7th APRIL 2019
There’s no breakfast option at The Halabala Resort, despite the claims of my accommodation website. Instead I cross the busy main road and visit a 7-11 on the opposite side, stocking up on mayonnaise-themed sandwiches, pineapple pastry and nut snacks. Well, technically I don’t stock up; I scoff the whole lot in the car park outside.
Carrying on I’m able to leave the crowded main highway after 5km, turning inland through bustling Ban Chang and it’s mad tangle of overhead telecom wires. Once I’m through town things become quieter, and for a while I cruise along effortlessly on minor roads fringed by jungly forest. When my small road is bisected by a busy dual carriageway I’m left with two choices – I can either detour 8km to get to the other side or walk my bike across and lift it over the central reservation barrier. I’ve made more difficult decisions; I take all of five seconds to choose the laziest option. The last time I pulled this trick I struggled like a skinny weightlifter, straining to hoist my fully loaded bike over two sets of barriers. This time I simply detach the panniers and lift everything over in instalments. Why the Hell didn’t I do that before ?
Once I’m across the highway, my road rises sharply through a section of thick, shaded woodland. It’s intimidatingly steep, so I feel no shame whatsoever in jumping off to push. This gets me thinking about my first forays into cycle-touring, where I would almost ruin myself just to say that I cycled every inch of the way. However, I’m far more relaxed about cheating nowadays, and I’ll happily hop out the saddle to push if I need a breather. As it happens, this steep little climb has me stopping for a break anyway, despite the fact that I’m pushing. At the top I see that I’m heading towards an ugly band of dark clouds, but at least I’m rewarded with some easy freewheeling past forest and farmland to get there.
A pointy, triangular mountain is looming large up ahead. As I cycle closer, it almost looks like a giant gold Buddha has been carved into one face of the mountain. Then, when I reach the landmark, I realise there actually IS a giant gold Buddha carved into the mountain ! The area was originally used to quarry rock for road construction, which left a sheer cliff face on one side of the mountain when the mining stopped. In an attempt to beautify what remained, laser technology was used to carve a one hundred metre tall Buddha image into the rock face. All the laser carving took place at night, while during the day gold leaf was painted into the freshly cut grooves. Today the place is swamped by dozens of tour buses, some selfie-taking tourists and a few Buddhist types who have come here to pray. It’s an impressive, yet magnificently surreal sight.
I leave the Carved Buddha Mountain for a straightforward glide down to the coast, rejoining the main road about 10km South of Pattaya. By now conditions have become horribly dark with heavy, fat raindrops splattering all around me. I notice two kids with scooters are already sheltering under a bus stop, so I pull over and sit below the awning of a shop that’s closed on Sundays. For the next thirty minutes I watch as the dry road out front becomes inundated by small cascades of streaming water. Within an hour it will be bone dry once again. That seems to be the pattern with rainshowers here – heavy and intense, but only for a short time.
When I move on again I’m cycling past luxury hotels, resorts and condominiums on the Southern approaches to Pattaya. This must be a more affluent area that allows richer residents and tourists to put some distance between themselves and the sleaziness of Pattaya city. I’ve never visited the city before, although I feel I know what to expect just by reputation alone. Pattaya is most famous for seedy sex tourism, which is perfectly illustrated by the tacky range of businesses on the street where I’m staying.
My accommodation is right next door to Ping Pong Beer Bar 3 and opppsite the tastefully named Beaver Bar. To access my second floor room I have to go through a ground floor ‘massage parlour.’ A couple of the girls offer me a massage and say it’s safe to leave my bike outside as they will watch it for me. Nonetheless, their chatter doesn’t inspire much confidence, so I chain the bike to railings outside a language school across the narrow street. What a language school is doing in the middle of all this debauchery is beyond me. Once I’m through the massage parlour I realise there’s an alleyway and rear entrance to the building, so I walk straight back round to retrieve my bike from outside. Despite all the surrounding depravity, my room turns out to be surprisingly nice.
After showering I go for a bit of a wander, just to see if Pattaya is as awful as it’s reputation suggests. As I walk down my street towards the beach I must pass a dozen massage parlours and receive plenty of “Hello, you like massage ?’ offers. The street also houses English Bars, Norwegian Bars, Swedish Bars and a further two outlets from the Ping Pong Beer Bar franchise. The next street along is predictably similar, with another horde of massage parlours and a handful of Western-style bars advertising Premier League football matches. It feels like I could be on the Costa del Crime in Spain. The place is swarming with Russians, chavvy tattooed Brits and creepy old foreign guys with very young Thai girls on their arm. It’s an absolute shithole.
On the way back I have seafood fried noodles in a Westernised restaurant surrounded by other Westerners. Why the Hell would I travel to the other side of the world to that ? I had toyed with the idea of possibly spending two nights in Pattaya, but my short stroll tonight has already convinced me otherwise. Tacky sex tourism surrounded by a depressing herd of drunken Westerners really isn’t my scene. I’ll be out of here tomorrow.