The call of Asia
When I was a child, I listened to my very old great-grand-uncle, a former Navy officer, a former optic inventor and finally a Benedictine monk. He talked me the unsurpassed beauty of Along Bay he discovered with the French Navy more than 100 hundred years ago. My grandfather told me remembrances of the period he staid in Annam (today part of Vietnam) after joining, with mother, brothers, and sisters his father, an army officer. Family fairytales say this great-grandfather initially went to Asia by land, after crossing frozen Baikal. This was also, at least, one century before today. Another great-great-granduncle worked in India for building railways at the end of XIX century. Our family house in central Brittany, one of the more north west point of Europe, still preserves some Asian souvenirs of this adventurous times. There, we also had visits of my father’s cousin who lived in Vientiane, Laos, with his family. Regarding Asia, Siberia excepted, I was just in Mumbai for a NGO project audit. I already thought about a trip in north of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. I already dreamed about sailing along Indian Ocean’s coasts.
Nevertheless, until 2008-2009 winter I could never imagine I would visit Pattaya, one day. It is not the kind of locations that could attract me. However, I went there. I wanted to see again a very unusual personality I met two years and half before, in Irkutsk. These days in Pattaya were static holidays compared to what I do usually. I did not move. I did not learn about local culture or language. On the other hand, I was the alien tourist. I did not enjoyed Pattaya “specialties”. I never went to discos and bars. Strangely, in this crowdy city, I did not meet with many people. It was not my goal. I heard many things even if I actually talked to very few people.
I communicated with less than ten men or women. All of them were interesting: David, who helped me when I just arrived; my taxi driver in Koh Si Chang; Tony and Piha, the guesthouse owners; Gary, the sailor; Zhenia and her husband Sasha; Natalia who decided me to come. These last three people, all from Irkutsk, worked for Grand-Orchid, a Russian-Thai travel agency in Pattaya. Very bad or extremely good, I experienced times with an intensity I probably never faced until those days. Compared with these two weeks, the route to Batagol mine, in the heart of Saian Mountains, was a comfortable and quiet journey with no major surprises…
I learned how disgusting Russian “entrepreneurs” make their smart and educated young compatriots working as exhausted slaves, even for “regular business”. Actually, what could you expect from such people? In Pattaya, part of big hotels belong to Russian mafia. Guess what travel agencies bring group of clients to these hotels? “Qui se ressemble, s’assemble”. They all have the same way to treat the personnel that they have been able to attract with fake commitments and unconscious “rabatteurs”. It was a discover that poisoned not only my existence in this city. It even had unforeseen impacts, turning into hell periods what should have been paradisiacal breaks.
Free people escape city’s chaos
We agreed that we would spend New Year’s Eve on a boat. I went to Pattaya Yacht Club on a river after having cross some bush and a monastery, after having scared chickens and greeting monks cutting grass. There, I found a guy who could charter his trimaran. Subsequently it appeared as a bad option. His equipment was not complete for safety and sailing. He was a low experience sailor and probably not a qualified skipper. However, I was recommended a man who owns a company and a chandlery on Na Jomtien Marina. I went there, on Sunday. Everything was closed. I came back on the following day and I met with Gary, an Australian gentleman. He had the boat we were looking for. Then I had lunch with him. He was the kind of seaman I like. I understood we would be in good hands.
On the 31 of December, I did shopping at Carrefour’s. In France, I do not like this supermarket chain. It is too big. I am lost. However, in Pattaya it was different. I knew I would find the food I was looking for my guests. I wanted French special meals for Natalia, Zhenia, Sasha and Gary. The Montbazillac I found there was perfect for foie gras and became the favorite beverage of someone whose name I will not reveal. I loaded a full backpack in Carrefour and took a moto-taxi to the marina. Then I went back to Jomtien with a tuk-tuk and a moto-taxi. In the evening, I went to Teapparsit to meet with the friends and we took a taxi to go back to Marina. We boarded Gary’s boat.
We sailed to Pattaya Bay, had diner and watched New Year fireworks. For the rest of the night, we moored in front of Jomtien beach, a good shelter. In the morning, we sailed to Koh Phai, where we moored again. We had lunch on an almost desert beach and went back in the evening to the marina.
Those were great 24 hours. I was delighted to hear what my guests said about this new kind of experience. I did not expect so immediate positive feedbacks. Sasha impressed Gary by how fast he expressed a sailor sense. I hope, Zhenia will let him, one day, go sailing with me on Baikal Lake. I hope also, in a next future, I could invite Natalia for an actual sail cruise of numerous days. I want to introduce her better to this other world. “Il y a trois sortes d’hommes, les vivants, les morts et ceux qui vont sur la mer”.
Pattaya, a Russian middle-class temporary paradise
Pattaya city construction started in late 50’s, as it became the biggest spot in south-east Asia, where American GI’s could deliver, with no limits, their basic and natural pulsions between two war missions in Korea or Vietnam. Today, it is still the same business. Though, from-big it became enormous. Though, clients changed. Everywhere you look, it is full of low quality concrete buildings or hotels and towers you can find in other places of the world. It made me remember some African cities I visited like Douala, Lagos, Dakar or Brazzaville. Except for the fact that there are more tourists in Pattaya. And except for the fact, it is a little bit cleaner. Moreover, it is safer and Thai people are generally peaceful people. However, it looks like an ugly ski resort located on the sea. It is just a place for mass and non-educated tourism. Western tourists are mostly singles. I will not disclose what they are just looking for. You probably understood. More and more Russian people visit the place since almost 3 years. They usually come with their family. They are looking for sun and sea. May be, they also look for bars and discos? I do not know, but I am not sure. They are probably not aware of the world deplorable reputation of the city, while bringing here their loved children and woman. However, they seem not to have any cultural goals. As they usually do not speak any foreign language, they travel in groups and are an ideal target for travel agencies offering low standard complete packages, but full 24 hours assistance. Right now, they enjoy because they do not know so many places to escape the cold Russian winter. Getting more experienced, it is likely they will leave this place for more scenic and preserved areas.
Thailand is a cultural rich and beautiful country. There is certainly a range of service that smart Russian travel agencies could propose to their compatriots. They could offer tours with culture, history, sightseeing of beautiful places and landscapes. I am sure that Natalia with all of her talents and experience would excel in this more sophisticated business. In a bit more than a decade, Pattaya will become a coastal slum, turning back to its “core business”. There is nothing authentic in Pattaya. There is nothing natural. Moreover, spots for taking pictures are limited. Once again, the city is too ugly. On the beach it is not simple either. If you turn to the sea, it is full of motorboats and water is often mixed with oil. If your turn to the shore, then you have a forest of deckchairs and parasols usually not in a good shape. Behind them, you have the street with a dense line of smoking vehicles running at the bottom of a concrete building front. It is not a kind of place where I usually take pictures. For this, I should have visited other parts of the country. That is what I did going to Koh Si Chang
January 4, evening went on very bad and ended on miserable way. It was more than what I could stand. I was ready to escape Pattaya for a few days. When I woke up, my decision was made. Fortunately, the early morning was a time of peace. Instead of getting away, I understood I should only breeze at a short distance. I went to Koh Si Chang. I enjoyed this quiet place. I enjoyed seeing the actual maritime life of Thai people instead of staying in Pattaya fake shit. I enjoyed taking pictures on the island.
The long antennas
On January 6, I wanted to find something different from simply going somewhere for diner. It was Russian Christmas’s eve. I wanted, one more time, to share this special time out of the crazy city. At the last minute, we learned that Grand-Orchid decided to cancel the day off. It was an ukase from the Russian-Thai perverse employers. Therefore, I chartered again Gary’s boat just for the night. Instead of the “small” Hunter, he took “El Coyote”, his big race sailing boat. It is an example of what I consider as luxury: something rare and beautiful. End of afternoon, with Gary and a crewman (the guy who wanted me to charter his trimaran), we sailed from marina to Jomtien beach. Just after her work, Natalia came to this place with a moto-taxi. We went on the shore with the dinghy and collected her back to the yacht. We sailed to Koh Larn, moored there, had diner. This evening was not what I had dreamed of, on such a magnificent sailing boat. Tensions of a workday in office and numerous phone calls – you remember the 24 hours assistance for travel agency Russian clients – created a strange atmosphere. The junk city had long spoiling antennas, even if we tried to escape it. The fact that we burned Gary’s deck with a candle did not improve the situation… Fortunately, morning was fantastic in total opposition with the evening. It was pleasant to have sun and warm wind. It was great sailing on such a beautiful boat. We enjoyed taking pictures while sailing to Jomtien.We dropped our lady before 10 AM on the beach. She took a moto-taxi to go back to her office. With Gary and his crewman, we sailed El coyote back to the marina. Though not perfect, this “night cruise” was a good solution for providing entertainment to someone who has absolutely no break. I decided to do it again before the end of my stay.Thanks God, it was what happened, once everybody got a rest and forgot all the tensions of the previous day. Actually, it was a very cold early morning, though we were in Thailand. We however took pictures with a Japanese kimono and light colored dress.
As we got back to marina, the engine stopped while we had to go thru the long channel, against the wind, between beacons. We ran out of fuel! I took Natalia into the dinghy to bring her back on shore. We had enough gas to reach the Marina. She found a formula-one taxi driver and could be on time in her office. Crewman escaped as soon as El Coyote touched the pontoon. “Les rats quittent le navire!” Probably he got some words with the owner. I spent sometimes cleaning up the boat, clearing ropes and accessories and enjoying Gary’s nice company. I love working on boats. I was not in a rush for going back to the city. I enjoyed spending some extra time in a beautiful nautical environment. It was like being in an Oasis. At the end of this day, started my last hours in Pattaya.
The last evening was the most simple of Pattaya’s one. It was not prepared. But it was perfect. A short time after sunset, we went again on Jomtien beach to take pictures. They are not my favorites. Nevertheless, taking them in an early quiet morning was a great moment of friendly team experience. Then, I was back in France. It was my turn to be under exhausting professional stress and tight schedule all over the cold, windy, grey, snowy and humid Europe. I was, at least, missing Thailand sun.
© Auteur: Bernard Grua, Nantes, France, Februray 2009