On the advice of Ma Tuk, we set out on a day trip to Pattaya, a town about an hour from Bangkok that's famous for its nightlife and its ladyboy shows. We'd made arrangements the night before with the concierge at Baiyoke Sky (Bruce & Anne's hotel) to hire a van for the day, and got a bilingual list of recommended stops from Ma Tuk. The first clue that this would be a challenging day came when the van showed up an hour early. Yikes! Mai ben rai (the Thai version of "no worries, mon") we quickly scrambled on some clothes and got underway to pick up Bruce & Anne. The second clue should have been when the daytime concierge at Baiyoke Sky asked us which hotel we wanted to be dropped off at. Huh? We showed him the same list we'd presented to the nighttime concierge, explaining that these were the places we wished to see, and could he please make sure the driver understood these instructions? That seemingly taken care of, we grabbed a quick cup of coffee and hit the road.
We were well into catching up with our friends, whom we hadn't seen since they moved from DC to Perth over a year ago, when our borrowed cell phone rang. It was Alex, the night concierge with whom we'd made the original arrangements. Long story short, he thought we'd only wanted the driver to take us to Pattaya and drop us off somewhere. No, we'd like to come back to Bangkok, please and thank you! Not sure how those wires got crossed, but we managed to smooth it all out en route to our first stop. The cost of the van was probably much higher that what Ma Tuk could have arranged for us, but we certainly got our money's worth.
After ensuring that our driver would, in fact, be bringing us back to Bangkok at the end of the day, our first stop was Wat Yansangwararam (and if you think that's a mouthful, you should see it written out in swirly Thai letters!). This enclave of several temple styles plus a lovely garden had very few visitors and little instructional signage, but was a cool place to wander around and snap some pics. At the upper end of the compound sits a neat white chedi with a huge gold altar in the center. It's clearly a very sacred place (no shoes, cover up any exposed limbs, no photos) but the gigantic "Engrish" sign at the entrance made us giggle a bit. If the day we were there was any indicator, they don't get a lot of farang visitors. But, to me, being totally out of place somewhere is a sign of great success. The other noteworthy area was a long hall with exceedingly creepy and very lifelike wax statues of famous monks. You almost expected one of them to blink, and the rest would come alive like something out of a Stephen King novel. Creepalicious!
The next stop was simply listed on the paper as "Nong Nooch Garden," so we were expecting maybe a quick walk through a botanical garden before lunch. Couldn't have been more wrong! We spent the next four hours traipsing around something akin to Thai Disneyland meets Wild Kingdom. The place was enormous. It had a zoo area, several manicured gardens, a skywalk, and two shows. The first, billed as a "Thai Cultural Show," was actually a pleasant surprise and not nearly as cheesy as expected. It had pretty high production values, and provided a sampling of several different Thai dance styles and other cultural snippets. If the fake muay thai fight scene was any indicator, it probably was a pretty campy affair, but it was most entertaining. The "Elephant Show," however, was downright depressing. It was cool to see elephants close-up, but we all agreed that we'd rather see them doing elephant things, not dressed up in ridiculous flouncy costumes playing basketball or dancing with hula hoops. Oh well, at least they seemed to be well fed.
Right then, on to the kathoey (ladyboy) show at the Alcazar Theater! Once again we weren't quite sure what to expect. Thailand, and Pattya in particular, is known for its kathoeys, graceful and convincing transvestites that are not only tolerated but often revered in Thai society. Personally, I was expecting a small cabaret bar/restaurant setup a la Perry's Drag Brunch in Adams Morgan. Oh no, friends and neighbors, this was a full-on Vegas-style production, with elaborate sets, complex lighting design, and incredible costumes. It was hard to believe that some of the performers had (or used to have) penises. There was clearly a lot of plastic surgery in evidence, and some of the transitions were a bit more obvious than others. But it was a fabulous show. And it was pretty impressive how they catered to their audience. The busful of Indian tourists totally ate up the Bollywood number. The Japanese group clapped extra hard for the kimono-and-cherry-blossom act. And the Russians sang along to what was clearly a pop tune from their part of the world. The Belinda Carlyle song and the theme from Dreamgirls were both a bit surreal for me. But they definitely covered their bases!
After the show would have been the ideal time to go out and explore Pattaya's notorious nightlife, but we were concerned about getting the van back in a timely manner, and we figured it was easier to have the driver take us to the restaurant recommended on Ma Tuk's instruction sheet. So we hopped back into the van, but it turned out the place was right next door to the theater. As we sat down, the phone rang. It was Ma Tuk checking in on us, asking how we liked the show and if we'd found the restaurant. And then she asked to speak with the waiter, whose theatrically quizzical look when we handed him the phone was worth the price of admission. He spoke with her for a few minutes, nodding, and then handed the phone back, saying that our dinner had been ordered for us. Bruce & Anne were a bit incredulous at that, but we assured them that this had pretty much been the MO for the week, and it was just better to sit back and let the food be ordered for us. Sure enough, everything was delicious, and we got the "friend" discount because Ma Tuk knew the owners. Sweeeeet.
15 km south of Pattaya City, off Sukhumvit Road
78/14 Moo 9, Pattaya 2nd Road, Pattaya City 20150, Thailand
Tel: (66-38) 4102247
* ladyboy show video
* all Pattaya photos
* more than you ever wanted to know about kathoeys