(Reposted because of its mysterious disappearance from my blog)
Many folks familiar with Southeast Asia perceive Pattaya as a city with a dirty beach on the Gulf of Thailand, streets lined with hookers, ready access to illegal drugs and frequent brushes with violence.
Yet such a broad brush overlooks and, I think, overstates Pattaya’s proximity to Bangkok (a two-hour, $3 bus ride from the capital city), and its plentiful positive aspects. I have managed to sample only a few of them on two visits this year .
When I tried the ocean, it happened to be rough, but the water looked clean and there was no refuse on the beach. When I went for stroll, it was easy enough to avoid the sordid Walking Street (which officials are trying to tone down with little noticeable effect) and to bypass the numerous massage parlors. And I don’t recall anyone offering me drugs or threatening me in any way.
I ignored the usual touristy activities at the ocean such as tours to nearby islands, scuba diving and parasailing in favor hiking through a park to see the towering statue of Buddha, ambling around a temple complex and making my way up to a viewpoint over the city.
However, the most memorable site for me was a hulking structure carved entirely in wood called the Sanctuary of Truth. I had never heard of it and never imagined it would be so striking.
I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the structure, under construction since 1981, is being built specifically to give tourists something to see besides the sea and the sleaze. Still, information I found online suggests a very rich man has underwritten the cost for a lofty reason beyond honoring Buddha:
“The ornate temple-like complex was conceived by Lek Viriyaphant, a Thai millionaire who spent his fortune on this and other heritage projects (such as Ancient City near Bangkok) that revived and preserved ancient building techniques and architecture in danger of extinction,” the Lonely Planet relates. “In this case, the building continues to support hand-hewn woodworking skills as it’s been under construction since 1981 and still isn’t finished.”
Not a nail is said to have been used in the project, and completion is not expected for another 20 years.
On a promontory in the northern fringe of Pattaya, the Sanctuary of Truth is unusually expensive — 500 Thai baht, or more than $15 a ticket at the door. In return, there are opportunities to tour the temple wearing a hardhat, watch workers wield hammer and chisel, pick up souvenirs (see what I mean about its true intent), eat in a modest restaurant, feed some goats or watch a dance performance and entertaining demonstrations of sword fights.
With respect to the carving, I was intrigued to see nearly as many women as men bent to the task.Visitors also can ride elephants, a practice I deplore because of the pain that the mahoots must inflict to train and direct those noble creatures.
I noticed family outings, outdoor classes of some sort and a lots of photography. The photos at the end, which I hope you enjoy, are a fraction of those I snapped. It is the sort of place that makes it hard to stop taking pictures.
While it is possible to take have a tour company lead the way, going to the Sanctuary of Truth independently could not be easier. We took a tuk-tuk.
To me, one of the charms of Pattaya is the tuk-tuks, informal taxis that endlessly cruise the avenues to transport tourists and locals alike packed into the beds of converted pickup trucks for as little 10 baht (around three and a half cents) each. To or from the bus terminal is 50 baht, though getting to the Sanctuary of Truth can run a few more.
(We have tuk-tuks in Cambodia, too, but they are less commodious, more expensive ($1 minimum for a relatively short ride is normal), more numerous and somewhat more likely to be parked.)
It is nice to know that I am not the only fan of Pattaya’s mild side. As an e-magazine also observes in skewering myths about the resort city (as well as Bangkok), “Despite its reputation for sleaze there is much more to the town than wine women and song.” The writer continues:
People with families should not be put off as both within the town and in its environs there is a huge amount to do ranging from international standard water parks, to zoos, gardens and other attractions.
I couldn’t agree more.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org