For a long time everyone thought Pattaya began and ended with the walking strip, which is nothing but one bar after the other jostling for space. But over the years this destination has been cleaning up its act and adding other attractions to its portfolio. Nestled along a picturesque bay on the East Coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya is roughly 170 kilometers southeast of Bangkok and worth a visit.
The city was first “discovered” by expatriates from Bangkok desperate for a weekend break and American GIs on leave during the Vietnam war in the ’60s. Pattaya’s natural bay and the long, sandy beach to the south known as Jomtien was the main attraction. Before the arrival of these holidaymakers, for centuries, Pattaya was a small fishing village almost cut off from the outside world. But on 29 April 1961 the first group of about 100 American servicemen who arrived in Pattaya for relaxation and changed everything.
Soon, sleepy Pattaya was to become Thailand’s premier beach destination and the entertainment capital of Thailand attracting tourists by the planeload. According to some estimates the resort town welcomes five million tourists a year.
Historically speaking, the name of this city owes its origins to the march of Phraya Tak (King Taksin the Great) from Ayutthaya to Chantaburi just before the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese in 1767. When Phraya Tak’s army arrived in what is Pattaya today, he encountered the troops of Nai Klom (a local ruler) who tried to intercept him but surrendered without a fight. The place where the two armies confronted each other came be called Thap Phraya (Army of the Phraya).
This was later changed to Phatthaya, which means “the wind blowing from the southwest to the northeast” at the beginning of the rainy season. Today the spelling has been simplified to Pattaya.
And today the city has moved far away from its historic origins. Though one rues Pattaya’s eventual commercialisation, the city does offer a lot – few holiday destinations in Asia can match the variety of pastimes the destination has to offer – from all kinds of water sports, archery, bowling, horse riding to go-carting, tennis and scuba diving. Also, within easy reach of Pattaya are a score of international quality golf courses, five star resorts, parks, zoo, etc. Over and above all that, the town’s nightlife is legendary.
Though Pattaya’s beaches were what first attracted the expats in the ’60s today they are a jumble of deck chairs and umbrellas. You would have to go to the furthest corners for a bit of peace and quiet. For the perfect beach think of exploring th islands off shore. More than a dozen islands vie for the attention of the daytrippers.
Koh Larn, one of the closest islands to Pattaya is also one of the most popular. Also called Coral Island it is only 20 minutes by speedboat or a leisurely 40 minutes on the tourist boats that leave from the South Pattaya Pier. This island is a centre for water sports: parasailing, sailboarding, deep-sea fishing, diving and snorkelling. But if all you want to do is sunbathe, you’ll find a spot. You can easily spend a day here snorkelling and enjoying the beach. Sightseeing tours in glass-bottomed boats to view coral reefs are a big attraction here.
In the evenings Pattaya explore the bars and as for dining options there are plenty, thanks to the large expat community which calls the city its home. Choose from Russian, German, Italian, Lebanese, French, Japanese, English pub grub, etc. You can also check out the theaters, cabaret shows, night clubs, bowling halls, billiard & massage parlors. Of course there is also shopping both day and night.
Now for the kids who accompany the adults to Pattaya; there is plenty for them to do too. Start with an educational visit to The Million Years Stone Park, which is home to plant fossils over a million years old, 200 year old Thai style bonsai trees, and a rock gardens. The park also has a collection of rare albino bears, elephants and horses, and crocodiles and organize animal shows and crocodile round-ups every day.
If your kids like elephants do take them to the Elephant Village on Pornprapanimitr Road which organizes demonstrations of working elephants daily. A hit with the kids is the Elephant ride. Talking of animals, visit the Sriracha Tiger Zoo with its 200 bengal tigers and 100.000 corcodiles next. It is not too far away from Pattaya and you can go on a tiger safari or opt to cuddle a tiger cub. Another foray into the animal kingdom can be made at the Khao Kieo Open Zoo, an hour or so’s drive from Pattaya.
A sure hit with the kids is the Pattaya Water Park, on the way to Jomtien Beach. The amusement park has all manner of slides and adventure options for the kids. The admission fee is not excessive and is sure to delight every child. Another winner is the Ripley’s Belive It or Not museum. You can spend hours looking at all the weird and wonderful objects from shrunken heads to African voodoo dools. Ten themed galleries featuring unbelivable exhibits entertain. An added attraction here is the Ripley’s Motion Master Panorama Theatre and the Ripley’s Laser Trek where you and your kids can battle it out with laser guns, vests and an area with targets that shoot back.
The naturalist might like to walk around the Siriporn orchid Farm, but I’d take the kids to the Bottle Art museum which has 300 glass bottles containing churches, temples, palaces, and ships, creatd by Dutch artist Peter Bedelais. Mini Siam is worth a visit too. This miniature city has more than 100 models on a scale of 1:25, of important historical sites around Thailand; temples, palaces, etc. Plus models of Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, London’s Tower Bridge and the Trevi Fountain.
Nong Nooch Gardens could be an option if you and your kids enjoy cultural shows and Thai traditional dances. Pattaya certainly offers a broad range of things to do but one of the best ways to explore it during the day is on a motorbike.