The following is a continuation of my lengthy comparison of Chiang Mai and Pattaya. Newcomers, see Part 1.
7-Elevens versus Temples
Once upon a time, Chiang Mai and Pattaya met together for a few drinks. After getting will lubricated with liquor, Chiang Mai lost a bit of her usual class and accused Pattaya of being a bit slut. She added, “I mean, you don’t even have but—what?—four temples? I’ve got hundreds of temples. So there!”
Pattaya replied, “Yeah, well for every temple you’ve got, I’ve got a 7-Eleven, a Family Mart, and a Tesco Express!”
“Impossible!” said Chiang Mai. “I’ve got hundreds of temples—more than anyone could possibly visit in a year. If a person were to feel truly pious, they could literally visit a different one every week!”
“Well,” retorted Pattaya, “At least none of my residents need to go more than fifty meters to buy a pack of smokes, a bottle of Chang, and a condom!”
“You are a slut!”
“And you’re a prude, holier-than-thou bitch!”
Pattaya grabbed Chiang Mai’s hair and shit got real.
They haven’t spoken to each other since.
In summary, whereas in Pattaya 7-Eleven puts Starbucks to shame with their proliferation, in Chiang Mai they’re quite a bit rarer. In fact, you might just pass 30 temples before you arrive at the nearest 7-Eleven. And if you don’t feel like doing that, try the neighbor. She’s converted the front half of her ground-level apartment into a little, humble convenience store.
As one might expect in a city entirely centered around its nightlife, daytime boredom is a real struggle in Pattaya. As a result, many residents become quite familiar with the seven-and-a-half level shopping mall known as Central Festival.
There you have a whole array of international clothing stores—the kinds of places that make their clothing in sweat shops in the neighboring countries for pennies a day, then ship them to Hong Kong, then import them into Thailand with duty taxes.
But if you’re not into buying a dress or a pair of jeans at three times the price of what you’d find in the local markets (but at twice the quality, it must be said), you can eat at one of the dozens of overpriced Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and American chain restaurants. Most people go there for SF Cinema City, which is arguably the best cinema in town.
However, the real attraction is the many retirees walking hand-in-hand with their granddaughters’ Thai peers. Ogle the beautiful, tanned, skinny Thai girls, then look at their senile boyfriend and lose the sushi you downed only moments earlier.
Central Festival isn’t unique to Pattaya. It’s sort of like Westfield shopping malls (for you SoCal residents). And so there’s one in Chiang Mai, too. It’s older and smaller, but it still features the same international chain stores and restaurants, and it still has a state-of-the-art cinema on the top floor.
The one palpable distinction between Central Festival Pattaya and Central Festival Chiang Mai is the demographic. In Chiang Mai, malls feel like malls in America: hundreds of teenagers wandering its floors aimlessly in the rare escape from home and school that it affords them. There aren’t addled pensioners twitching in the arms of their juvenile partners. Only innocent mallrats killing time and not finishing the homework assignment I gave them two weeks ago.
Sorry, Chiang Mai residents, but I scoff at your complaints about traffic and the driving habits of people in Chiang Mai. Pattaya is far worse, with hundreds of drunk tourists who think they can manage a motorcycle even though they’ve never driven one before, thousands of impatient migrants from rural areas who haven’t adapted their driving habits to urban traffic, and probably millions of coach buses caterpillaring down every street and soi to show their Chinese riders the not-so-interesting part of Thailand.
Trust me: Chiang Mai is civilized compared to Pattaya.
You really can’t drive anywhere in Pattaya without passing a pinkly lit open-air beer bar stacked with ladies who couldn’t get a job at the gogo bars. You can’t walk any of Pattaya’s broken sidewalks without hearing “Welcoooooooome!” or a deep-voiced “Sawadee ka!”
You really can’t drive anywhere in Chiang Mai without passing a cutely decorated café that serves subpar coffee and features overpriced Thai food and half-assed Western food.
However, the cafes do find ways to distinguish themselves, and every now and then I find one worth visiting routinely. That’s a lot more than I can say of the beer bars in Pattaya.
Friendliness of Locals
Probably the most useful generalization about these two cities goes like this: while Chiang Mai is everyone’s city, Pattaya is nobody’s.
And here’s what I mean by that:
Nobody is really from Pattaya. It’s a city full of people who have migrated there seeking the rich opportunities that sex tourism offers to people who are poorly educated. As a result, nobody really feels responsible for the city. Nobody seems to regard themselves as the city’s caretakers or stewards. And so it sags in near dilapidation. At the same time, visitors receive only a superficial welcome. There’s no pride in Pattaya, so why wash your greetings an enthusiasm for its culture?
Meanwhile, many Thais living in Chiang Mai are from Chiang Mai. They’ll be the first to brag that theirs is the best city in Thailand. And because they’re proud, they warmly welcome visitors. They usually want people to experience that special feeling that most visitors get when they come here. Chiang Mai has a character that usually stamps fondness in people’s hearts, and engraves itself strongly in their memories.
It’s not that Pattaya has bad food, nor is it that Chiang Mai necessarily has the best food in Thailand. It’s just easier to find what you want in Chiang Mai. Moreover, because Pattaya is nobody’s home, restaurants often close during holidays because their owners go back to their little villages hundreds of kilometers away.
Here’s another way to look at it. Until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had never had a turkey dinner in Thailand. Until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had never had a Cubano sandwich in Thailand. Until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had never had a proper burrito in Thailand. And until I moved to Chiang Mai, I had to scour the streets looking for decent Massaman or Panang curry.
The only downside to Chiang Mai’s food scene is that it can make a fella go broke real fast. Finding those cheap Thai restaurants for locals only has proven to be difficult since my arrival here. But time should remedy that.
Oh, and seafood…I miss fresh seafood.