I wasn’t sure what to expect from village life in Pattaya but I thought that I’d give it a go. Rob, an old friend has been living there for seven years and I asked him if he could find me a house to rent for a couple of months. He knows that I like my swimming and secured a two bedrooms, two bathroom, bungalow for me in Chokchai Village 7 off of Soi Kha Noi in East Pattaya. I managed to book cheap flights from Glasgow to Bangkok via Dubai on an Emirate flight with decent flight times and a ninety minutes transfer.
My first issue was that I didn’t realise that the usual tourist visa which you get on a flight is only for thirty days, fortunately, I discovered this before leaving Glasgow and was able to purchase a sixty-day tourist visa from the Royal Thai Consulate in the city in only a matter of hours.
This was my first time flying with Emirates and I was more than satisfied by the level of service and the seating size, although my experience may not be typical as I had three seats to myself on the flight to Dubai. I was a bit worried that the ninety minute transfer time was a bit tight, especially when the sign for the terminal took me out of the building and onto a bus which took us to the opposite end of the airport and back through security but I didn’t need to worry as I made the connection with time to spare.
The flight to Bangkok was even better, as I had a whole row of four seats to myself and managed to get some shut eye. The only incident being that my sleep came to an abrupt halt when a flight attendant tripped and splashed orange juice over me. As it happened, she was a Thai from Isan and very apologetic, I told her ‘not to worry, no-one had died.’ Hey I was in the Thai spirit already. She thanked me for being so understanding and fetched me a little gift from the Business Class section.
On arrival at Bangkok, immigration did ask me for the name of the hotel and then address in Thailand that I would be living at. I had left this section blank on my entry visa as my friend hadn’t informed me of it. It didn’t prove to be too much of an issue though and I was soon picking up my suitcase and heading down one level to Level 1 Gate 8. Once there I purchased a ticket for the 389 bus service direct to Pattaya. The ticket costs only 120 Thai Baht (£2.66) for a 120km journey which takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Rob sent me a text to confirm that I was on schedule and arranged to pick me up at the second of three bus stops in Pattaya. The journey was fine and I was lucky enough to be given seat number one, with the adjacent seat number two being empty. So once again I had plenty of room to relax and enjoy the journey.
It was dark by the time we arrived in Pattaya but I saw Rob’s happy smiling face waiting for me as I alighted the bus and collected my luggage. We placed my cases in the back of Rob’s huge pickup truck and within ten minutes we reached Chokchai Village 7, which was actually a gated community, where foreigners aka ‘farangs’ live with their families in a ‘safe environment’, known in Thai as a Moo Baan. Although the security man just waved us through as we entered the village, without asking us who we were or where we were going. The village itself consists of a road with trees and bushes down the middle. On the right-hand side, there is a range of different shops, laundries, hairdressers and even a local pub, The Four Son’s. Yes, I know the apostrophe should not be there, or four should be fourth but that’s often the way English is in Thailand. On the left-h nd side, there are a series of lanes or ‘sois’ lined with bungalows. We turned down Soi 4 and my home for the next two months was on the left-hand side facing the community pool and adjacent cafe.
Rob unlocked the sliding gate to the carport and then the padlock on the mosquito netted doors and turned on the lights to reveal a large sized lounge with marble floor.
The place was functional enough but, as is often the case in accommodation which is let out, the furniture tends to be a bit basic and lack the pictures, paintings, ornaments etc which transform four walls into a home. However, everything seemed to be in working order and there were much-needed air-conditioning units in the living area and master bedroom with a ceiling fan in the spare bedroom. The kitchen had a couple of gas stoves, a microwave and a large fridge freezer. The lounge had a small settee a table with four chairs, a TV and unit and a coffee table. Rob informed me that whilst the place didn’t have an internet connection, he had made arrangements with the next door neighbour to allow me free and secure access to the internet through his wifi. For which I’m very grateful.
I unpacked, freshened up a little and we headed out for a pint. Rob dropped off his truck and we jumped on a motorbike taxi, to take us along Soi Khao Noi to his local pub, the Welcome Inn. Although there’s a large air conditioned bar/restaurant, we sat on the bar stools in the outside section sharing a couple of cold beers, whilst Rob gave me the lowdown on the area and an insight into his Thai village life.
Most Farangs that decide to retire to Thailand prefer to live in village houses rather than condominium complexes which are more suited for the shorter term let. The average size of a condo seems to be less than 40 square metres, whilst a house is about 95 square metres and has some private external space as well. Most villages pay a community fee which provides for the security, cleaning and maintenance of the common areas, including the swimming pools. Electricity and water are metered and the weekly bills are delivered to your letter box. You then pay the bill at any of the local 7 Eleven shops. You put all your waste in the rubber bins outside the houses and these are emptied daily. The refuse collectors then separate the waste into bottles, cans etc by hand.
East Pattaya has traditionally been referred to as the dark side, officially because of the lack of street lighting but also because there was little to do there. That’s been changing over the years and a number of bars and restaurants aimed at the western market have opened up. Although the standard of some is better than others and the number is still tiny compared to the hundreds, if not thousands in the centre of Pattaya.
The most recent addition to the area is the Chilled Shopping Mall, which partly opened on Monday 19th December 2016. It’s not a large mall by any stretch of the imagination but it is the first one in the dark side and provides a bright, clean, air-conditioned environment to do your shopping. The ground floor is taken up almost entirely by Tops Market, a Thai supermarket chain similar to Waitrose which also provides a reasonably priced place to eat or enjoy a coffee and cake. At the time of writing, it is already attracting a lot of custom from farangs and locals alike. I particularly like the fact that they sell my breakfast of choice, porridge oats, as well as pick and mix fresh salads.
There are many other smaller supermarkets with numerous Tesco Lotus, 7-Eleven and Family Mart outlets along the main road as well as more traditional Thai shops and restaurants, including markets and street stalls.
Although downtown Pattaya is only a fifteen-minute drive away, even less on a motorbike taxi, a lot of residents seem to prefer the more laid back approach of the east for their usual socialising.
Indeed some of them don’t seem to venture out of their gated communities unless they have too. That’s not a criticism as during the day people of various nationalities congregate at the village pool for some exercise, to read their books, to eat and drink or just chat. In the evenings and weekends, they are joined by the numerous kids who stay in the village thus providing a real family feel to the community. There’s also a range of outdoor gym machines which the adults use and a play park for the younger kids. The local pub provides decent International and Thai food, as well as drink, of course, and hosts parties on a regular basis.
Although there are no Baht Bus routes in the dark side, motorbike taxis are
readily available and charge 40 Baht to go along Soi Kha Noi or 80 Baht (less than £1:80) to take you into town. The fare back from town is a bit more expensive but if you haggle you should get it for 100 Baht.
One of the most striking things that I noticed straight away in the bars owned by foreigners, mostly British or Irish, is the lack of demography; they are, almost entirely, frequented by old, white men. When I say old, I mean old, many customers are in their seventies. At 59, I’m probably one of the youngest guys in the pub. Of course, this is expected as it is a destination for retirees but the lack of youngsters and women is so noticeable, especially for those of us of a certain age, who remember the dark days of drinking in pubs in Scotland and have celebrated the gradual move towards a more family friendly drinking culture. There are some younger guys, who tend to be working in the Middle East and base themselves in Pattaya and a few of the guys are sometimes accompanied by their Thai wives. The staff is almost exclusively female, with farangs either owning the bars or being employed to manage them. On the plus side, people from many different countries and backgrounds seem to get on well together here: Canadian, Australian, Swedish, French, Israeli, English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Italian, Dutch and German to name a few that I have met already.
The Big Screens in pubs, as in the UK, tend to show either football matches or music videos.
As far as prices go, they are much cheaper than back home. A large Leo beer costs between 53 and 75 Bhat and a Gordon’s Gin and Tonic 80-90 Bhat. Then there are Happy Hours when prices are slashed even more and a beer can cost 40 Bhat, less than £1. There doesn’t appear to be much of a daytime drinking culture in the dark-side and even in the evening people tend to be happy with a few beers, usually San Miguel Light, Chang or Leo. Sadly wine appears to be the exception to the rule and is just as expensive here as in the UK, in fact probably more so, even in the supermarkets. Although there is a French Bistro and Wine Bar on Second Road in Pattaya which serves house wine for 99 Bhat during Happy Hour. Apart from that there’s Mont Clare which retails at around 250 Bhat (£5:55) and is drinkable if nothing else. When Thais go to restaurants or nightclubs they tend to buy a bottle of Johnny Walker whisky to share, rather than wine. If they don’t finish the bottle they take it home with them. If you didn’t have the self-discipline you could quite easily get into a habit of drinking far too much. Being a runner helps, as I need to do my training during the cooler hours of the day, which usually means getting up at around 6 a.m. Fortunately, I’ve never been much of a daytime drinker and I’m not a great fan of beer although sometimes I can’t resist visiting the bar where one of my friends works and enjoying those Happy Hour cocktails at 90 Bhat a shot.
Food is also ridiculously cheap, in Farang bars the daily specials of western food, say fish and chips and mushy peas will cost around 120 Bhat, with Thai meals such as Khao Pad Kai, a typical Chicken and Rice dish, costing about 85 Bhat. Off course, you’ll pay more in an upscale restaurant or even less if you buy from one of the numerous street vendors, many of which set up their stalls outside of the shops when they close for the day and remain open into the wee small hours. It’s even possible to eat for free, with a number of the bars putting on a free buffet or barbeque one night a week and on special occasions such as New Year or someone’s birthday.