Sun ‘n’ sand, exotic Thai cuisine, tropical fruits, Thai massage, rich Thai culture and the friendliest of people — Thailand has it all.
Everywhere we turned, Indian tourists — couples on their honeymoon, bachelorette groups, senior citizens and entire families travelling together — uncle, aunt, mom, dad, grandpa, grandma and lots of bubbly kids. Yes, India is on the move.
Thailand is a booming economy. The Kingdom of Thailand is the second largest economy in South East Asia after Indonesia. Tourism is a major industry in the kingdom, besides the automotive and electronic industry. Everywhere in Bangkok there are elevated freeways which never seem to end. High rises, SUVs and sedans and the ubiquitous Starbucks and Macs complete the picture of a Westernised oasis in the East.
Pattaya was our first halt. A quaint resort city on Thailand’s Gulf coast, it has the bluest of blue seas and miles of clean beaches. Overseeing the Pattaya Bay are several high-rise resort hotels, one of which was ours. There’s no litter anywhere, for littering and smoking is banned on 24 beaches along the Gulf of Thailand and attracts a fine of 100,000 Baht and a one-year jail term.
A morning walk on the palm-lined walkers’ boulevard on the beach was on our agenda, as was a trip to Coral Island. Being part of squiggly lines of people boarding rocky speed boats bobbing on the waves for their parasailing and snorkelling experience, was not our cup of tea, so we found the trip a waste of our time.
The Alcazar Cabaret meanwhile was quite charming. Thailand’s own homage to Moulin Rouge and the Lido in Paris, the Alcazar was a glitzy and grand performance by some 400 artistes — drag queens and transvestites and soon, the mainly Indian tourist crowd was up on their feet when the artistes performed to a Bollywood number too.
Pattaya has an active night life, a walking street and a night bazaar. In fact, everywhere you go, there are roadside massage parlours marketing their wares. “You must get a Thai massage,”friends in India had told us, but we chose the safety of our own hotel for the rejuvenating and relaxing Thai massage. We were also able to catch a stunning illuminated view of Pattaya from the rooftop restaurant in our hotel.
Bangkok, or the city of angels, is a bustling city. All the ancient Buddhist temples or the Wats, nearly 400 of them, are here. But it can be quite daunting to visit them in the hot and humid weather, so we picked two Wats, the Golden Buddha temple and the marble temple.
The Golden Buddha temple or the Wat Traimit near Chinatown, houses the world’s largest gold-seated Buddha, which is about five metres tall and weighs five-and-a-half tons. A popular lore goes that the Buddha was crafted in gold, but covered in plaster to hide it from invading armies and was accidentally discovered when it was being moved. The humongous Golden Buddha has a smooth sheen and sparkles as the sunlight streams in through the stained-glass window panes. The architecture of the temple is simply astounding. It has a marble exterior and golden spires, an exquisite black, red and gold rimmed bell in a bell tower and a spectacular view of the city below.
The Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram, also known as the marble temple, sits in the Dusit district. With its high, peaky gables, wide courtyard and a beautiful veranda, this temple was truly amazing.
I found the dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya river quite interesting, despite the crowds and the long wait at the River City Mall pier for our yacht. The cruise floated past several illuminated historical landmarks — among them the Grand Palace, the Wat Arun, the Royal Thai navy headquarters, the Emerald Buddha temple and Rama Bridge.
Bangkok has great shopping options – there are the malls and there’s the night bazaar. The Rot Fai Market is a kind of flea market, with rows and rows of tin roofed stalls selling garments, silk scarves, shoes, handicrafts, electronics and amazing street food. I picked up some great steals here. I also loved the fabulous Jim Thomson store, an outlet for Thai silk and the softest of linen. A tad pricey, but the premium is for their exclusive designs.
We also took in the Safari World, with its animal shows and the open natural habitat for wild animals and birds. This is a good place if you’re going with children, but it was a tiring day for us.
We wanted to ride in a Tuk Tuk, but were not up to bargaining with the driver, so took the Grab taxi instead, which has fixed prices. The Thais are very friendly people and everyone speaks a smattering of Hindi, given the large number of Indian tourists going to Thailand.
Then, how can a trip to Thailand be complete without its exotic Thai cuisine, laced with lemon grass and rich in coconut milk and served with fragrant Jasmine rice? But if you’re a vegetarian like me and want to try street food, be sure to ask the restaurant owner for vegetables in your curry and insist on ‘no meat’ ‘no sea food’. Also, a must-try is the Thai tropical fruit. There are several corner stalls on the streets selling Durian, a little like our own jackfruit, the Rambutan, which has a spiky exterior and soft flesh like a litchi inside, the bland Dragon fruit, and Thai papayas, pineapples and mangoes.