Target: Thailand

THAILAND is more than ever a tempting travel target for us Cebuanos now that Philippine Airlines has added thrice weekly flights to Bangkok from Mactan. It is most difficult to resist the lure of this Asian neighbor famed for its exotic sights, shopping bargains, superb entertainment, delectable food, luscious fruits, and the traditional Thai massage. To top it all, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is tireless in its efforts to promote Thailand to the world, thus it is now a prime tourist destination.

PAL’s inaugural Cebu flight to Bangkok left Mactan International Airport at 9:25 p.m. last Dec. 2, after a festive send-off ceremony. I was happily onboard along with media colleagues and travel friends. We had TAT’s Len Rivera for our tour leader, and Emelie Parawan as PAL escort. Welcoming us at the Suvarnabhumi airport were charming Thai dancers gracefully swaying to the beat of their quaint music.

Home for us in Bangkok was the Aetas Hotels and Residences conveniently located in a quiet and tree-shaded area in the city near the Lumpini Park. We settled comfortably in our spacious and stylish rooms.

With only one day in the city, there was no time to lose.First on our agenda was shopping and since it was a Sunday, off we went to the Chatuchak weekend market for those legendary bargain buys. Later in the day, we had a brief swing at the Asiatique complex to enjoy and appreciate the picturesque riverside ambience and for more shopping.

As repeat visitors to Bangkok we didn’t do the usual tourist route, except for a brief visit to the majestic Temple of ever awesome to behold! Another repeat experience was the dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya river. Always a welcome treat, the leisurely spin onboard the Chao Phraya Princess unfailingly puts me in a dreamy mood while taking in all the breathtaking sights - the imposing Grand Palace complex, the five-star hotels and restaurants by the river, the citylights, historic structures, and more.

A lovely full day in Bangkok!

On to Pattaya

Bangkok is the gateway to all the other tourist attractions in Thailand, and among the convenient hops from the city is Pattaya, a short two-hour drive away.

When I first visited Pattaya several decades ago, it was just a simple seaside town with only its beautiful beach as main attraction. The place has metamorphosed into one of the country’s most progressive cities and the Tourism Authority of Thailand is seeing to it that its multiple attractions are known far and wide.

Foremost among the Pattaya come-ons is its fully-developed floating market, voted as Top Choice by People’s Choice Awards Thailand for three consecutive years. Considered the biggest in the world, it covers an area of 100,000 square meters divided into four sections, each one representing a major region in Thailand (north, northeast, central and south). The market has over a hundred shops selling authentic Thai food, handicrafts, fruits, wood carvings, among them. Man-powered boats are available for those who want to get around and have a first-hand look-see of Thai riverside living.

A totally amusing place to visit is the Art in Paradise gallery, the largest illusion art museum with more than 150 3D interactive paintings. Through the clever use of shading and borders, the artists created artworks on the walls and floors which allow visitors to be part of the scenery. Yes, one can blend into the paintings but it takes some imagination and the right positioning to get the correct angle for a perfect photo. We had soooo much fun posing around.

In contrast to the generally warm temperature in Pattaya, the tourist attraction called Frost Magical Ice of Siam, has a temperature of about 10 degrees below zero. The huge hall features ice carvings and life-sized structures in ice. Visitors have to wear winter coats, gloves and boots upon entering. It was quite an experience for us.

Not to be missed is a visit to Nongnooch Pattaya Gardens and Resort, a 672-acre complex which is home to a beautiful garden with all kinds of plants (vines, shrubs, flowers, trees, rare palms, cactus, to name a few), Thai cultural performances, elephant shows, outdoor activities, seminar and banquet facilities. Touted as the biggest and most beautiful botanical garden in Southeast Asia, Noong Nooch garden is also “dedicated to education, preservation and research as well as the conservation of the world’s largest palm collection, the largest variety of orchids in Thailand and other tropical flora and fauna.”

In the outskirts of Pattaya is the Silverlake Vineyard, an expansive tract of land planted to different varieties of grapes from which white, red and rose wine are produced. We took a tour on a tram and made stops at the windmill and flower gardens. Such a serene place set around a placid lake with a backdrop of wooded hills and the Buddha Mountain.

For some action there’s the Ramayana Waterpark next door with its uniquely designed water slides, record-breaking double wave pool, the Lazy River with waves, and activity and relaxation pools. Built to the strictest international standards of design and managed to the highest global quality standards, Ramayana offers “a full day experience, providing access to beautiful nature, clean air, and well maintained pools and rivers to be explored and enjoyed.”

The centrally located Holiday Inn was our home in Pattaya. It was a short walk to the beach, to all kinds of restaurants, to grocery stores and well-appointed spas. I loved the view of the deep blue yonder from my balcony.

We capped our Pattaya interlude with the Kaan show at the Singha D’Luck Cinematic Theatre, the world’s first levitating theatre. The newest entertainment offering of the city is inspired by classic Thai literature and makes use of world-class technology and state-of-the-art lighting and audio-visual system.

Pattaya has indeed gone a long way from my first visit 30 or so years ago. The Pattaya of today rocks!

PAL (CEB-BKK) departs Mactan, Cebu every Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. Return flight- PAL (BKK-CEB) leaves Bangkok every Wednesday/Friday/Sunday.
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