Monday, May 21, 2012

Pattaya Trip, High atop Admiral's Hill

Perhaps the best observation point of the Pattaya area is a hilltop park devoted to the memory of a famous Thai admiral described by the placard as being “The father of the modern Thai navy.” I won’t put his name here because unless you speak Thai it would be unpronounceable.

Well, what the heck—here it is: Admiral Prince Krommaluang Chumphon Khet Udomsak. See, I told you. The Thai language has to be one of the toughest there is. Having been born in 1880 the admiral is the contemporary of one of our own famous military figures, General MacArthur. The admiral’s park, way up there on the top of the ridge, splits Pattaya Bay and Jomtien Bay, providing sweet views of both.

I think Don and I ended up there at least three times. With us being on scooters it was a nice place to stop in for a quick break before heading on back to the hotel, especially after a trip to the Jomtien Beach side of the hill. The view of the surroundings up there changes all the time depending on the time of day, the cloud cover and the lighting from the sun.
I never got to see the early morning panoramas from up there or anywhere else for that matter; if you know me you'll know that afternoon and evening time is always more my speed. I am not a morning person unless I’m forced to be.

Pattaya sits on the eastern side of the Bay of Bangkok, thus, every evening the sun provides a spectacular fiery vision as it slowly plunges into the sea. Watching it dive every evening into the bay reminded me very much of my stint as a marine embassy guard at Monrovia, Liberia, where the embassy grounds sit high on a cliff overlooking the continuously crashing waves of the ocean. It was rare that I missed watching the sun set into the middle of the Atlantic.

One afternoon Don and I thought it would be a great idea to catch a sunset atop Admiral’s Hill, with my wife riding behind me and his girlfriend and my daughter Janine riding behind him. As the bike riding expert, he volunteered to carry the both of them. It wouldn't have been safe for me to try it.

Getting there, which means motoring up a very steep and winding knoll, was not a problem. The bikes had plenty of guts to get us up there with acceleration to spare. We know this because we were in a hurry to beat the setting sun.

We made it to the summit just in time with just over ten minutes to spare till the bottom of the sun hit the water's horizon.

Every evening it is the same up there; showing up at the hilltop park are a large contingent of tourists looking to see a gorgeous sunset from the best vantage possible, along with many locals intent on honoring the memory of their famous admiral, with of course the beautiful sight of the setting sun thrown in as a bonus.

We continued to pose for picture taking, or at least everyone else did, until the light was too far gone to take any more. In the meantime I had my girls move around all over the place on the large hilltop platform trying to capture them with as many different backgrounds as possible. Everyone else up there was doing the exactly the same thing causing many of us to jockey for position around each other for the best shots.

It was fully dark when we finally decided to call it quits. I was glad I didn’t have to contend with an extra body on the back of my bike going down that precipitous sweeping descent in the dark and felt relieved when we hit level ground again.

In short order however, I was ready to trade level for steep as we hit horrendously heavy traffic made worse by Don's insistence to drive through it like a bat out of hell. Even with the two girls on the back of his bike I had a heck of a time keeping up as he flitted in and out of cars and buses. Suddenly I heard Divine yell into my ear, “Hey! That police just blew his whistle at Don and pointed at him!”

“Whoa! He did? I didn’t see that.”

Turns out Don also did not see or hear the cop and blew right by the uniformed traffic officer. A few blocks down we got him to pause for a second and we got a chance to ask him about it. He was flustered and angry after having his girlfriend yell at him about the policeman while trying to concentrate in the thick traffic. At that moment it was obvious he didn’t really want to discuss it, but I suspected it was because he had three on a bike. I said as much and we agreed to find out for sure when we got back to the hotel.

Upon our return we asked a couple of the Thai security guards about the legality of three to a bike. We weren’t sure since we had seen so many locals doing it. Sure enough, they told it was against the law. They said that the locals know how to avoid the police, or that’s what they claimed. In other words, don't get caught and you are all right. Huh. Sounds very Filipino that! Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the cops just mostly turn a blind eye when their fellow Thais do it. Nevertheless, we decided that we wouldn’t try three to a bike anymore, unless we thought we could get away with it of course!

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