeks to follow.
Our hotel room was more or less situated over a neon sign, that frequently flashed a silhouette image of B.R. across the hotel room wall, but this did not worry us that much, as we slept like logs on our first night. We actually moved hotel rooms after the first few nights as the airconditioning and hot water were not working properly. The hotel hot water for the shower was not so important, as cool running water was fine for a shower in the stinking heat, but we were not prepared to compromise on the airconditioning as we had already experienced a long train ride without aircon and had learnt our lesson the hard way. 
The B.R.was really a medium range hotel, a little seedier than I would have preferred ( after 5 star luxury in Saigon Vietnam ), but it was a place to unload our back packs and do our washing, which incidentally was done by the hotel staff at quite reasonable prices. All in all, our money went a lot further in Thailand and we did quite well, buying food and going to places, that back in Sydney or Perth would have been prohibitively expensive.  There were more luxurious hotels but this is the one, that suited our price range and looking back on our long journey, it wasn't so bad.
 Watching Thai tv was another experience, as I was never really sure what was going on half the time as it was difficult to follow the story line of some of their  "programs.", Yes they had soapies that to me really appeared to me to be melodramatic attempts at copying western day time television. Still it was quite cute. "....  Like sands through the hour glass, so are "Days of our Thais"...Oh...Yes ok I'll get on with it then.
Pattaya is a place like no other I have ever been to. It had many foreigners visting there and there were also a lot of 'expat' British, American and Australians. I could see why as the beaches were golden, the girls were very friendly and plentiful and the prices of things were reasonably low.  Business due to the American dollar flourished here, but besides all this, I decided that this was a good place to rest and maybe meet some of the ordinary everyday Thai people.
Pattaya has a history and a reputation all of its own, as during the Vietnam/American conflict, G.I. soldiers would travel to Pattaya for their rest and recreation, bringing lots of spending money, and this in turn had brought many business people to what had been previously, a small fishing viliage. Since those times, Pattaya has become a serious holiday resort and has many"girlie" dancing bars in a place called 'Walking Street'. There can be no doubt that this street is in a "Redlight"district. 
"Yes of course", I did go there just to see what all the fuss was about, but from my observations it was obvious that the world economic stockmarket crash crisis had affected their business and I saw mostly quiet, saddened looking girls sitting around in neon lit bars,sipping on bottles of diet coke. All told there were quite a few bars on Walking Street.  My brother Dave had asked me at one point, If I knew.. "why they called it Walking Street"?, to which I simply shrugged my shoulders. Dave then suddenly laughed and said.." "Never mind then,... Just as long as you keep right on walking!!"
 All in all, although some of the girls were pole dancing,( and how I wished I were Polish ) mainly it was very quiet. One could hardly begrudge these girls for trying to earn a living anyway possible, as they often had families to feed and most looked as if they had really wished they were somewhere else instead. In Thailand especially in Pattaya, tourism seems to be the number one industry. I realized just how lucky a lot of us Australians really were to have so much choice about how we earned our daily bread and in fact we really did take so much for granted. I must say that I left Walking Street feeling just a little sorry for those girls who had to work there not by choice but by absolute necessity. They undoubtedly would have preferred a different life.
Walking Street, was not the only place to be found with bars accomodated with girls,girls,girls, neon lights and psuedo romantic music, as these bars were just about everywhere you cared to look. As Dave and I had to pass many of them on our way along the streets we encountered on our journey, we would at first be subject to being whistled at by the bar girls but after we had passed by, numerous times and they had become accustomed to us, they eventually began to ignore us. I think by then the novelty had begun to wear off and we were after a time, considered to be just another pair of strangers in town.
As far as weather went, it was very hot and sunny and the beach was really the place to go. There were sail boat rides, jet ski hire floating restaurants in the harbour and many other activities for the tourist to enjoy. One particular place we visited was "Ripley's Museum"- Believe it or Not! This building was a land mark like no other really, as it had a full sized aeroplane from the era of WW11, embedded in the outside wall and at first, one could be forgiven for thinking that this aeroplane had crashed there. There were many shops and complexes for entertainment and the local McDonalds store had a statue of Ronald McDonald, greeting everyone in Thai.Mostly Dave and I walked around at first then Dave had remembered an old friend whom he had once before met when he was in Thailand.

Jeff was a British expat, married to a lovely Thai girl called Noi, who owned a pie shop in a place called Jontium. Famous for its beach front and pies, Jontium is about a three kilometer Taxi truck ride from Pattaya. It is actually around the other side of a headland. We were very pleased to meet Jeff and Noi and ate many a pie at Noi's shop, which was appropriately called 'FRESH BAKE'.  Without exaggerating, they were the tastiest pies I have eaten anywhere on this planet and If you hadn't noticed my waist line already from previous photos, you can tell I've tasted quite a few pies in quite a few different locations around the globe.  These pies were absolutely 'Nirvana'. In fact, both Dave and I made a pilgrimage to the pie shop everyday to eat a pie with chips. Jeff had originally gone to Thailand to teach English to the Thai people but had met his now lovely wife who had begun her own business, making pies. We were their guests on a daily basis and got to know some of their regular customers. Quite often, we would all compare travel stories and ancedotes concerning people and places. It was a fun time and at one point I had seriously considered moving there I loved it so much. Jeff's wife Noi also had two beautiful Thai girls helping her to make the pies. The girls were sisters and I was fortunate enough to meet Joy, or Jintanapron,as was her real Thai name and spend some time with her, sight seeing around Pattaya. She was beautiful and we got along famously. I miss her very much but the reality was that I was in Thailand on a much planned travel backpack journey and wasn't sure when I was going to be back. I had told her this from the beginning, but still was sad when our time in Pattaya had come to its natural end. Such are things in life.

As it so happened, Jeff and his wife Noi hadn't been out into town for a long time so Dave and I, Jeff, his wife and the two sisters decided we would sample a small amount of western cusine and so dined in a steak restaurant, run by a German chef who really knew how to prepare a side of beef. We all enjoyed an evening with fine food and wine and lots of laughter, some of which I managed to capture on my  digital camera. It is a night I shall remember as driving there in Jeff's four wheel drive we were nearly swept off the road by a torrent of water from a sudden down pour of heavy rain.
Mostly during our stay in Pattaya, the weather was very hot and sunny but occasionally we would experience an afternoon thunderstorm followed by some tropical rain, then there would be clear skies for the remainder of the evening. As our hotel was not far from the water's edge, we would occasionally get a cool breeze blowing in off the ocean after about 10p.m. After a steaming hot day a cool breeze was most welcome.
 Amongst the many attractions in Pattaya, were the many Thai Buddhist temples with their colourful golds and blues painted on different decorations that were there for all to see. I briefly met a Buddhist monk on the steps to one temple. At first we seemed to eye each other off suspiciously, as I was about to begin clicking away with the digital camera. I suddenly saw the monk and decided that I would wait until it was the right moment, just in case it wasn't ok for some reason. As things eventuated, I got lots of photos taken of Thai temples and no one seemed offended in the slightest. In some countries, it is considered taboo to photograph religious symbols and icons but here I really had no problems. Dave appeared in many of my photos of Thai temples and after a while it had become an art in itself, photographing brother Dave standing outside a temple where ever it happened to be. Pattaya really had many culltural icons and there was never a day during our stay that we had nothing to do or could find nothing new to see. One hotel building, not far from the waterfront, actually resembled a huge passenger liner. It was a very clever design for a building.
Our two weeks there seemed to pass too quickly and the time was fast approaching when we had to travel back to Bangkok City to once again spend some brief time with our friends Oil and Mem.
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