August 24, 2014
Sun Sea and Sleaze
On this my third post (previous post ) on my trip to Asia and Thailand I remember sitting in a mini bus bound for the seediest city on the planet, that’s if you believe the hype…and I did, as everything I had ever read told me this was a place to avoid like the plague, I also remember thinking, were we right to listen and trust Josh and his wife (the hostel owners), they had already changed my mind on backpackers and backpacking after spending time in my first ever hostel on the beautiful island of Koh Chang but were they really putting us right on Pattaya?
We arrived to find the hostel right in the middle of this big, manic 24 hour city, surrounded by bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. We were met by the same warm welcome we received in the first hostel, a great start as I still had my doubts about the place. As with the other hostel the guests were ‘normal’ and unlike most of the articles and posts I have read specifically relating to Pattaya, they were not sleazy, immoral, over weight and old at all.
The hostel staff were very helpful and were able to provide details on the huge choice of events and tours to be found in and around the city, with the beach (not on a par with any of the Koh Chang beaches) and the famous (infamous) Walking Street only a short walk away. It was just as Josh had said, the city does have its sleazy side but the vast majority of the 9.1 million holiday makers that come to Pattaya annually and the multitude of the local people that work in the city, are in the main simply normal people.
My stay was the opposite to my laid back time on the island of Koh Chang, crazy busy and full of noise, while it was a total contrast it was great fun and I was able to see the party side of the Thai people and I admit I loved it.
What I have learned from my trip is quite simple, backpacking is great fun and a lot easier and friendlier than staying in hotels and that Pattaya should be somewhere to visit not avoid.
Sun, no Sea no Sleaze
I had returned to Thailand in July and in some ways I have come full circle, on my previous trip (and my first to Thailand) I had spent most of my brief holiday in the normal holiday destinations but with one big difference, for the first time ever I travelled as a backpacker and stayed in the main in hostels, on this trip I wanted to venture further and on roads less travelled by holiday makers, yes I have the backpacking bug and I do understand why backpackers love to stay in hostels.
Unlike my first trip I was now travelling alone which can be daunting and something I would never had considered before my first time to the Kingdom. The comradeship you get from others travelling (not holidaying) the same road as you is comforting and very welcoming and the friends you can make along the way is worth the times you are alone and feeling insecure.
The first part of this my new adventure into the world of a backpacker started with me jumping from a 12 hour flight into the manic world of Bangkok for a one night’s stay in Khaosan Road I had read so many different stories about the hostels and the night life of this once quiet back water, my one and only night there did high-light one thing, I will never stay in a hostel based on price alone, while I had paid 400 Baht for what I believed was an OK place to rest my weary back and legs others I met were paying only 100 Baht but living in what I can only term a ‘Squat’ while they may believe this gives them the dibs on the ‘worst accommodation I have ever stayed record’ it is never a point I would want to win in any One-upmanship competition.
I was up early the next day to visit a few places I had missed on my last visit and then later that evening to catch the sleeper train to Udon Thani in Thailand’s largest Region of Issan , to stay once more with and whom I would later term as friends, the owners of Asia BackPackers.
Josh and his wife had moved from Koh Chang and was now finishing the building and managing their latest venue. It was a joy to meet them again and to catch up what was happening.
Udon is billed as the ‘Gateway to Issan, Lao and Vietnam’ and it was for this reason (and in part to the guys at Asia BackPackers) that I chose this as my base to see more of this glorious land and to continue my adventures into the neighbouring countries.
I was surprised to find that the city is the 7th largest in Thailand by population as it does not feel that way, the roads seem quiet and the people are both laid back and very welcoming, a stark and joyful contrast to the capital. I was struck almost immediately by how everyone ‘Wai’s’ you, whether you enter a building or talk to a street vendor, the old pictures I had in my mind of the catch phrase ‘Land of Smiles’ came back to me in my first few hours in this great city and it is this that will always stay in my heart and remind me of Issan.
While Udon certainly does not have the tourist attractions of its more visited big brothers, Bangkok or for that matter Chiang Mai, what it does have is enough to keep you occupied for more than a few days, there is a night life scene here and enough good restaurants and shopping, to keep you fed and busy for weeks.
The real beauty of the place and what could keep you here for months if not years is its location from here you can easily travel to all the provinces attractions, to the likes of the world heritage site at Ban Chiang, or the silk village at Ban Na kha, where they make and sell Handmade Silk and Cotton Goods, to the many forest parks, I found it was a real pleasure to clamber through and over the jungle to reach their hidden ancient rock paintings and their many scenic waterfalls and of course the city is rightfully known as the ‘Gateway’ to Issan, Lao and Vietnam’.
For my first real adventure as a solo backpacker, I will leave this place with a heavy heart, the people and the attractions of this small city made my visit a real pleasure and while I leave here knowing that I still have much to learn as a backpacker I have come to understand that you are never really alone, there are always more friends to make on the next leg of your travels into the unknown.