I don’t want to leave the impression that Pattaya or this little slice of Thailand on the coast is quite as naturally colorless or socially grim as I may have painted it. If you find your way here, for whatever reason, there are two places not to miss: The Sanctuary of Truth and Koh Larn.
The Sanctuary of Truth is a prodigious art project situated on a little spit of land jutting out into the Gulf. It is a large structure entirely of carved wood, with elaborate artistic depictions of Buddhist and Hindu themes both inside and out. Set on a piece of wooded land with horses, elephants, a pond, performance space and tourist amenities, it is entirely a private undertaking by an eccentric Thai billionaire named Khun Lek.
As described here, “construction was only begun after many years of research by Khun Lek himself. Although the overall shape roughly follows traditional Thai architecture, the temple (designed with four large rooms surrounding a sanctuary containing relics of the Buddha himself in the center) is richly detailed with wood carvings depicting the four major philosophical and artistic influences that can be seen in Thailand: Hindu, Khmer, Chinese and Thai.”
Each room is stunning. The ceilings are beautifully ornate. There are huge carved wooden pillars in the center, large statuary both inside and out, wall-sized depictions of religious themes, many breaks in the carvings that allow light to enter the space from every direction. It is a wondrous undertaking, perhaps extreme in its ambition, but clearly oriented toward presenting the essence of each of the philosophies in a thoroughly positive, harmonious and reverent way.
The only drawback to being there was the ongoing construction, requiring us to wear hardhats in the heat, and the 500Bt entrance fee, which definitely restricts the number of tourists.
I took the ferry to Koh Larn yesterday from the Pattaya pier. I was showing up early for the 10am 30Bt ferry, but was enticed and convinced to buy a 150Bt round-trip to Samae beach, which was where I was heading anyway. The ride is about an hour into the wind. The ferry stopped at Tien beach, where taxis waited to take the group further on to Samae beach. But after a quick look at the size, surf and commercial density of Samae, I got right back on the taxi to go back to Tien. Best move of the day.
Tien is small, maybe 300m wide, with low density beach concessions I could count on two hands, comfortable chairs, the usual food offerings. Getting off the ferry was a little tricky. We transferred to a long boat driven by this masked bandido wielding a swivel-mounted V-8 engine with a long drive-shaft to get us into and out of the shallows. How these guys work in the heat all covered up (notice the gloves) like that is a mystery to me.
The rest of the action at Tien is hearing these engines, which sound like trucks, going back and forth. But there’s a break in the action mid-day. Speedboats pick up and deliver groups early and late. There are a few enterprising Thais with jet-skis in action as well. The crowds were light. There were several small groups of white people in my umbrella-village within ear-shot, all Russian. The rest of the tourists were either young Thais, Chinese in large groups or, on this rare occasion in my experience here in Thailand, Japanese.
The best things about Tien? The size, the low surf, good swimming and best of all, clean and clear water. No trash on the beach or in the water! I’m going back tomorrow.