National Geographic Photo of the Day

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 1

As a family, we love travelling and we've gone to a large number of holiday destinations. This holiday season (no, not December, I mean May-June, that's when we have school and college holidays) we decided to take a break and go to Thailand. This time my aunt was coming along too.

Do read the entire series of articles I post on the days I spent in Thailand. Most of it is interesting, but some day you might find this useful when you plan your own trips to a foreign land such as this.

This trip (which was planned several months in advance) was in jeopardy initally due to the civil unrest in Thailand which resulted in martial law being imposed. So we decided to apply for an Australian visa and shift our vacation there. However, my passport expired (in mid April) and no one realised it until we booked the tickets. That obviously left too little time to apply for the visa (the Aussie embassy takes a bloody long time, evident from our previous experience with an Oz visa) and we were left praying that the situation in Thailand would improve sufficiently. Hence there was a mad rush to renew my passport further compounded by the Regional Passport Officer's arrest and subsequent closer scrutiny of all passport applications.

Anyway, it came through and we quickly turned in our passports and documents to VFS Global for Thai visas (which surprisingly take just 1 day to be approved). And with all that's happening now down under with Indians getting beaten up all over the country and little effort from the Australian police to take any action against the culprits. Some of my Mum's friends and one of my Dad's colleagues had their money returned by their travel agents for holidays they'd booked to Australia in light of recent events.

Note: For those of you who plan to travel to Thailand, note that you can avail visas on arrival under certain conditions. Just look it up on the net.

We left home for the airport at 9pm on the 13th of June. The flight was at 0020 hrs. And we had our usual fights with our line cutting fellow-countrymen. Why can't people respect a queue. Is it worth being impolite and unrefined and blatantly not following rules just to save 2 minutes of having to wait in line? We Indians never learn courtesy unless its shoved down our throats.

So back to the trip. A three and a half hour flight later, we were at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport. From personal experience, the buildings at the airport themselves aren't as big as London's Heathrow (though airports like Chennai and Delhi are but specks on the horizon in comparison to this one), but they are extremely beautiful to behold, with a brushed aluminium and glass look to the whole place. It looks a bit like KL's airport and Bangalore's new aerodrome takes its design cues from Suvarnabhumi. A very neat place and all systematically done.

Took a taxi from the prepaid taxi stand at the airport. Leaving this place even by taxi takes quite a bit of time. The airport's area is HUGE, there's no end to the raised freeways running around the airport and between buildings. It takes around 6 minutes of driving at near 100kmph speeds to just get to the entrance of Suvarnabhumi.

Then it was onto the main highway that leads to Pattaya, a wide multi-lane road flanked by greenery and smooth to a fault. The taxi driver hardly knew any English, he couldn't even understand that we were asking him how long it would take to get to Pattaya. "Yeah" seemed to be the only word he knew in English.

And we finally reached Pattaya Hill Resort in under two hours. The staff here were most polite and we got our rooms (always prebooked via RCI or Club Mahindra, since we're members) well ahead of check-in time. Perhaps it has something to do with the Tourist season finishing in the beginning of June and the monsoons here starting towards the end of the month. The rooms were pretty spacious and had wonderful views of the Gulf of Siam and Pattaya's skyline.

After an hour or two to settle down, we had lunch and took a taxi down to Pattaya's Underwater world. This is very much like Sentosa's Underwater world (in Singapore), but slightly bigger. Being the National Geographic and Discovery channel buff I was, I enjoyed the experience.

Apart from the various underwater tunnels and wide variety of sea creatures here (Sentosa had a better range of jellyfish though), there's even this fish large fish tank here with two holes in the middle and glass attachments shaped such that the water doesn't seem to flow completely out when logically it should. Apart from the physical effect, the act of putting your hands in through the hole (don't worry that's allowed and there aren't any sharks in this tank) and letting the little fish grab all the dead skin and dirt from it is pretty fun. The 2 otters here at Underwater World do a number of tricks during their show. But what happened outside the outer enclosure during the display had a greater impact on me. This little boy standing with an ice cream dropped the ice-cream's wrapper on the floor. Without a moment's hesitation, he picked it up and walked right to the dustbin. That is how people everywhere should be, and that's how they are in Thailand.

Once we'd seen all that, we went to the Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens. This is a large private resort with a number of stage shows (showing the history of Thailand and its dance and martial art styles), animals, birds, and eateries (anywhere you go in Thailand, there's always some place to eat). The animals and birds come from all over the world.

The highlight of Nong Nooch is their elephant show. A massive number of these majestic and intelligent beasts go on to perform stunts that you'd hardly thought possible by such a huge animal – football, dart throwing, painting specific things, riding tricycles, bowling, everything you could imagine. And nothing untoward ever happens. While we were walking to the show area, someone brushed by my right side. Looking around I found no one, before I realised there was this orangutan walking away from my right leg to his handler. There are many of these animals performing various displays all around Nong Nooch. Apart from this, the place also has beautiful gardens and displays of several animals.

After a short walk, once Nong Nooch had closed, we took a taxi back to the resort and got some well-needed sleep. For dinner, we headed to the rooftop restaurant (this hotel has TWENTY THREE floors). This Vietnamese and Eurasian restaurant offers a beautiful view of the tourist town of Pattaya, its beaches, and the Gulf of Siam beyond.

A hearty meal and we were back in our rooms for some more sleep in preparation for the next day.


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