Glittering go-go bars as far as the eyes can see, female dancers wearing scarcely any clothes, and a sparkle in men’s eyes that could be of a child – Pattaya is the city of love, but it has more to offer than its sleazy side.
I was looking for a convenient and cheap bus ride from Bangkok to Pattaya, and doing that online was a breeze. I chose Bell Travel’s coach because $11.77 was a bargain and the company has good reviews.
I booked the 10:00 am bus because I’m not a morning person. I knew this would still be early enough to reach Koh Larn in time to take a bath in the warm, turquoise sea.
It was a sunny Saturday morning when I headed for Suvarnabhumi Airport by taxi, the starting point of my bus ride.
The taxi to Suvarnabhumi
To the cabbie’s and my surprise, the streets were wedged solid. He was like, “Mai loo (I don’t know), this isn’t normal.”
I’d planned 45 minutes to get from Samutprakan to Suvarnabhumi Airport – 15 minutes more than necessary – but this was going to get close; I was fidgety. More so because it dawned on me that it’d be impossible for the taxi driver to drop me off at Suvarnabhumi’s ground floor.
It was 9:45 am when the cabbie pulled over on the 4th floor. I paid, could barely wait for my change, and left in a mad rush.
Getting from Suvarnabhumi’s fourth floor to the ground floor takes time. Don’t bother waiting for the elevator; it may take up to 15 minutes for the lift to arrive where you are, and the escalators, oh dear! Don’t bank on them letting you use any of them; you might need an airport pass. To play it safe, plan some extra 15 minutes if you arrive by taxi.
Skipping the last steps of the escalator, I sprinted towards Gate 8 on the ground floor at 9:55 am and panted. For a moment, I was wondering whether I’d have to line up at Suvarnabhumi’s Gate 8 where lots of tourists were queuing and jabbering, but then I remembered that the guys would be holding up a name tag.
The 91-mile ride on the highway to heaven
Bell Travel’s guys were waiting *between* Gate 7 and 8. They were wearing inconspicuous, dark-blue tees that read “Bell Travel Service” on their backs.
I showed them the screenshot of my voucher and got my ticket in the nick of time. They were friendly, despite the fact that I’d arrived so late, and hurried me to the bus that was about to leave.
I instantly spotted the colorful ribbon, hung upon the driver’s rear-view mirror.
Noticing the curious look in my eyes, my other half who is Thai explained flatly, “Pha-sam-see. This translates to three-color-fabric, and it’s for good luck.”
“But those are seven colors?!” I said, wondering why that ribbon with some flowers dangling at the bottom was orange-green-red-white-blue-pink-yellow.
“Mai loo,” she replied. “Normally, there are only our traditional good luck colors: green, yellow and red. But this ribbon is still called pha-sam-see,” she added.
I figured seven colors were for extra luck, and took a seat in the back of the half-full bus. Half of the passengers were Thai; a few of them sitting cross-legged on their seats. Others were farangs, some of them men aged 50+, traveling solo.
Studying the interior, I saw a telly, though nobody had bothered to turn it on. I reckon they do that only on longer journeys but not on such a short ride to the City of Love. Even so, this was going to be a cozy trip. There were comfy, reclinable seats, and since there was no fellow-traveler sitting in front of me, legroom wars were not going to ensue.
The air conditioning was working properly and the guys didn’t take it to the Siberian extreme; I didn’t need a hoodie. If the air flow had bothered me, I could’ve closed the flap above me easily.
There was a short, light chatter when the bus driver started the ignition at 10:08 am. He idled for a couple of seconds, then pulled out of the driveway.
Safe in the knowledge that I didn’t need to fly home, I enjoyed the view of parked planes. About a mile further down the highway that looked like a beltway, yellow flowers embedded in a perfectly tended garden smiled at me as if to say, “Welcome to Thailand.”
This idea wasn’t far-fetched. As though reading my thoughts, my better half said to me, “The government has planted these flowers here to say ‘Welcome to Thailand’ to our visitors.”
A while later, I was grateful for the blue curtains that came in handy because the sun was peeping inside the bus quite obtrusively. Not being able to look outside didn’t bother me too much because there wasn’t much to see along the highway. Slum-like villages and houses with tin roofs as well as a couple of hills and huge advertising banners were nothing to write home about.
Be that as it may, we don’t take this trip to Pattaya to watch the landscape roll past, do we? Rather than the journey in itself, the reward is the destination, and the smooth, comfy ride, obviously.
The tiring sight, the lack of rattling, the stops and starts, the absence of babies and the prevailing silence on the bus – no wonder most tourists had drifted off to the never-never land that must’ve been beckoning on their minds anyway.
Talking about the dreamland; I found the blue light in the restroom peculiar. It reminded me of public toilets in big cities, and it wasn’t until I left the john that I realized locking the door is all it takes for the light to shine bright.
Getting closer to Pattaya, I watched hawkers drumming up business in the gridlocked streets. Pattaya couldn’t be far; congestion had started. Audacious motorbike taxi drivers weaved their way in and out of the traffic chaos, and car drivers gave vent to their emotions by honking their hearts out.
It was 11:45 am when the bus pulled into a driveway. It was here that everybody had to get off and hop on a minivan for the last leg of the journey.
Among other hotels, the minibus was also heading for Balihai Bay Hotel, which is situated right at Balihai Pier where the ferries are waiting to take people to Koh Larn. One of the advantages of booking Bell Travel’s services is that you can choose the drop-off point.
Along the way, we passed golden and white temples that weren’t jewel-encrusted, but a dazzling sight for sore eyes nevertheless.
Bell’s driver must’ve known the area quite well; he found ways where traffic was acceptable.
Passing hotels with promising names – White Rose, Top Thai, Dream, Diamond – I had no doubts I was in the City of Love.
Driving around the southernmost corner of this love-infused city, I caught sight of the sea at 12:28 pm, and my eyes sparkled with joy as though I was a child.