So, the previous weekend I’d kept things a little quiet and relaxed as I’d been pretty busy with excursions and exploration for the last few weekends. These little trips and adventures were fantastic, of course, but I was starting to feel that I needed a weekend with nothing planned just to avoid burning out on exploration . . . and to give my bank account some time to recharge.
As part of those adventures, I returned to Pattaya to visit my friend, the former tour guide. True to her previous profession, she took me to several interesting spots around a city that is known only for its standing among sex tourists. Our first stop was Koh Larn, an island a forty minute ferry ride away. The island is quiet, with a single village and four beaches.
Three of the beaches are ridiculously busy, so we either didn’t spend much time there or simply watched them from afar, but the fourth beach is beautiful and we spent some time relaxing and I finally got an opportunity to swim in the ocean, an activity I’d missed dearly. The water was a clear aquamarine and, given that it is not very deep, it’s as warm as a bath. I’m not kidding: until then I had never been in natural waters that were so warm (aside from hot springs, of course).
After my swim, my friend spent the next fifteen minutes trying to extract the tip of a quill from the top of my big toe after I’d had a bit too much fun playing with a sea urchin. Eventually we just gave up and slapped a band-aid on it. It was fine.
We hiked up Koh Larn’s squat mountain to visit a lonely temple and enjoy spectacular views, including the sight of a para-sailer gliding by at our eye-level.
To reach the temple, we had to climb 250 stone steps . . . in 35 degree heat. It was intense but well worth the effort.
The next day, she took me to the nearby Nong Nooch Gardens, about a 40 minute drive outside of Pattaya. This place is . . . difficult to describe. It wass one of the strangest and most eclectic places I have ever visited. For the most part, it’s an elaborate garden, each section designed to mimic famous gardens around the world. For example, the “French Gardens” are reminiscent of the gardens at Versaille, though studded with stupas and tiger statues. Also dinosaurs.
In fact, there are animal statues scattered in bunches throughout the gardens, with no rhyme or reason. Koala statues dot the English Gardens while giant ant statues march across walls and moose statues graze by the stylized miniature Stonehenge. At the entrance, visitors first wander through the Pottery Garden, tropical plants and flowers that grow around a myriad clay pottery statues and sculptures, some beautiful and many absolutely grotesque, but all undeniably fascinating.
The weirdness didn’t end there. At one point, my friend asked if I wanted to see “the cars.” Cars? In a garden? So, she took me to this air conditioned room that was filled with, well, cars. But not just any cars. These were vintage super cars. I know nothing about cars but even I could tell these were impressive and expensive. Seems a local family had nowhere to put their deceased patriarch’s collection of fancy cars and so the garden put them on display. After we’d wandered around the cars a few minutes, my friend then said, “We can go see the cats, if you want.” Uh, cats? Just beyond the cars, a small doorway gave way to an open space containing a display case of weird statuettes and three tables upon which lounged a half dozen improbably fluffy cats. My friend had no idea why they were there but visitors could pet them a bit while the cats simply slept on the tables, living the pampered life.
The gardens also included a theater and our tickets granted entry to a traditional Thai dance performances, which was truly lovely.
After the gardens, as we drove home, my friend said she wanted to show me “the big Buddha”. Honestly, my first thought was, “Oh, great, another big Buddha” but I trusted her and figured, hell, it’s why I’m here, so I agreed readily. She took me to a mountain at the foot of which stood a small temple, but the mountain itself is what catches the eye immediately, given that its face was emblazoned with a carved image of Buddha, fully 130 feet tall, one of the largest Buddha images in the world. The thing was carved using lasers and the etchings filled with gold to commemorate the late King’s diamond jubilee.
Looking more closely, I noticed a couple of men working on the carving, just below one of the Buddha’s enormous hands.
After that, she suggested we visit Silverlakes, which seemed like an odd name for a spot in Thailand. The interesting thing is that, given her decent but still not perfect English, my feiend wasn’t always able to fully explain where we were going or what we would see, so it made for some pleasant surprises, even when I was nominally forewarned. In this case, it turned out Silverlakes is a winery! So I got to wander the grounds and enjoy a chilled glass of a perfectly fine Sauvingon Blanc.