Pattaya is Thailand’s largest resort town and is a modern and ever-expanding city. Its location only two hours from Bangkok on the eastern seaboard makes it a popular holiday destination for both foreign and Thai visitors. Pattaya’s coastal position in central Thailand means it experiences no real extremes of heat or cold, making it an all-year-round destination.
Over a third of the ’20 million’ foreign visitors to Thailand come to Pattaya, some for a day or two, and some for several weeks. There is a large expat community that visit from all over the world, while Thais, particularly Bangkok residents with second homes here, visit frequently. International conferences and sports competitions also feature highly in the day-to-day life of the city.
Pattaya Beach, a long, but narrow, crescent beach, is a central feature of the city, with a promenade running its length. The main locus of activity is centred among the lanes that run from here into the city’s main street – Sukhumvit Road. Modern hotels compete with restaurants, shops, bars and mobile food stalls for space in this busy city, while the congested traffic rivals Bangkok for its speed, diversity and danger. One kilometre to the south, Jomtien provides a long, cleanish stretch of sand backed by modern hotels and condos, while to the north smaller beaches and a quieter atmosphere prevails in the exclusive suburb of Naklua.
However, this city of multi-cultural visitors remains quintessentially Thai, and although the convenience foods of the West are readily accessible, the Thai culture is everywhere and most visitors embrace the easy-going way of life readily.
Over 95 per cent of people who live and work here are Thai and even a couple of blocks away from the beach the local culture takes over from the holiday atmosphere by the sea. Despite this, the expat community here is perhaps the least-assimilated of all the foreign communities in Thailand, and you’re more likely to feel like you’re in Tenerife than Thailand. Expect footie on TV, English-style pubs and nary a word of Thai spoken in the many bars that service the full-time early retirees who favour this atmosphere.
Pattaya offers a wide range of activities, sports and pastimes to please all tastes and pockets, ranging from diving and golf to swimming and shopping, relaxing on the beach to bungee jumping, motor sports to real Thai massage and spas. The nightlife is legendary, with several thousand bars, restaurants, clubs and go go bars to choose from, all located conveniently within a large area. It has large areas solely set aside for go go bars and the rules are some of the most relaxed of all in the Kingdom.
The city itself was the first Thai resort to gain popularity with international visitors when it filled up with American GIs who were sent here for R&R during the Vietnam war, disembarking by boat or at the busy U-tapo airfield near Sattahip to the south. As a result, the city soon gained notoriety for its prostitutes and to this day attracts plenty of young women (many from the poor Isaan region) to earn a living here, entertaining lonely visiting men. As a result, some areas of the city are rather overwhelming in this respect, but it is one of the city’s chief attractions for some.
Rather than seeing itself as sleazy, Pattaya prefers to be recognised as a vibrant and fun break from Bangkok with a good tourist infrastructure, plenty of entertainment options, a healthy trade in budget package tourism and a thriving property market buoyed by the massive industrial development (with foreign input) that is occurring on this part of the eastern seaboard. Pattaya has its naughty districts, but it’s all fairly safe and harmless, and the city still manages to pass off as a family destination, boasting amusement and water parks, nice beaches and plenty of shopping and weekend seaside pads for ‘chilled’ Bangkokians.
The main tourist season in Pattaya is between November and March when the weather is pleasantly hot and dry (low 30s Celsius in the day and 20s at night). April/June can get very hot and the rainy season usually lasts from July to October, although it generally only rains for an hour at a time.
Bet you didn’t know that!
Pattaya has been one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing cities over the past 40 years. It was once just a sleepy fishing village but then someone built an airbase nearby to help them fight the war in Vietnam – the American soldiers arrived on R&R, then Thai girls, then Germans, Russians… crikey, who next?