5th Week of our 6-Week Journey
DEC 25, 2019 SATTAHIP Day 1
Our driver showed up at 9 am. We said our farewells to Supa. For miles, we drove along canal-after-canal. Supa had explained that when the first canal was dug in 1866, everyone wanted to be connected. So, the old bamboo jungle got carved up with side channels. If you lived a mile or two from the main channel, you and everyone between you and the main channel got together and started digging. The network spontaneously grew in that fashion.
Around Bangkok, the infrastructure became quite modern. Bangkok is modernizing at a rapid pace. Prominent skyscrapers dot the skyline with many more going up. The expressway that we took was modern, with intricate cloverleaf interchanges and exits.
Below Chon Buri, the traffic picked up. The last 50 km took an hour to get through. Finally, we reached our new Airbnb destination, Pine Shores Condos in Sattahip, Thailand. The van service was indeed a door-to-door service.
The Seven-story condo turned out to be right on the ocean with a sand beach in front. It is located in a small beachfront community made up of high-end restaurants, tiki bars, beach bar-and-grills, and a tiny strip mall with a convenience store well-stocked with Leo beers. The owner of the condo, Sandy, lives in Bangkok and has rented the condominium since 2013. It’s a very roomy two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. The bathrooms are clean and modern, and the bedrooms are spacious.
Even here, in a luxury condo, we found a strange Thai anomaly. The only hot water available goes to the showers. Every shower, so far, is equipped with an instant electric water heater. Some work better than others, but Thailand is committed to them. However, no other faucet is hooked up to any water heater — washing dishes in cold water kind of sucks.
To get outside of the tiny condo community is going to take some exploring. There isn’t a songthaew insight. We downloaded the Grab taxi service app. Grab is Thailand’s version of Uber. We’ll be giving it a try in the next couple of days.
Once we checked out the immediate area, it was time to set up by the beach and the swimming pool. The pool was in a good shade. The water was cool, almost cold. The ocean, however, was bathwater. A few kids were swimming, and few kite surfers were playing around in the wind. It was time to unwind with a Leo on the beach chairs.
At sundown, we ate next door at the Bacco Beach Italian Restaurant. The prices were high, but the pizza was huge and delicious. Wanda got a Bloody Mary. Often, when thailanders try to copy a meal, snack or drink from a western country, it’s a little off. The Bloody Mary wasn’t bad, but it wasn't a Wisconsin Bloody Mary. The Bacco Beach Italian Restaurant, however, did get the pizza right.
Up the little street were plenty of other interesting eateries. There were Mexican eateries, restaurants that featured wood-fired pizzas, and more Italian restaurants - all with the usual complement of Thai dishes on the menu. We won’t starve.
We were scheduled to move on to the island of Koh Chang on Friday, January 3rd. I was looking forward to that. The problem was, transportation was turning out to be very complicated, and we only booked one day on the island, making the short stay not worth the travel hassles. We decided to cancel the island booking and extend our stay here on the beach.
DEC 31, 2019 SATTAHIP Day 2
It's the last day of the decade. Here in Sattahip, you can see the changing of the guard as America retreats from the world, the Russians and the Chinese fill the vacuum. Thailand has decided to cozy up to Russia and. China. Pattaya is crowded with Russian government officials, and Sattahip is a little Russian enclave. Our small condo community was swarming with Russian families. We heard more Russian spoken around us than Thai.
The restaurants and condos spent the day preparing for the New Year's Eve celebrations. Each swanky restaurant got all decked out with lighting, decorations, special menus, entertainment stage prep, fireworks prep, and so forth. Tickets to participate were going as high as 1500 THB (45 USD). At the neighborhood convenience store, the Russian tourists were cleaning out the hard liquor inventory. Thank goodness they don't drink beer. Our supply of Leo was safe.
The afternoon got very hot. We took a long dip in the ocean. Although the water was warm, it still cooled us off. The biggest disappointment for Wanda and I was no waves. We missed playing in Mexico's Bandera Bay, where the waves were just forceful enough to get a good workout playing in them.
Our condo's shady spot next to the pool also had lounge chairs and stsill afforded a beautiful view of the beach along with a cool breeze. We alternated between the two spots as the heat and sun dictated. Too hot, we'd retreat to the pool deck. Once cooled off, we ventured back to the beach. Ahhhh, life on a beach.
At dusk, our little Sattahip community sprang to life. The disco beat at the Alexa Beach Club became the driving heartbeat. Alexa Beach Club together with the Pinnacle Grand Jomtien Resort seemed to be a main Russian party place for singles (veterans?). It had a huge pool, lots of massage beds set up on the beach, and plenty of hefty tattooed Russian dudes with hot young skimpily-clad Thai ladies. Booze was flowing freely — it fit the stereotype.
The three restaurants on the beach; The Pinnacle Grand Jomtien Resort, the Glass House Restaurant and the Bacco Beach Italiant Restaurant attract upper-class Thai families, Russian families and Chinese families. There is wealth in this country. The entertainment supplied by the Alexa Beach Club varied from Thai dancers to international DJs, to musicians singing with music-tracks.
A few Russian families staying in the same Pine Shores condo, had a New Year's private party by the pool. The friendly staff of Pine Shores set up a buffet table and provided the grilling. It was all very formal and dignified compared to the Disco Partying at Alexa Beach Club on the shore next door.
We decided to try a little Thai cafe on the beach. Of course, I had a great plate of Thai veggies with rice and a Leo beer. For fun, we ordered a plate of French fries. To our surprise, they were excellent.
We tried to stay up past midnight. First, we set up on the beach until the bugs had us retreat to the pool area. Around 10 pm, Heinrich peeled away to go indoors and away from the noseeums. Soon after, the rest of us retreated indoors, waiting for midnight to happen. Wanda called it a night at 11 pm followed by Diane at 11:35. I made it to 11:45 pm with the justification that back home, midnight wouldn't arrive until 11 am Wisconsin time - I could celebrate then.
I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow. But that didn't last long. Precisely at midnight, all hell broke loose nearby. Just outside our window, the Alexa Beach Club started their fireworks show. All of us jumped out of bed and met on the veranda. We had the perfect spot to watch with the firebursts, the shells practically exploding in our little perch. The fireworks were top-notch, with giant flowers and loud percussions. We could see that up and down the beach, fireworks were ignited. After the incredible finale, the beachers continued with their own fireworks for hours. Happy New Year!
JAN 1, 2020 SATTAHIP Day 3
Today, we made plans to go to the Koh Lan Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Pattaya. Since our visit to to Koh Chang canceled, we started to look for a replacement island experience. We set up a 400 THB (13 USD) taxi to the Pattaya Bali Hai Pier for 7 am tomorrow - the ferry leaves at 8 am. There are swimmable beaches on Koh Lan Island to visit especially when 91ºF is in the forecast.
The rest of today day was an extremely lazy day. A hot breeze came off the ocean, providing us with enough sweat evaporation to stay cool, as long as we didn’t move around a lot. Diane swam in the ocean for an hour. Heinrich and I dangled our feet in the pool. Did I say, an extremely lazy day? Almost embarrassingly so.
Wanda and I walked, slowly, to the Mexican Restaurant a couple of blocks away, to split a breakfast burrito and a plate of huevos rancheros. The restaurant was supposed to open at 11 am. At 11:30, it was the only restaurant in the area closed. Plan B. We roamed around a little bit more and was stunned to find pockets of extreme poverty/squalor between the beautiful gated communities and grand high-rise condos. It was overwhelmingly depressing.
On a late afternoon walk, we found the Mexican restaurant open. The owner probably was working off some New Year’s Eve cheer until the afternoon.
JAN 2, 2020. SATTAHIP Day 4
The taxi showed up precisely at 7 am. It only took 15 minutes to reach the Bali Hai Pier. The driver, nicknamed John, informed us that only Chinese and Russkis go out to the island. When dropped off, we made a plan with the driver to meet us at the Bali Hai Pier at 6:30 pm.
The ferry was parked way out on the long pier. It was only 30 THB for what turned out to be a 55-minute ride to Tawaen Beach on the Koh Larn Island. The ferry ride was a blast. The morning air was cool and crisp. The ocean was blue and inviting. The island was green and lush. About 30% of the passengers were Asian. They all wore life jackets. The other 70% were Russian. None of them wore life jackets. We did not wear life jackets.
Tawaen Beach is Koh Larn Island's main beach. As such, it is congested with vendors and a 7-11 store. The grilled goodies looked tasty, however, Diane opted for a 7-11 spicy cheese noodle dish. Heinrich got a 7-11 chicken burger. Both were pretty disgusting, but I believe the two of them have given up on Thai food.
Overall the beach was smaller than I had envisioned. We were on the first ferry of the day. As we all poured into the Beach, I could see how five or six more ferries would overwhelm the area. Our goal was to go to the more secluded Tien Beach. We immediately found the songthaew stand and got a ride to beach for 40 THB. The songthaew ride was fun. Thien island seemed quaint until we drove past the island dump. It was bad. Fortunately, we quickly passed it by.
Tien Beach turned out to be a terrific beach - clear, refreshing water, white sand, lots of beach bars with Leo beers, and umbrella chaise lounges. We each rented a chaise lounge for 100 THB. The weather was perfect, about 5º cooler on the island with a constant gentle breeze. The water temperature was perfect - more refreshing than I would have expected, but a very nice contrast to the hot sun.
Diane and I both spent two long shifts in the water. Heinrich and I got a Leo. Life was good.
Eventually, I went off to explore the beach. It was both delightful and sad. The beach itself is as close to the Mexican Riviera beaches as we've seen. The sad part was the trash thrown in the jungle behind the restaurants and bars. Although it was hidden from direct view of the beach, it still bothered me. For all of Mexico's problems, they do keep their beaches meticulously clean.
For the rest of the day, the area filled up with mostly Russian tourists. The younger single guys were fit. The younger families with two or three kids were cute. The old couples were very rotund, especially the men. Vodka must take its toll. I have never heard so much Russian spoken at one time. I saw one couple in their early twenties that interested me. The guy appeared to be half Asian, half something else; I couldn't tell for sure. The girl was all Asian. They both spoke in Russian.
We decided to leave the island a little earlier than we originally planned. We wanted to cruise the Walking Street of Pattaya, which starts at the Bali Hai Pier area. We took a songthaew that we thought was heading back to Tawaen Beach. I had asked if the truck was going to the pier. The driver confirmed yes it was. However, Koh Larn Island has two ferry piers, one at Tawaen Beach and another at the island's village. We ended up at the village. That wasn't so bad; we got to explore another village.
The ferry was almost fully loaded by the time we reached the pier. 30 THBs later, we were on board. The boat cast off immediately. It was only 3:20 pm? We expected the ferry to leave at 4 pm until we realized the village faces the mainland, whereas Tawaen Beach was on the opposite side of the island. That means this ferry ride would take 15 minutes shorter than our morning ride. We reached Pattaya at 3:55 pm. Checking out the Pattaya Walking Street was interesting.
I can best describe the Pattaya Walking Street by comparing it to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. There were plenty of strip clubs, bars, and restaurants. Neon and outrageous signage was the rule. Pattaya seemed even more international than Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and that is saying a lot. Although the advertising was aimed at the Russian tourists with strip joints featuring Russian girls and Russian food choices, it was the Chinese tourists that were pouring into the Pattaya Walking Street. Busload-after-busload of Chinese tour groups unloaded at the pier and walked in organized packs, led by the tour leaders holding sticks with flags, along the street.
A Turkish style gyro kabob place caught our attention, and three chicken Kabobs were purchased. It was very different from the gyros we were used to back home, but excellent nonetheless.
The bars and restaurants were mostly large open areas. The open fronts were facing the street while the open backs were facing the ocean. In between were tons of tables, several bar areas, and even a boxing ring in two bars.
By 5:30 pm, the street was starting to come alive. We could only imagine what 9 pm would bring. Sadly, around 6 pm, we started back for the pier to meet up with our taxi.
We arrived at the spot we agreed upon at 6:15 pm, and waited, and waited, and waited. While we waited, we witnessed an endless procession of Chinese tour buses drive into the pier area to unload. It was unfathomable, the number of Chinese tourists flooding the Walking Street. I swear all 1.4 billion Chinese were being bused here for the evening.
By 6:55 pm, we gave up on our pre-scheduled driver. I talked to a songthaew driver about a ride back to Sattahip and agreed on 400 THB.
After a couple of Leos and lots of time spent marveling at all the Chinese tour buses in Pattaya, we went to bed.
JAN 3, 2020. SATTAHIP Day 5
Alexa Beach Club, populated mostly by young Russian families and single men. But the pool was warm, the go-go dancers (not shown here) were hot, and the breeze off the ocean was cool.
We are back to the lazy relaxing days. We found out that we can use the pool at the Alexa Beach Club, two doors down, where all the Russian partiers hang out. Around 3 pm, Wanda and I joined the party. I swear, it felt like we were crashing a KGB agent gathering. Half the characters at the pool looked precisely like characters in all the Cold War espionage movies we’ve seen. I wondered how many arms deals were made at Alexa Beach. I wondered if we were tagged as CIA agents, and are now being tracked. Yeah, I’ve watched way too many spy movies.
Anyway, the Russian DJ played the constant beat of American pop disco music with that incessant thump, thump, thump, thump. Three barely clad Russian girls danced suggestively on platforms overlooking the pool. One of the dancers was very talented and cute. Every ten minutes or so, they would switch dancing platforms stopping along the way to gyrate in front of one of the single guys. It was quite a show.
There is a large green community courtyard just behind the swimming pool that connects several hotels. While walking through it, we found a rotisserie stand and immediately stopped to purchase one chicken, some baked potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. Diane has completely eschewed Thai food. I have to admit, the chicken meal tasted good. We still love Leo beer. It may be a level below German beer, but it’s as good as anything we get in the US.I could get used to this kick-back lifestyle.
JAN 4-5, 2020. SATTAHIP Day 6
Two more kick-back sunny days with perfect 89ºF weather and warm ocean breezes - we are beach bums. OK, the general theme these last few days was: lay around a beach or pool, eat, drink Leo Beer and be merry.
The biting bugs are odd. There aren’t many, and they only come out around 7:30 pm. you can’t see them or feel them biting, so I can’t swear that they are mosquitos or gnats or what. The bites itch like crazy for ten minutes tops. At home, mosquito bites barely bother me. It’s the gnat bites that linger for days, driving me nuts. So, I don’t know what these bugs are.
Wanda and I finally got down to the Mexican Restaurant and split a chicken fajita. I cheered when they brought out the guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, and salsa. Next came the tortillas. Finally, the hot pan of chicken fajita filling arrived. It was reasonably authentic - not real Mexican from, say, Puerto Vallarta, but on par with a Chi Chi’s. Restaurant.
The young Russian kids are sure enjoying their stay here. I am beginning to wonder if they ever go to school.