So my trip to Thailand was by accident. It was Diwali and I wanted to get away. The flight prices were very cheap and hence, I embarked on the journey on my own. At the airport, everyone asked me why I was going alone, as if they were my over curious neighbours!
I wanted to keep the expenses minimum and made a rough budget for the trip. The visa on arrival 1000 baht and maybe another 8000 for the rest of the trip, as I already had booked my hotels online after doing a little bit of research.
But here's the saying - unexpected things are always gonna happen. Upon arrival, a sentence written on the wall read 'VISA on arrival charge is 2000 baht, with effect from 27.09.2016. There went my budget down the drain. But well, never been a worry freak. So, after making a very grumpy immigration officer smile, I made my way to the ticket counter of Pattaya bus service.
The ticket counter is on the ground level of Suvarnabhumi airport, near gate number 18. You get tickets to Thapparaya bus stand from here. You get one bus every hour from here, starting from 7 am in the morning. Buses from Ekamai and other stations go to the Pattaya-Bangkok AC bus terminus. Some Thai breakfast, a two hours’ of wait, a 120 baht ticket, a one hour twenty minutes of picturesque journey, and a newly made local friend later, I reached Thapparaya.
I had read online about the bad temper of the baht bus drivers. Witnessed it first hand. And so, had to take a motorbike taxi (yes, they carry suitcases too). The roads in Pattaya are so well organised, you'd know immediately how to roam around. Roads parallel to the sea and lanes joining them. Mostly, alternative roads are one way. My hotel was on soy 10, err I mean 10th Lane. And I traded the comfort of big rooms for a view to die for. Serenotel had everything one needed, yummy breakfast and an almost infinity pool, well organised rooms as if it's a Mumbai apartment room with a grand sea view, as far as you could see.
But I'm not someone to sit inside the room. So immediately, I went for a walk down the beach front road, to reach Bali High Pier. I couldn't get the rude behaviour of the baht bus drivers out of my mind, so, walking was the only other cheap option. A seaside coconut, a cheap selfie-stick shopping, a couple of selfies and a loooong walk down the beach front and the Walking Street later, there I was, at the Pier. Even if you just go there to take photos, it's a beautiful place. You get regular ferry service to Koh Larn island from here. There's one beach for tourists and another for local people. So ask before you get the tickets.
Why Koh Larn? Because Pattaya doesn't really have a good beach. So your options are Jomtien and Koh Larn. For Jomtien, you'd get baht bus. And for Koh Larn, ferry or private boats.
In the evening, I went to see the Alcazar show by foot, from my hotel. It was around 1.5 km and because I wanted to see the place, not just drive by, walking was the best option. Walking past the local market, exchanging smiles with strangers and getting a hold of the way the routes work - yes I was pretty much occupied. The show was good and the photo session was good too. A tips - if you want to take photos with a particular performer, do ask beforehand how much they'd charge. I walked to the beach front road and took a baht bus to reach somewhere near my hotel. Remember, for rides upto 3-4 km, the fare is only 10 baht. Don’t ask for a particular place. Get down and walk. Don’t forget your walking shoes, by the way.
For dinner, instead of the famous English pubs and crowded Subway, KFC, Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants and so on, I settled for a small local pub, which was run by a bunch of ladies. They helped me order some local food and I basically talked to them about their lifestyle for at least an hour. I didn't forget to let them know how they should treat their daughters at par with the sons and they seemed to like it. This is where they asked me who I was with. And when I said that I went there alone, for the first 10 minutes they didn't believe me!! They showed me all the Indian looking people roaming around the street in groups. They showed me how the guy taking back a prostitute to his hotel room had also three other friends cheering him on. So, for them, Indians couldn't travel alone. And I broke that myth (and I'm sure many other did too). I went home all happy and drunk only to realise that I had to wake up early next day!
So, yes, I had to be at the hotel gate by 8:15 for my scuba team. Yes. I went to a store written book your PADI(Instructor) here and they asked for a whopping 4500 baht for one scuba dive, one snorkeling session, the whole trip and pictures. My makeshift Thai came in pretty handy as I finally had to pay 2800 baht for the whole package!
My scuba group pretty much contained all highly experienced divers with only three first timers, and I was the only one who didn't know how to swim. And unlike what they showed in ZNMD, these guys don't train you in a swimming pool first. The journey was almost an hour long and finally we arrived at a village with narrow alleys and a pretty big dock. Our boat was the lowest one anchored there, probably. And the ladder was equally risky. But darr ke aage jeet toh hai hi, so I went on with it. We ferried for almost an hour into the blue and quiet sea (I would have said calm but the waves told a different story). My Padi tried to teach me the basics of how to move my legs in water. I also had googled how to float in water and pretty much had grasped the concept!
Just when I was standing on the edge of the jumping platform, suddenly a rush of fear engulfed me saying “WTF are you doing?” I had never jumped or even put my feet inside a pool, I didn't know swimming, I didn't get a swimming pool training, I just once checked the signs which I had already forgotten. And most importantly, I never told anyone where I was headed to except for one person (and even he didn't know any detail). And as my instructor Ann called me again to jump, with all the adrenaline pumping through me, I took the plunge and whoaa.. the drowning!! The next two minutes were terrifying but then the following one hour was amazing. Looking at the corals, waiving at the sea urchins looking at me with big eyes, chasing colourful schools of fish, walking on the seabed, and being able to just swim on my own. At the end of the dive, Ann just told me one thing “I thought you didn't know swimming. You did great.” And I felt so proud. The rest of the afternoon passed in snorkeling, enjoying the Thai lunch, drinking a self made cup of tea, sitting on the front of the boat and chatting with my fellow divers.
All the swimming had made me pretty sleepy and even though I did go back to the bar, I chose to have Thai kebabs (meat in skewers, basically) and rice from a local kart. They were all way too yummy!! Just a beer later, I found myself surrounded with all the bartenders and one Smith from Poland, to say goodbye. Making friends in just a day or so really made me happy.
The next morning, I had to go to Ekamai from the Bangkok Pattaya Air-conditioned Bus Station. And no, I didn't take a bike taxi again to reach the bus station. From the second Street, you'd get baht bus to the dolphin square (you'll know it when you see it) and from there, cross the road and take another to the bus station. Bus for different stations leave at every half an hour interval and it's the best way to travel, literally.
So that's how Pattaya made me a part of it, and I took back lots of memories made in just two days. Will keep the rest of it for the next part. Ciao. ;)