Pattaya in a New Light

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This popular beach resort in the Land of Smiles is out to charm, with something for everyone.

There are few who can claim to know Pattaya better than Quest. As the Vibe Manager of Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya, Quest is responsible for organising family-friendly entertainment activities and creating musical and cultural experiences unique to the hotel, including its much raved about foam parties.

Having moved from Bangkok to Pattaya six years ago, he has seen this resort city trans-form into a family-friendly holiday destination, where everyone feels welcomed.

Hard Rock Hotel’s Vibe manager, Quest, taking in the sights in a songthaew.Hard Rock Hotel’s Vibe manager, Quest, taking in the sights in a songthaew.

“Pattaya has changed quite a lot,” said Quest, who is eager to show us a different side to this resort city he now calls home. “There’s a balance between the vibrant city life and beauty of living by the sea. It is easy to live comfortably here.”

Tour groups and vacationing families strolling on Beach Road, Pattaya’s main promenade, are spoilt with a vast array of dining and shopping options. Bustling open-air markets, street food vendors with their pushcarts and local shops jostle for attention with fancy beach-front shopping malls. Central Festival Pattaya Mall, a short 10-minute walk from Hard Rock Hotel, is the new kid on the block and a favourite hang-out for locals and foreigners alike. This grand complex is a shopping and dining haven, with a supermarket, cinema complex, bowling alley and wide range of shops under one roof.

A pushcart stall serves up the popular dish of Pad Thai.A pushcart stall serves up the popular dish of Pad Thai.

Snacking seems to be a way of life here, and Quest, upon hearing that we were feeling peckish, brought us to Nong Mon market, a popular pit stop for locals en-route from Bangkok to Pattaya to shop for tidbits. Stretching for one kilometre on Sukhumvit Road along the way to Bang Saen, the market is a juxtaposition of sweet, sour, hot and salty flavours. We were spoilt for choice with a vast variety of locally produced dried seafood products such as dried fish, squid, and shrimp, hor-mok (spicy steamed fish cakes) and hoy-jor (deep fried shrimp rolls). Those with a sweeter tooth may want to try the local specialty khao lam (glutinous rice stuffed in bamboo) or banana chips.

Night markets are equally popular for leisurely strolls and takeaway dinners. We head to an open-air market adjacent to Mini Siam on Sukhumvit Road, which is the smaller cousin of the more well-known Thepprasit Night Market. The market, which runs from Monday to Thursday, has been around for more than a decade and is a good alternative to the packed weekend crowd on Thepprasit.

Some five minutes away on the inter-section of Nernplabwan Road and Sukhumvit Road, is a pushcart stall, which serves what locals call the “best Pad Thai in Pattaya.” Pad Thai, a staple in Thai restaurant menus, is rice noodles stir-fried in a light taramind-based sauce with eggs and bean sprouts. What sets this Pad Thai apart from the others is the addition of pork slices and deep-fried pork skin so crispy it crackles. The rice noodles are also chewier and springier. A queue forms instantly just as they turn on the lights for business. On good days, they would sell out by 9 p.m., sometimes clocking more than 200 plates a night.

Since there is always room for dessert, we stop by for a round of mango and glutinous rice. J. Noi is one of two stalls along Central Pattaya Road selling this sticky sweet goodness topped with coconut milk. With hundreds of ripened mangoes neatly displayed in rows and a whiff of enticing aroma, it is hard to miss.

From fruit to farm, we continue our culinary adventure the next day by starting on a healthier note. A “fruit safari” awaits us at Suphattra Land, a 128-hectare fruit farm in Rayong province about 40 minutes drive from the hotel. A tramcar takes us to the most interesting and attractive parts of the orchard, where we get the chance to pluck rambutans off trees and feast on a buffet of tropical fruits, including durians, mangosteens, papayas and mangoes.

Pattaya’s supreme fried chicken, a stone’s throw from the Hard Rock Hotel.Pattaya’s supreme fried chicken, a stone’s throw from the Hard Rock Hotel.

For a dose of culture and art in Pattaya, Quest brings us to the Sanctuary of Truth. This all-wood mammoth structure, which pays homage to the ancient vision of earth, knowledge and Asian philosophy, commands one of the most breathtaking sights in Pattaya, set against the azure backdrop of the sky and the sea at Rachvate Cape. In fact, this art installation can very well pass off as a UNESCO heritage site, until I find out it was conceived in 1981 by a wealthy Thai businessman and till today remains a work-in-progress which will take another 20 years to complete. More than 200 Thai and Burmese artists were roped in to produce intricate carvings and sculptures adorning the walls and ceilings of the building.

A pushcart stall serves up the popular dish of Pad Thai.A pushcart stall serves up the popular dish of Pad Thai.

There is also Art in Paradise, possibly one of the very few “museums” where visitors are allowed to touch and pose with the paintings. Opened in April last year, this illusion-art museum is a convenient stone’s throw from Hard Rock Hotel. We walk through numerous halls decked in artwork cleverly executed to give a 3D effect. The interactive nature of the gallery has Quest hamming it up for the camera, getting creative with poses to make the 3D art-work come alive.

A vendor and her array of local snacks at Nong Mon market.A vendor and her array of local snacks at Nong Mon market.

Soon after, we are back on our food trail. Up next is Naklua seafood market, located next to Naklua Beach in North Pattaya. A little fleet of fishing boats brings fresh catches to the market every morning, ensuring freshness and affordability. Locals come here to buy live seafood such as blue swimmer crabs, cockles, clams and squid.

J. Noi, one of two mango sticky rice stalls along Central Pattaya Road.J. Noi, one of two mango sticky rice stalls along Central Pattaya Road.

It is a shame not to eat seafood in Pattaya. Sitting on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya offers bountiful harvests for fishermen. We decide on Preecha Seafood, deemed as the go-to place by locals. Fish, lobsters, clams and crabs are housed in tanks at the entrance, ready for hungry diners to pick and choose. Located right on the beach, Preecha also has an unobstructed view of the sea, without the hum-drum of boats and beach makers to mar the dining experience. We have stir-fried crab legs with yellow curry, steamed squid with lime and a local delicacy called “Som Tum Puu Mar,” or papaya salad with raw blue swimmer crab.

Deep-fried insects, a delicacy from northeastern Thailand, found at a night market.Deep-fried insects, a delicacy from northeastern Thailand, found at a night market.

We leave the place stuffed, but still head for fried chicken. In fact, Pattaya serves up some of the tastiest fried chicken I’ve ever tried. “Tod Lhaek – Pattaya’s Supreme Fried Chicken”, a ten-minute walk from the hotel, has been featured on Thai television and boasts pictures with local celebrities. The tiny shop sits on Pattaya Klang 16, a narrow walking lane which branches off Central Pattaya Road.

Khao Lam, a dessert made of sweet sticky rice stuffed in bamboo.Khao Lam, a dessert made of sweet sticky rice stuffed in bamboo.

Owner Toy Poottamongkol uses only fresh chicken from a trusted supplier, which he marinates in a special concoction overnight. Palm oil is used for the deep-frying and Poottamongkol changes the pot of oil every two to three hours to guarantee freshness. The batter forms a nice seal around the meat, which is cooked by its trapped moisture, sealing the juices within. The result is fried chicken with a nice golden tan that is crispy on the outside and succulent within.

As I sink my teeth into a chunk of juicy thigh, it feels somewhat comforting to know that there’s so much more to this city than meets the eye.

Picking rambutans at Suphattra Land.Picking rambutans at Suphattra Land.

Visitors can feast on rambutans at the orchard.Visitors can feast on rambutans at the orchard.

The Sanctuary of Truth, a cultural monument made completely from wood.The Sanctuary of Truth, a cultural monument made completely from wood.

Stir-fried crab legs with yellow curry at Preecha Seafood.Stir-fried crab legs with yellow curry at Preecha Seafood.

A popular breakfast choice for locals is a bowl of fish ball noodles at the old Naklua market.A popular breakfast choice for locals is a bowl of fish ball noodles at the old Naklua market.

Carving based on traditional Buddhist and Hindu motifs in the Sanctuary of Truth.Carving based on traditional Buddhist and Hindu motifs in the Sanctuary of Truth.

The restaurant Mongkol Farm offers diners an unobstructed view of the sea.The restaurant Mongkol Farm offers diners an unobstructed view of the sea.

Bananas are available all year round, while mangosteens are in season from May to October.Bananas are available all year round, while mangosteens are in season from May to October.

Art in Paradise, an illusion-art gallery where visitors get to be part of the paintings.Art in Paradise, an illusion-art gallery where visitors get to be part of the paintings.

The variety of live seafood is a main draw at Preecha Seafood.The variety of live seafood is a main draw at Preecha Seafood.

Locals go to buy fresh catches at the Naklua seafood market.Locals go to buy fresh catches at the Naklua seafood market.

  • colinmanuele

    great article