At this time of year I am thinking of the warm sunny days of summer. Some days I think they have arrived and then every now and then the temperature dips a bit, just a reminder that summer is not quite here yet. On those days I think of one of my favourite places to visit that is always warm – Thailand.
This country never ceases to surprise me. From its history to its modern day culture, and from the cities to the countryside there is always something different to experience. This is a country that will grab hold of all of your senses and not let go until you leave. And when you do get home it will be with memories of friendly people, delicious food, amazing shopping, beautiful countryside and noise, colour and activity everywhere. I love it.
The capital, Bangkok is one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations. With over 8 million people living there it can be rather overwhelming but when you get out and about it is a fascinating place.
It is made up of 50 districts that sit on the Chao Phraya River. Samphanthawong District is home to Bangkok’s Chinatown, one of the oldest areas of the city and a fascinating place to spend a few hours or even a couple of days looking around.
Huge ceremonial Chinese gates mark the entrance to the 1km strip of Yaowarat Road and the surrounding roads that make up Chinatown. The area is filled with narrow alleyways, many aren’t listed on any of the tourist maps and often the same street will have more than one name just to confuse you even more.
Cultural sights are in short supply around Chinatown, the place itself is the attraction. During the day take time to watch the traders selling their wares, explore the back alleys and small shops that cater for the locals rather than the tourists. You will find food stalls, Chinese herbalists (who knows what is in some of their containers), fabric, trinkets, juice stalls (all fresh), pots & pans, hardware, clothes, bags and more. One thing you wont find is a McDonalds!
This is the centre of gold trading for Thailand and there are numerous gold merchants lining the streets. To my uninitiated eye from the outside they all seemed to have very similar stock but some of the shops were packed and others empty. It was only when you got inside that you saw the differences in what they had to offer.
People flock to Chinatown after sunset to explore the vibrant streets with the masses of neon signs and fabulous cuisine. Crowds of diners from the many restaurants spill out onto the streets. It’s a bit like a miniature Hong Kong. The food in the restaurants and stalls is some of the best you will get in Bangkok. The ‘indoor’ restaurants can be a bit pricey but the street stalls and ad-hoc seafood restaurants that spring up at night are great value and give you the chance to try different things.
At the eastern end of Yaowarat Road is the Temple of the Golden Buddha or Wat Traimit. The temple building is new, built to properly house the world’s largest gold Buddha statue. The origins of the statue are uncertain but it is thought it was crafted in the 13th-14th centuries. Sometime in the 18th century it was covered in stucco, presumably to save it from being stolen by invading armies, and then pretty much forgotten. In 1955 when the 3m tall, 5.5 tonne statue was being moved to a new home it was dropped and pieces of the stucco fell off revealing the gold beneath. The plaster was gradually removed to reveal the gold statue, which consists of 9 parts that fit smoothly together. A key was also found in the plaster that is used to disassemble the statue for transportation. It is amazing to think that this valuable piece of history was left virtually forgotten for 200 years.
For me one of the attractions of this area is that even though Bangkok has a huge number of tourists flocking to it not many of them go to Chinatown. The number of Western faces walking the streets was minimal in comparison to central Bangkok with the big shopping centres.
For all that Bangkok fascinates me, there is so much more to Thailand than this huge metropolis. Another city that is a popular holiday destination is Pattaya only 1.5 hours to the South East of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand.
Until the 1960’s it was a small fishing village but during the Vietnam War American servicemen began arriving in Pattaya for rest and relaxation. The once small fishing village then gradually developed into a popular beach resort with fisherman’s huts replaced by hotels and retail stores.
As well as the beach there are numerous attractions for the family around Pattaya. There are markets, botanical gardens, miniature model village, temples, crocodile farm, aquarium, tourist submarine and much more.
I didn’t get to see those because I was here for the golf. There are over 30 courses within an hour of Pattaya so there is no problem getting a tee time somewhere that suits you.
There are two clubs in the area that I can recommend.
Bangpra Golf Club
Only 40 minutes away from Pattaya this was one of the first courses in Thailand. Originally built in 1958 it received a major overhaul in the 1980’s as a purpose built golf facility to promote golf in Thailand.
Now it has aged into a beautiful, mature park like course. Even though the course is reasonably difficult you can be constantly distracted by the scenery as It is set out in a gently sloping valley and surrounded by thick wooded forests. Each hole has plenty of mature trees and colourful bougainvillea along with many other plants making this a pretty course.
Of course there is also the wildlife with plenty of monkeys clambering along the ground and playing in the trees.
The front nine is the harder and more interesting part of the course but the back nine still does not let you off lightly with some testing holes. There are some well placed bunkers and water hazards that keep you thinking around the whole course.
The club house is huge and comfortable with a bar, restaurant and café. This was a lovely spot to while away some time enjoying a cool drink and the gentle breeze that wafted through the open building.
Siam Country Club
There are two courses at this privately owned Golf Club, The Old Course and Plantation Course. The Old Course is, as the name suggests, is the original of the two courses and was opened in the early 70’s. The course and clubhouse underwent a major renovation in 2006, at the same time as the sister (Plantation) course was built. Both were opened in 2007. It is a traditional style of course with tree lined fairways.
Currently a third course is under construction and is due to open next year. It will be known as the Waterside.
Plantation is a Public course with 27 holes situated on former pineapple and tapioca plantation. It is laid out over rolling terrain with a few ravines bisecting fairways. Set up reasonably high and with some significant elevation changes there are some great panoramic views out over the Pattaya region from many holes. Bunkers, tall grasses and streams are everywhere, so take care with your aiming.
This is also the site of Asia’s first triple green, shaped like a clover. The course is long and quite difficult with lots of bunkers, elevation changes, undulations, blind shots and long carries. Everything is there to test you but it is well worth the visit.
The clubhouse, like many I have been to in Thailand is large. Here you are well looked after with a restaurant, bar, pro shop, and comfortable locker rooms.
As many people know I am a fan of massages and Spa treatments. One in Pattaya that has a very apt name is the Oasis Spa. The service was attentive and like all good spas there are a range of treatments to suit your mood and how your body is feeling. The setting is tranquil and will you are being relaxed and recharged it is so easy to forget that there is an extremely busy world outside.
That is the daytime taken care of, now for the night. Whether it is going out for dinner or something else that takes your interest there is plenty to choose from in Pattaya.
One of the more interestingly named restaurants is Cabbages and Condoms – true!
This restaurant, which originated in Bangkok, is well worth a visit. Sitting out over the water on the open deck with a warm breeze wafting around you, waves gently lapping on the sand just below the deck, this is a great setting for a meal – and what a meal. The food is delicious. Everything is fresh and the flavours are amazing.
Cabbages and Condoms restaurants were set up to support the activities of the Population and Community Development Association. This organisation promotes the health and safety aspects of condom use in a fun and amusing manner – instead of a jar of mints they have a bowl of condoms. This may sound like an adults only place but it is far from that. It is a family restaurant with a stunning seaside setting and amazing food.
One of the things that Pattaya is rather notoriously known for is Walking Street. By day it is just a small street with not much happening but at night it really comes alive.
This is a red-light district where go-go bars, nightclubs, massage parlours and various shows abound. There is street theatre, sports bars, restaurants, you name it and you will probably find it.
The street is closed to traffic from 6.00pm and becomes full of tourists from around the world walking and looking. Even if the activities at many of the places do not interest you going for a walk along here is fascinating and interesting.
If the noise and bustle of people gets a bit much for you there are some bars that are a bit quieter; it is just a matter of keeping your eyes open. I was out with three male Australian journalists who managed to find a bar with a TV tuned into Australian rugby. As we (they) watched the rugby and enjoyed a quiet drink or two we played various board games that they had behind the bar. Not what most people go to Walking Street for but we had an enjoyable night. Me being chatted up by one of the Barmaids only added to our entertainment.
At some stage your trip has to come to an end. No matter how long you stay or how many times you return to this beautiful, friendly Kingdom this country is always exciting and there will always be something new and interesting to discover.