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Sunday, March 20, 2005
Thai resort city offers many
It's easy to wander the miles of shoreline and collect seashells, eat at a beachside restaurant or just lie out in the sun.
Thai massages are available on the beach for 200 bhat, about $5 an hour, not including tip.
Just offshore is Koh Larn (Coral Island), and tours are available for a day trip. Also nearby is Koh Samet, another island offering overnight accommodations.
Those seeking entertainment and fine dining might want to stay in the city. However, for about $2 or whatever you can negotiate, a "bhat bus" will take you into Pattaya to experience the city's night life and shopping.
The usual T-shirts, tourist trinkets, purses, jewelry shops, pirated DVDs and CDs common in Thailand are for sale here. But for shoppers who prefer bargains on better merchandise, there are also modern shopping malls with brand-name merchandise and even an outlet mall featuring Reebok, Warner Bros. goods and electronics.
As for the night life, there are numerous bars and restaurants besides those that cater to the sex trade. Some of the beer bars offer live music -- I heard some decent blues and pop cover bands. Others feature karaoke and Thai kick-boxing to attract customers. At a bar area near the entrance to Walking Street, the kick-boxers battled until one was knocked down. The winner then collected tips from the audience.
Restaurants range from street vendors selling fruits and barbecued meats on a stick, to fine dining on the waterfront and -- for the daring -- fried insects. Some restaurants feature huge tanks where you can pick out your seafood and select how they will prepare it. Any type of food -- Indian, Japanese, steakhouses, Middle Eastern, Russian, even Texas barbecue -- is available in the tourist area. But I prefer eating where the Thais eat, at street vendor stands.
It's generally safe to eat street food in Thailand. They cook it right in front of you, and you can judge for yourself how sanitary it is. In my experience the food on the street or in street cafes is generally better and cheaper than at restaurants that cater to tourists.
But how can you resist an elephant ride in a country shaped like a pachyderm's head?
I'm not really a big fan of packaged tours and shows, so I skipped the crocodile farm and the tiger zoo. But I had to ride an elephant. Besides, you can't feed bananas to the crocodiles or tigers.
Vans pick up passengers at their hotels, making it easy to get to the Pattaya Elephant Village, which is actually in the nearby region of Chonburi.
The village is a privately run elephant sanctuary, and according to brochures and its Web site, the money from the elephant rides and tours pays for the animals' upkeep.
Several different tours are available. The combination trek features a one-hour elephant ride, a guided half-hour hike, rafting on a lake, an encounter with gibbons, an ox-cart ride and dinner or lunch. The cost is about $45, not including tips.
I just wanted to ride an elephant. The one-hour ride was about $24.
It starts with the elephants coming up to meet you at a raised wooden platform. A metal chair, where you sit, is strapped to the animal's back, and the trainer rides on its neck. Climb into the chair and off you go.
It's not like riding a horse. There's a lot of motion on the back of an elephant -- back and forth and side to side. But eventually you get used to it.
The elephant ride began with a dip in a man-made lake, then into a farming community, past rural homes and tapioca fields.
Along the way, you pass areas where the elephants and other animals are housed, fed and tended, to watch other elephants being fed and washed.
It's a leisurely ride. The elephants will sometimes stop and take a drink of water or reach out with their trunks to grab plants or tree leaves to eat.
Too soon, the late-afternoon sun cast shadows, and the sky began turning orange.
At the end of the ride, you're served fresh fruit and shown a photo of you on the elephant and a video of your ride, which you can purchase. I passed on both.
The memory of riding into the setting sun on the back of an elephant is good enough for me.