If you have ever been anywhere near Thailand, you’ll know that Pattaya is not exactly the place single ladies go, for a relaxing weekend. After the Vietnam War, Pattaya earned a reputation for sex tourism that is still alive and well today. I ended up in this seedy town because a couple of friends living in Bangkok, wanted a nearby weekend beach getaway while I was in Thailand, and wanted to see what else the city had to offer. I have to admit, it was mostly curiosity that encouraged me to go along for the ride.
The two-hour van ride from Victory Monument in Bangkok to Pattaya was breezily uneventful. We tumbled out of the van early in the afternoon and began the half hour walk to our hotel. Even at one o’clock in the afternoon, the city was still fast asleep. Very few cars were about, restaurants were just starting to wake up, and tourists were dragging their knuckles, zombie-like to the nearest massage parlor. It was weird! We made jokes about the uncomfortably named bars and how different the city would look at night. Well, we had already made the effort to get there, and wanted to make the best of it. After checking in at our hotel, we flagged down a cab to take us to the northern part of the city, to see a wooden temple called the Sanctuary of Truth.
In most places in East Asia, temples are a must-see. The Buddhism that is practiced in different parts of Asia tends to show local influences, whereas other religions such as Christianity and Islam tend to be somewhat more consistent, from one country to the next. The result is temples that have a country-specific look and feel to them. At this point, I had already seen two weeks worth of Thai temples, and while they were very impressive, and certainly worth my time, I felt like I had seen all that they had to offer.
The Sanctuary of Truth turned out to be not only distinct from all other temples I had visited in Thailand, but easily the most striking and memorable as well. Exhibiting architectural influences from Thailand, Cambodia, India, and China, it stands over a hundred meters tall and is made entirely of wood, with no metal nails. It has been under construction for over 30 years and showed no signs of stopping. Visitors have to wear hard hats both inside and outside the building. The architect’s goal was to cover every square inch with carvings from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I had a hard time believing they had not already covered every square inch with carvings, but sure enough, we saw dozens of workers chiseling away.
It was breathtaking. We caught our first view on top of a hill, so it was easier to see the details on the roof of the temple. It was covered with deities that appeared to be preparing for take-off. We descended the hill and got a closer look. It took us around one half of an hour to find the entrance, in part because the building was so large, and in part because we kept stopping to marvel at the figures carved into the wood. It was no less stunning on the inside. To say that every square inch being covered was no exaggeration. At the turn of every corner, was an eye-widening surprise of gods, goddesses, bodhisattvas, and animals. It seemed to never end.
I have no idea how long we spent at the Sanctuary of Truth. Time seemed suspended. Though eventually, we did make our way to the exit. The three of us sat at a snack bar for a while, in full view of the sanctuary, sipping our coconuts, feeling better about our decision to come to Pattaya.
The next day, we visited a sanctuary of a different kind. Pattaya has plenty of beaches and resorts of its own, though they are, at best, lackluster when compared to other beaches in Thailand. The solution? Take a ferry to one of the nearby islands. Less than an hour away was the pristine little island of Koh Larn. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend our last day before all three of us had to go back to work.
Upon exiting the ferry, we were greeted by turquoise waters, crashing waves, and empty beach chairs. It was perfect, a clean, quiet beach with just a handful of other people. The facilities were limited, but that was the whole point. A couple food carts and a basic bathroom were all we had and all we needed.
After a few hours, the tide went out and the ferry blew its ten-minute warning whistle. We hurried to the dock and jumped on board. During the return ride, we slowly awoke from our sun-soaked daydreams and mentally prepared ourselves for the workweek ahead. It was a hard transition to make, but we felt our batteries had been recharged.
Every time I travel somewhere, I learn something. This time it was this: don’t take someone else’s word for it. There are 7.4 billion people on planet Earth, and you are the only one with your particular preferences. You are bound to disagree with some of those people. If someone tells you a particular place is nasty and not worth visiting, it may be true. But if you’re open to it, there’s a good chance you will find something that will make it worth your while.