The other side to Pattaya
Na Klua, the northernmost part of the resort city, offers something a little different
Na Klua may not be the most prominent mark on the Pattaya tourist map. But for some, a trip to the popular resort city wouldn't be complete without a visit to the northern end of town. Indeed, a growing number of holidaymakers, myself included, see Na Klua as a worthy destination in its own right. With its old-town charm, street art, inexpensive fresh seafood, seaside picnic areas and more, what's not to love?
From live lobsters, prawns and crabs, to squid, oysters, scallops, clams and everything in between, Talat Lan Pho, or the old Na Klua Market, offers a spectacular array of fresh seafood. Unlike the new Na Klua Market just 650m away, this place is open all day long and seems to attract more tourists than locals. Most people don't tend to buy fresh fish when they go on holiday. But here, a lot of visitors do, both Thais and foreigners.
Every time I arrive in Na Klua, I would head straight to Lan Pho Market, which specialises in seafood. When travelling alone, I must admit I never buy anything, because I know I won't be able to finish a whole fish or a full kilo of prawns by myself. Nevertheless, just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere, watching people buying and selling the various sea creatures, is very enjoyable.
Satisfying my cravings for seafood is no trouble at all, however. Na Klua has quite a few ahan tam sang-style food stalls that serve freshly made dishes. Being so close to such a great source of ingredients, the seafood on offer here is much better than what you'll find in Bangkok. I always go for a plate of phad kaphrao pla (stir-fried fish with chilli and basil) in a shack in an alley near Lan Pho Market. On a recent trip, I also checked out another stall near Saphan Yao. Its crab phad kaphrao was fabulous and amazingly cheap.
The section of Pattaya-Na Klua Road between Lan Pho Market and Saphan Yao is lined with old wooden shophouses that give the area a nostalgic feel. Stepping into some of these shops might give you the sense that you're stepping into the past.
Venture off the main road into the alleyways and you'll find plenty of interesting street art and other hidden gems. The locals are friendly, and I have met several who, rather than just answer my questions, wanted to share their stories with me. One lady I asked directions from told me that most of the vendors in Lan Pho market are migrant workers, and jokingly complained that they enjoy better privileges at the hospital than the locals.
Anyway, for an outsider like me, Na Klua is always fun to visit. And I'm going back there this weekend. The crab phad kaphrao is calling.
Right next to the Lan Pho market are several stalls offering cooking service. You buy fish, crab or anything from the market, then you come to one of these staffed kitchens to have your "catch" cooked the way you wish for a fee. Not all of these stalls have tables for you to sit and enjoy your meal. However, for a lot of people, that's not a problem. The adjacent seaside park serves as a nice venue for a picnic. And in case, the seafood sauces provided by the cooking stall is not enough, in the market, you'll find the spicy dip for sale in big bags.
Na Klua boasts some interesting old wooden houses and shophouses. Some of the shops display goods in the same fashion as they have for decades. From now until Feb 24, if you visit Na Klua on a Saturday or Sunday evening, you will be able to enjoy not just the nostalgic atmosphere but also tonnes of street food, since a section of Pattaya-Na Klua Road will be closed to vehicles during the annual Doen Kin Thin Na Klua fair.
The colourful street art makes exploring Na Klua even more fun. Striking images can be found up and down the lanes and alleyways, portraying everything from traditional lifestyles to well-known locals to more abstract concepts.
For me, the seafood is the highlight of any trip to Na Klua, with a huge variety of options available. If you are not ready for a big meal, the local ahan tam sang stalls are a great choice. They offer delicious food at cheap prices. This crab phad kaphrao with fried egg was just 80 baht. The crab was so fresh I can remember its blissful taste vividly. Every time I see the picture, I want to go back.
Pattaya is no longer a quiet fishing village but Na Klua is still home to fishermen. There are small private piers near Lan Pho market, but the main pier is situated further west, not far from the Sanctuary of Truth. At this pier, you can enjoy a fine view of the sea and shoreline, and glorious sunsets in the evening. Some people come with drinks, snacks and fishing rods.
Na Klua canal meets the sea at Saphan Yao where small-scale fishermen moor their boats. Although part of it is still flanked by mangrove trees, much of the canal now looks more like a drainageway. But there are still freshwater fish living in the murky water. This tattooed young man had just climbed up the steep embankment with his catch.
While countless trees elsewhere have been felled to make way for roads and other developments, this bodhi tree (ton pho) in front of Talat Lan Pho still stands in defiance of the traffic. The market derives its name from the tree.
As in many cities in Japan, Pattaya has metal manhole covers with cute designs. These were provided by the city to help beautify the town, and also as a warning that it is illegal to take over public property for private use.
The great egret (Ardea aiba) may be common in other parts of Thailand but locals told me that the white birds were absent in Na Klua for a long time. Over the last two or three years, however, the great egrets have returned. They can be spotted at the mouth of Na Klua canal from Saphan Yao.
North Pattaya is home to some cool museums. Art In Paradise and The Teddy Bear Museum are probably the best known, but the Parody Art Museum is also well worth a visit. Unlike Art In Paradise, which focuses on 3D paintings, the Parody Art Museum features humorous reinterpretations of famous pieces of art, from classical to modern. Here, you'll get lots of interesting photos for your social media. The museum is a short walk from North Pattaya Road.
Wat Chong Lom Na Klua, located on Sukhumvit Road (Highway 3), was built during the reign of King Rama IV. Its century-old wooden ordination hall is well preserved and worth a visit. Closer to the centre of Na Klua are the Chao Mae Thab Thim Chinese shrine and a larger, more modern shrine on the rooftop of the Sawang Boriboon Foundation. At the foundation, you can make merit by donating money for coffins and clothes for dead people with no relatives. The compound has a huge parking space, which is rare in Na Klua.
Na Klua is at the northern end of Pattaya. From Dolphin Circle, take a songthaew northward along Pattaya-Na Klua Road for around 15 minutes or so to get to Lan Pho market. From there, all the places of interest mentioned in this article are within walking distance.