If you pick up a tourist brochure, or look at a website, or even talk with one of the expatriates who live there, you’ll keep stumbling on the phrase “paradise” used to describe Pattaya. On arrival the casual observer may be a little mystified by this. The beach is rubbish, the whole town is concrete and there’s sleaze on a truly dumbfounding scale. Koh Phi Phi this ain’t. Yet the town has the highest concentration of expatriates outside Bangkok and sees two million visitors every year (second only to Phuket). So what draws people to this seaside resort town, just to the southeast of Bangkok?
Pattaya got its start during the Vietnam War when US used a naval base there and designated the town as an approved R&R destination. Hotels and tourist operators quickly followed and the rest is history. Indeed, the Royal Thai Navy continues to operate the base and sailors can sometimes be seen around town. Basically, its the tourist infrastructure that pulls in the visitors and the centre of town abounds with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, phone and Internet cafes, massage places and just about every other vacation convenience conceivable. Further down the coast there are many resorts for those who are on sun-and-seafood holidays, along with wildlife parks and dozens of other activities.
Pattaya is divided into two halves, covering two beaches. Pattaya beach is where the action is, the main night-district being Walking Street. Jomtien is further south and is a nicer beach with more accommodation, and it’s popular with Thai weekenders.
So is Pattaya paradise? Its a party town for sure. No matter who you are there’s something to occupy you, be it paintball, bungee jumping, kayaking or just loafing around getting drunk all day; Pattaya accepts all comers.
Places to crash
There are far to many places to list here. Pattaya’s room prices start at about 600 Baht and go up from there. There are the usual luxury hotels such as the Amari, the Ambassador or the Dusit. Odder exceptions are Hard Rock Hotel, featuring rock star-themed rooms and the Cabbages & Condoms Resort. The popular budget-traveller chain Sawasdee has five hotels in Pattaya town. Generally, the standards are high with even the cheapest rooms featuring TV, mini-bar and air-con, although some of the older buildings can be a little rundown. For a good night’s sleep, avoid hotels next to one of the ubiquitous construction sites, or hotels that offer hourly rates.
During daylight hours activity can be divided into two types: on land and on the water. Life is better out where its wetter and apart from the usual beachside fun of banana boats and paragliding there’s plenty of people to take you diving or on a day-trip to the offshore islands. For the livelier there’s water and cable-skiing, windsurfing and yachting.
On land you could take in the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo (actually 30 kilometres out of town), Underwater World Pattaya (an aquarium in South Pattaya), the Snake Farm or the Orchid Farm (both actually in Chonburi), the local branch of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum (in Royal Garden Plaza), or shopping, shopping, shopping. If you’re the sport type there’s Thailand’s biggest bungy jump, which is just near the go-cart speedway (South Pattaya). Plus there’s paintball, horseback riding, skydiving and shuffleboard. Needless to say, the landscape around Pattaya is littered with quality golf courses.
The main nighttime activity in Pattaya city quickly becomes obvious on arrival. If you happen to be a white male in town, a quick stroll around dusk will illicit several invitations for a drink or other offers hat may make you blush or tremble. Beer-bars sprout from every bit of available space in town and there seems to be another acre of them around every corner – plenty of go-go bars around the downtown as well. Two of the more famous clubs and hunting grounds for happy hookers, and the men who lust after them, are Walking Street’s Marine Disco and the Bangkok-based Lucifer’s. If that’s your gig then you’re not alone: Pattaya seems to have the highest concentration of overweight middle-aged men and you may feel out of place not wearing a mullet or moustache. There tend to be a lot of katoeys, or ladyboys, around town as well. Luckily they’re not all picking pockets and you can go to Alcazar, Simon or Tiffany’s cabaret shows for a gender-bending evening. In need of live music? Check out Blues Factory or Climax Bar, both on Walking Street. To stay away from the sleaze, hang out with a member of the opposite sex or try one of the better hotel bars.
If every second business in Pattaya is a bar then every third one is a restaurant. If you’re aching for a taste of home, Pattaya provides some of the best Farang food at far less than Bangkok prices. English-style pubs can be expected to provide excellent post-hangover fry-ups and there are several outstanding Japanese and Korean restaurants. For those Americans among us who long for Mexican food, the Blue Parrot on soi 13/4 is a godsend – great tacos and margaritas, and generous portions of home-made salsa.
Wind in your face
You’ll see songtaews all over town, offering short lifts for 5-10 Baht, depending on the distance and your gullibility. Motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous and about the same as Bangkok prices, around 20 Baht for a couple of kilometres. You can hire scooters and big bikes but unless you’re an experienced rider the traffic will eat you alive.Even so, you can take heart because Pattaya’s medical facilities are the best in the region. Hiring a car usually means a minimum of three days or more, and costs about 1500 Baht per day.
Way to go
Bus: Normal and air-con buses leave from Mor Chit and the Eastern Bus Terminal on Sukhumvit soi 63 regularly.
Taxi: Impress your mates by hailing a cab and taking it to Pattaya, a bargain at 1500 Baht with beers and singsongs along the way. You can often bargain for 900 Baht on the way back.
Source for this article is Farang magazine, a must for all young travellers to Thailand. Pick it up at most bookstores in the capital, and at selected shops elsewhere in the Kingdom.