So the decision has been made, this years holidays are going to be……in Thailand (good choice, if I say so myself). Don’t let the current bad press put you off, Thailand seems to suffer from continual International news that paints it in a bad light. This is the main is totally misguided and you are best to speak to tourists who have recently visited.
You still have to decide exactly where in Thailand, but the whole family have agreed on the Country.
You have the Northern regions, encompassing Chaing Mai, Chaing Rai. The West side, taking in Hua Hin, Phuket, Koh Samui. On the Eastern Seaboard you have Pattaya, Koh Samet and Koh Chang and of course the Capital Bangkok.
I started coming to Thailand when my eldest daughter was only 18 months old, she is now coming up for 23. Originally Bangkok was the main destination, usually to source manufacturers of bronzeware for the family business. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Bangkok, but it is tireless. Everywhere is busy, traffic, shopping, dining I just start to find it hard to relax.
About 1 1/2 hours South of the main airport (Suvarnabhumi) lies the former sleepy fishing village of Pattaya and given this is where I now live and is the location I am going to focus on.
Pattaya started off as the Rest & Recreation site for the American Military during the Vietnam Crisis. This led to the immediate expansion of the hostelries and other services that go hand in hand to accommodate a fighting force.
Getting to Pattaya from the airport couldn’t be much easier. Taxis and busses are cheap and plentiful although I prefer to make my arrangements beforehand. You may have booked a package that includes transfers. Generally these offer very good quality but you can end up visiting 3 or 4 different hotels dropping off passengers before they get to your one. If they want to charge you extra for transfers, or have bundled the cost into the price….stop. A private taxi, pre-booked will cost you around 1,000 Baht for 3 people. If you need a minibus then the cost rises to 1,600 Baht each way. Converting that to GBP is around 18 and 29 respectively.
If you want to pre-book just drop me an email and I will send you the information on reputable taxis.
As soon as you step off the plane, the heat hits you and you feel the buzz. There is an ever present electricity in Thailand that heightens your senses and brings you to life. A brisk walk down the travelators to immigration, normally a maximum of 20 minutes to get through, just as you clear your bags start to arrive at the Carousel. Baggage trolleys are freely available, try getting one in America without having a pocketful of change, then it’s through customs and out into the terminal. Normally you turn right and head down to meeting point 3, where all the taxi drivers are waiting. You will be accosted many times by drivers, plying there trade. So wipe that “I’m lost look” off of your face and head forward with purpose. Any persistent vendors can be easily dismissed by saying Meoiw (yes, just like the cat) Ka (female)/Krap (male). This is just in essence “No Thanks”.
If you haven’t changed your currency there are plenty of options at the airport. The rates are much much better than you will get in the UK, but they will only accept English Currency. I only say this as I hail from Scotland, and our Scottish promisary notes are not accepted. When changing your currency ask them for some small notes 20’s & 50’s and only change enough for the first day. You will get a better exchange rate at your resort, but more on that later.
You meet your driver as he is holding your name plate, smile, make sure the rest of your party are in tow and head to your taxi.
About 30 minutes into your journey your driver will ask if you want to stop at the Motorway services, local vendors bustle for position with KFC and McDonalds. A note, not all restaurants have toilets in them, so don’t go buying a Big Mac just because you want the loo, like you need an excuse.
Another hour down the road and you are on the Sukhumvit in Pattaya. My God, it’s busy, traffic weaving in and out, motorbikes everywhere. Driving maneuvers that previously you have only seen in a James Bond movie, but hardly ever a horn sounded. Within 10 minutes you arrive at your Hotel/Condo.
When I used to come to Pattaya as a tourist I normally stayed at the Dusit Resort, at the North end of Beach Road. Most people want to stay at the Hilton/Marriot because of their Central Location, but with public transport in Pattaya, location is never a problem.
Getting around Pattaya is really one the reasons that Pattaya is so popular.
There are the blue Baht Buses, Song Taew (two seats). These normally go round the one way road system from the Dusit, down beach road, turning left at the entrance to walking street, then left again onto 2nd Road, all the way along to the Dolphin Roundabout, turning left down to the Dusit beach entrance. Using these are easy, flag one down, jump on and push the button when you want to get off. The normal cost for this is 10 or 20 Baht maybe 30 Baht on a longer trip. As Pattaya has grown in size, so has the need for people to venture further, so some busses may head to Jomtien (in the South) or North into Naklua. Don’t worry, just push the button, get off (pay) and catch the next bus going the way you want to go.
If you have somewhere specific that you want to go, that is not on the normal route, you can charter the bus to take you. Negotiate your price before getting on, not after.
If after a while the buzz of using the Baht Bus is not enough, then you can venture onto the motorbike taxi. These are ideal for nipping up side streets and getting you to your destination quickly, especially when the traffic is heavy. You will see the Taxis, normally identifiable by the drivers wearing coloured vests sat at intersections whilst they wait for customers. Again, agree the price before you get on. Normally fares start around 40 Baht.
There are also air-conditioned Cabs scattered around the town, they do have meters in them, but most drivers will not put them on. Just ask how much, haggle then agree or walk away.
If you have a lot you want to do and need your transport for the day, most taxis or baht busses will gladly give you a price for staying with you for the day. Make sure you can communicate with your driver, that he understands what you want ask your price, haggle then again, agree or walk away.
Hopefully you are starting to notice the trend, prices are not normally fixed and Thais expect you to ask for a better price or discount, so they inflate the initial price to compensate.
Tip, if you are staying at a nice hotel and want a better price for your Baht Bus/Taxi, tell them to drop you off nearby as the price goes up depending on the status of your final destination.
Okay I mentioned earlier that you should only change enough currency for your first day. As you relax on your Baht Bus, going down Beach Road you will see numerous Exchange Booths with the current rate displayed on them. Look at a few, then decide which one you are going to use. Most of them require no identification just your currency and off you go.
So after 20 years of being a tourist to Thailand what are my tips.
Pick your time to visit carefully, December is high season, more expensive and sometimes the pools can be cooler. October is the end of the Rainy Season and many hotels still do a 2 for 1 offer. Arrange your own transport from the airport. Change your currency in Pattaya, definitely not in your home country (unless your currency is unlikely to be accepted elsewhere). Explore using the Baht Buses and Private Taxis. If you use social media (facebook) join discussion groups, at least for the restaurants. Learn a little Thai, even if it’s just the numbers it will stand you in good stead.
Enjoy yourself and whatever plans you have, remember they are only a guide, this is Thailand and plans change.