I have been pretty quiet on the blog for various reasons but this post makes up for my absence by being a long one with lots of supplementary sidetracks from topic that longer term readers are used to. Enjoy.
Nong Nooch gardens are a strange addition to the nightclub and bar scene we all normally associate with Pattaya, that farang playground on the coast of Thailand East of Bangkok and 600 km from our home in Isaan. How did we end up there…read on.
As an expat in Thailand on what’s called an O or OA Visa (Retirement) there are four main bureaucratic speed bumps to navigate every year. Every 90 days you have to advise Immigration of your current address even if you haven’t changed it. I could understand this requirement from the Thai point of view if they applied a fee for doing so but it’s free so it ends up being paperwork for no outcome in the true public/civil service tradition. Anyway there it is and as you can now process the whole thing online (or some of us can and others not) rather than previously where you had to go into an Immigration office, it is all pretty painless.
The fourth bump is that every 12 months you have to apply for an extension of your permission to stay in the kingdom based on your original visa (only one visa – everything else is an extension). To do this in my case I have to show either 800,000 THB (A$32,000) in a Thai bank or an income of at least 65,000 THB (A$2,600) a month. I go for the income test and this requires a signed statutory declaration from the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. You can read all about Thai visas HERE. So that gets us to Bangkok but why Pattaya?
Well AirAsia now fly direct Pattaya to our home town of Udon Thani (for around A$40.00 per person plus A$12.00 with 20 kilos of luggage) and I came across Nong Nooch Gardens thanks to a contributor on Facebook (one of the few occasions Facebook has been useful in a practical way). Long term readers of the blog know all too well Gaun and my slight obsession with gardens, many of which are covered in this blog, so it seemed a logical step to take a taxi ride to Pattaya after Bangkok and visit the gardens. We could then fly home at much the same cost as returning from Bangkok.
If anybody is looking to make that trip from Bangkok to Pattaya you usually negotiate a price with a taxi driver (or go by bus) but don’t pay more than 1,500 THB (It’s a two hour drive). We used the same driver who took us from the airport to Silom Road, close to the embassy, when we arrived in Bangkok and we paid 1,200 THB including all tolls. He had family in Chon Buri (Pattaya) and was using the trip to call into see them so we benefited from the combined trip. In one of those odd Thai moments the driver showed us a brochure he had in the taxi of a boat owned by a farang married to a family member just in case we were interested. If I share a couple of photos with you, you’ll understand that I was interested and will continue to be in an interested state of mind indefinitely until my lottery numbers finally come in:
If your lottery numbers have been good to you then you can make a booking HERE as well as watch a video of what you’ll be getting, which looks quite acceptable!
Having declined the boat because I had already booked a place our driver dropped us off at our less than 1,000 THB a night guesthouse and reality made a reappearance in my life.
Nong Nooch Gardens are about 30 km outside the central Pattaya area (top left in the map below), which means either you arrange a ticket through one of the travel agents with transport included or catch a taxi out there.
We got a taxi (quotes from 700 to 350 THB) but a prearranged ticket through an agent might have been better. Getting transport back is a pain as the gardens are well off the main road. The taxis that were already at Nong Nooch were waiting to take prebooked fares back into town.
Nong Nooch is a huge enterprise on 500 acres combining the gardens, a Thai cultural and elephant shows plus all the usual food and memorabilia stalls. I recommend getting an early start to both escape the worst of the heat and the crowds because it does get busy. You can buy tickets just for the gardens or a combined garden/show entry. If you just want to see the gardens then time it for 11:00 am as that’s when the show happens so the place will be empty. I enjoyed both the shows but they might not suit everyone.
I will jump straight to my conclusion about Nong Nooch and then we can explore the gardens together. I have to say that my preference is for gardens that have the plants and flowers as their main attraction. The royal palace at Doi Tung, north of Chiang Rai, fulfills my expectations for a colourful and entertaining garden and you can read about it HERE.
Nong Nooch is much more designed around a Disneyland sort of concept being more focussed on the photo opportunity, especially for Thais who love kitsch. In this case the main emphasis was on concrete animals in bulk and the gardens really just formed a backdrop to this. Now I am not saying this is a bad thing and you can tell from the number of photos I took that I got completely involved in the concept, but it makes it less of a pure “garden” experience. Having said that the gardens are immaculate and a huge and continuing effort with matching financial resources has gone into the place as you can see from the map below:
Make sure you plan your visit to see the areas you are most interested in because it is easy to miss parts. It is only since downloading this map that I noticed that we didn’t get to the orchid garden, something we would have enjoyed, or Stonehenge!
The rest of this post will rely on the photos to tell the story.
The walkways are a good example of the underlying theme of the gardens. From these raised structures you can get the big views, take photos quickly and then move on without the need to actually get “involved” with the displays, touch a plant or smell a flower. Of course you can also get down to ground level too so it is a balance between visitors’ priorities and I have no problem with that.
The next part is all cars so you can skip it if that’s not your thing. There’s a large air conditioned display area for these exotic cars and an (expensive) cafe if you need a sit down break in the cool. If you are into cars then very much worth a look.
Back to the outside:
This photo has prompted one of my regular diversions from topic. What is it with English and the obsession with making up different words for the same thing? Why can’t every animal in a group be called a herd? The Thais have a far simpler language where they often lump everything under the one heading and you just apply context to make the connection.
The best example I can give is the day I was driving with Gaun and we passed a roadside food stall cooking a piglet. “Puppy pig” says Gaun. Puppy was a word she had recently learned in relation to dogs in the village and she presumed that we used the same word for all baby animals as the Thais do. In Thai a young animal is called “noi” meaning little (“nit noy” is a phrase you should remember if visiting as it means a “little bit” – appropriate when applied to chilli in your food but not beer ordered). So a piglet is translated as “pig little” and a cow “cow little” etc. How sensible.
A diversion within a diversion – my Thai massage therapist’s nickname (you will only ever know a Thai by their nickname. It is very unusual to find out their “legal” name) is Nit Noy and I can tell you that when she is walking all over you that she is anything but a “little bit” 🙂
At this stage in the day we headed to the main auditorium for the Thai cultural show followed by the elephant show.
The Thai show was well done and although nothing deep and meaningful had beautiful costumes and sets and I would recommend you include it in your day if you want a bit of variety and an air conditioned break from the heat outside.
At the end of the show everyone heads straight across the entryway to an open arena where the elephant show takes place. There are two sets of concrete steps to sit on, one either side of the arena. TIP: If the seats one side are filling up then there’s no problem in walking across the dirt to the other side and getting a better position there.
I have two videos to share with you both of them I think you’ll enjoy. NOTE: I have continuing problems playing these YouTube videos on an iPad and you may too. If you do I have included a link that will take you directly to YouTube video
LINK TO YOUTUBE: HERE
That second shot was a bit flukey but still amazingly accurate.
LINK TO YOUTUBE: HERE
WARNING – the song they are playing in the second video gets into your head and sends you crazier than normal. Look what it does to the elephants! I know you will most likely already have it in your music collection but if not it’s Levan Polkka – Otomania and you can find it here with my apologies.
The morning session finishes in time for lunch so it is another opportunity to hit the gardens while the bus tours hit the food stalls.
I could go on and on but by now (if you are still reading) you have well and truely got the idea. If this looks like your thing then it is beautifully presented and very un-Thai in the quality of its maintenance. An entertaining way of spending up to a full day if you have the stamina.
It seemed appropriate to leave Nong Nooch passing this handsome guy. Sometimes that trunk gets way too heavy and we see another reason God created tusks.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. I now have a Facebook page, which is regularly updated with all sorts of Thai related photos so search for Tony Eastmead if Facebook is your thing.