Even on a Sunday morning, the streets in Pattaya were crowded. Google maps steadfastly refused to direct us down around the coast, but as there seemed to be only one road, we felt quite confident. As it turned out, the southern tip below Pattaya is almost exclusively military, so Google has probably been told to avoid the area! Trying to find the beach there was a challenge too great, as we would have had to break through a naval dockyard here, or a military college there. However, ignorance is bliss, because in trying to reach the coast we ended up having a gorgeous, great value local brunch.
Traffic. I suppose I have to talk about the traffic in Thailand. It thins out outside Bangkok, but the principles are still the same. If there is a gap & you can just squeeze through, you do. If you can anticipate the lights changing by 10 seconds, you do. If you can change lanes & overtake one car, you do. If you are in a car, you never drive behind a motorbike, so you push right past, even if you are both in the same lane. If you are on a bike, you never ride behind a car, so you push right past, even if you are both in the same lane. If you are on a scooter and there is a gap down the left hand side of the road, you simply carry on going, through lights, intersections. If you want to overtake & there’s just a bike coming the other way, you overtake - bikes always move over!... To a westerner who has never been to Thailand, it is madness. To an Englishman, they break every road rule ever taught. But if you relax & go with the flow, it is actually quite natural.
Riding a motorbike, the best principle they have is that at traffic lights (and boy, do they have long traffic lights!), all the bikes pile up in front of the cars. On fast roads, the scooters tend to keep to the left so they don’t get in the way, but if there are too many, or on city streets, they spread across all lanes. On many junctions they have painted boxes up front just for this purpose. The sheer number of scooters on the streets is the thing that amazes most. Thirty or forty up front at the lights on a busy 4 lane road, with many others behind that can’t fit. To western eyes, there are ‘near misses’ all the time. To ‘Thai eyes’ it’s just part of the flow. The only real ‘near misses’ I have seen, both involved westerners on bikes who were hesitating...
There must be more scooters here than anywhere else on the planet! Not only do they ride masses of them everywhere, they also convert them into tuk tuks, mobile food stations, light payload trucks & a whole lot else besides. The most amazing thing though is what they carry on them. Fishing rods & bait bucket, trees, stacks of bamboo poles & people, a large number of them. The most we have seen so far is 5 on a bike & this is not a specially adapted bike, this is just a normal scooter. Kids aged 2 or 3 standing on their mothers knees, holding on to the handlebars (no other support required)... Personally, I think it’s great. They all learn independence so much earlier, as long as they survive :)
We stopped for brunch at a local ‘food court’; a three-sided square of rows of eateries and food shops. The best thing is that there are pictures of every dish, because of course, everything is written in Thai & we don’t read or speak a word! Rice is the staple & that’s fine by me as I was brought up in this part of the world on rice. But what they do with is fabulous. I had the best steamed rice with prawns I have ever tasted, for less than $3. Simon had a local dish, not quite sure what it was called or even what some of the ingredients were, but it too was delicious and $ 2.30! The people, as almost all Thai’s are, were extremely friendly and courteous. Playful, even. When you can’t understand a word, body language becomes vital.
Reaching Chao Lao, which is a beach resort that looks like it caters almost entirely for the local population, we opted for a resort that has lots of separate cabins. It is right on the beach, so a first morning swim looks on the cards! The only problem was that we had to pay cash as they didn’t take cards & both local ATMs are out. This meant we had to find a place to take credit cards for dinner - we couldn’t. So it was to the local 7Eleven to get crackers, cheese & wine for dinner on the beach. Sounds good? Haha, the best we could do was Ritz crackers, processed cheese & packaged ham, and the Ritz crackers ending up having processed cheese already sandwiched in! The Oreo biscuits for dessert had seen better days too. Well, there was no wine we thought looked reasonable, so the local beer was good! Note to selves, don’t run out of cash again!