Pattaya is notorious as a sleaze and sand sort of place, but the city is starting to move upmarket and there are several interesting sights around the city. Greg Lowe goes in search of the other side of Pattaya.
‘Cultural’ and ‘Pattaya’ are words not normally used in the same sentence.
The latter more often than not conjures up images of fat farang, dodgy women and a host of sleazy seaside bars.
Pattaya’s reputation as a seedy centre has grown ever since it became a stop off point for lust driven GI’s on their way to and from the Vietnam War. Such an image is understandably hard to shift, so it may come as a surprise that if you care to look beyond the neon haze of Bangkok’s nearest seaside resort town there are a number of enriching activities to partake in.
Before we get started, it’s worth mentioning that in order to indulge in Pattaya’s more cultural climes, a set of wheels is pretty much essential. Fortunately, like most places in Thailand car and motorbike hire is never far away, from the local rental companies to more established brands like Budget (02-203 0250).
Khao Phra Baht Buddha
Khao Pattaya / Khao Phra Baht
As good a place as any to start your tour of Pattaya’s environs is Khao Phra Baht on the top of Khao Pattaya overlooking the bay area. The golden Buddha image stands at in excess of seven metres on the summit and provides one of the best views of the city and seaside.
The Sanctuary Of Truth
The Sanctuary Of Truth
From here head back into town, get onto Thanon Nakglua and turn left down Soi 12 until you hit the gates of the Sanctuary of Truth (admission 500 baht).
No, this is not where hoards of bleary eyed couples who hooked up on the Central Pattaya’s infamous Walking Street come to open the hearts or wallets to each other. It is in fact a stunning 105 metre high wooden castle/palace complete with moat, fortified sea walls with parapets and the unusual addition of a dolphin pool (with twice daily shows).
Rather than just being a tourist attraction or a rich man’s folly, the Sanctuary has a much more noble reason for being and is an architectural attempt to distil the essence of Eastern religions and philosophy, mainly from Thailand, Cambodia, China, India and Indonesia.
As the sign at the gate says, the modern world has been influenced by western civilisation, driven by technology and greed and destroyed the environment, “men have drifted away from their old values… Most are after only happiness in this life, and believing that there is no life after this”.
“Man cannot be born and exist without seven creators. The Sanctuary of Truth presents seven creators through carved wood sculptures which adorn its interior. They are: Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and Stars.”
Whether or not the Sanctuary will manage to put the world, or even Pattaya, back on the proverbial straight-and-narrow, it is a truly impressive structure.
Started in 1981 by Lek Viriyapan, the castle remains unfinished after more than 23 years. Lek died five years ago aged 83 and until then it was closed to the public — the palace was only to be put on display on completion.
Lek’s six children are continuing their father’s work and decided to open the gates to the public. There’s still a mammoth task in hand, a point emphasised by the fact they expect it to take another 15 years to complete the project.
The Sanctuary is as wide as it is high and has four wings, each of which combine different aspects of Buddhism or Hinduism. Carved wooden reliefs play out scenes from the epic tales which pitch good against evil, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Different god and techniques emphasise countries of origin, for example octagonal columns in the Chinese wing and twelve-sided ones in the Khmer wing.
The building’s centre is the Bussaba, which represents the pure centre of the universe.
What makes it all the more impressive is that no nails are used in constructing the sanctuary, the place is made completely from wood (mainly teak and redwood) and wooden ties and traditional building techniques are used. You can also check pout the work area where carvings are being made.
Nong Nooch’s garden
Nong Nooch’s Village
Now you’re feeling spiritually centred, it’s time to make your way out of town to Nong Nooch’s Garden & Resort, just off Sukhumvit on the way to Sattahip — head out until you pass Ambassador City and look for the turning a few kilometres further down the road.
This 500 acre (750 rai) site houses a range of gardens, a small zoo, a resort, restaurants and a lake.
The massive arboretum is what really makes it special and taking a stroll around the grounds is a most pleasant way to spend the early afternoon. On offer are bromeliad, orchid, topiary and European gardens.
The infamous stinkplant
It is also host to the Amorphophalus titanum or the Bunga Bankai, the world’s largest flower in terms of bulk. It’s grows up to 10 feet tall and when it blooms, the repugnant smell it emits has given rise to it bearing yet another name, the Corpse Flower.
Many of the gardens can be experienced from the elevated walkways, which give a bird’s eye view of the landscaped area.
Head over to the zoo and check out the elephant shows, if that sort of thing takes your fancy, otherwise I’d recommend checking out Plobpleung restaurant which overlooks the lake and provides excellent, reasonably priced Thai fare.
Look out for the signs for Wat Yangsangwararam a few kilometres down Sukhumvit Road on the right as you head back towards Pattaya from Nong Nooch’s. Follow the road to the end and you arrive at the Wat Yang (038-237 642).
Built in 1978 to commemorate the reigns of King Naresuan the Great and King Taksin the Great, and their successful battles which freed Thailand from Burmese rule the 360 rai site houses numerous buildings and temples representing the Buddhist styles of Thailand, China, Cambodia and Burma. While the temples use modern materials and building techniques and the lack the authentic beauty of Thailand’s more traditional structures, the complex does provide an opportunity to see how different branches of Buddhism approach temple design.
The Buddha Pada located on one of Wat Yang’s seven hills affords a magnificent view of the whole area, and in particular of Phra Maha Mondop.
One of the world’s biggest Buddha images is on the nearby Khao Chee Chan, or “Phra Phuttha Maha Vachira Utta Mopas Sasada”. The image is etched into the mountain by laser, depicting a Sukhothai Buddha, and is some 130 metres high and 70 metres wide.
Khao Chee Chan buddha
Just across from Wat Yang is Anek Kusala Sala (Viharasien), the “abode of the gods” (admission 50 baht).
Yin-yangs adorn the gates to the Chinese temple-style structure which is a veritable treasure trove stacked full of hundreds of Chinese antiques and reproductions, (more than 300 were donated by the Chinese government).
In the front of the courtyards stands a massive bronze raised statue of Taoism’s Eight Immortals of Taoism, a golden celestial dragon, laughing Buddhas and numerous other statuettes and stone carvings.
An army of bronze statues of characters from Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism awaits inside as do fine examples of Thai and Chinese art.
The top floor houses more Buddhas, jade dragons and the like, while the upper courtyard is full of Shaolin monks in fighting stances, the room to the left houses a reasonable collection of Thai art.
As it’s nearing feeding time again, head back to Pattaya and check out the food at Sugar Hut Resort & Restaurant, where award winning dishes can be enjoyed Thai-style in a wooden sala restaurant secluded by jungle-type surrounds full of wildfowl, peacock, and yes, even rabbits.
A few cocktails at the Sheraton Pattaya Resort’s Elements bar, watching the sun recline into the Gulf of Thailand offers a relaxing and somewhat salubrious end to your cultural tour of Pattaya.