The City of Pattaya on the East coast of the Gulf of Thailand is a self-governing region about 165km Southeast of Bangkok. For centuries, it was a small fishing village, but when American servicemen ventured down the coast from their base in Nakhon Ratchasima in 1959, in search of rest and relaxation during the Vietnam War, the package holiday industry took off with a bang, and Pattaya began to develop into the popular beach resort of today.
Now, the fishermens’ huts have long gone, as the region lures sun-worshippers and hedonists in their millions every year. A seemingly unlimited flow of dollars fuelled the local economy which for decades wasn’t as careful as it might have been about the rapid development and free-for-all glitz and glamour which drove the city’s progress, but more recently, it is striving to position itself as a more family-friendly destination.
Nowadays, the nearby temples of the Pratamnak Hill look down on a bustling metropolis, packed with hotels, stores, high-rise apartment blocks, bars and restaurants. Pleasure-seekers revel in the nightlife, with its pulsing beat, and head for the beaches of Naklua, Pattaya and Jomtien by day.
Broadly speaking, the city is divided into several regions. Central Pattaya offers countless shops and restaurants, and plentiful nightlife, but is definitely not for those in search of a quiet night’s sleep. Likewise, South Pattaya, which encompasses the word-famous Walking Street, a tourist attraction in itself, which draws foreigners and Thai nationals alike, primarily for the after-dark entertainment. This is also the City’s red-light district, and go-go bars and brothels line the street which runs from the south end of Beach Road to the Bali Hai Pier. However, Walking Street also includes seafood restaurants, live music venues, beer bars, discos and sports bars and has an impressive collection of neon signs for those who want to be where the action is.
There’s no escaping the hurly burly in Pattaya, but if you’re looking for a slightly more peaceful experience, you’ll head to one of the beaches. Pattaya’s beaches are everything expected of Thailand’s famed beaches. Gorgeous, clean and well facilitated. Jomtien is popular with package tour operators and families, whilst if you head up to Naklua and North Pattaya you’ll find that although there are still plenty of bars and restaurants, the entertainment isn’t quite as relentless. If you seek out the more remote corners of Naklua you may even get a hint of the region’s traditional history as a fishing town. Few tourists bother, but for traditionalists, it’s worth a visit.
The tropical climate divides the year into three, from November to February the air is warm and dry, getting hotter and more humid through to May, and the rainy season runs from June to October.
Overall, Pattaya is not for the faint-hearted, or those in search of solitude or a cultural experience, but it will reward the laid-back traveller with just a hint of a spirit of adventure.
Things to see and do
Shop till you drop
Over the fifty or so years since the first GIs showed up in search of the sun, Pattaya has developed into a hive of activity, not least for those in search of retail therapy. The city is full of shops, including Asia’s largest beachfront shopping mall, the Central Festival Pattaya Beach Mall, attached to the Hilton Hotel.
Take to the water
If you’ve any energy left after the thrills of the night, all the beaches offer a wide range of watersports, which attract as many Thai visitors, heading to Pattaya for the weekend from Bankok. Jet-ski-ing and parasailing are the norm, and small boats are available for hire, or skippered trips.
One of the joys of a Thai beach holiday is the wealth of offshore islands, many of which can be reached by small boat or ferry in a matter of minutes. From Pattaya, head off to Ko Larn, Ko Sak or Ko Krok, known as the ‘near islands’ about 7k from Pattaya, or journey further towards the ‘far islands’ Ko Phai, Ko Man Wichai, Ko Hu Chang or Ko Klung Badan. Many of the islands have public beaches, less crowded than those on the mainland, and lots offer scuba diving and other water-based fun.
See the sights
If you’re in search of something a little more cultural, look out for the Wat Khao Phra Bat Temple, which overlooks Pattaya Bay and features a 18metre-high Buddha.
The Sanctuary of Truth is set on a rocky point of the coast just north of Pattaya, in the small town of Naklua. It’s a work in progress, started by an eccentric billionaire who began the ambitious construction 20 years ago. The Sanctuary is rather more adventure park than spiritual haven, but you can still take in this fascinating construction project, made entirely from wood, by a team of 250 woodcarvers.
Billed as a world-leading adventure park, the Nong Nooch Tropical Garden features impressive elephant and Thai cultural shows, in one of the biggest botanical gardens in Southeast Asia. Despite the cultural differences between east and west, it is still possible to appreciate the conservation projects at work here, while palms and orchids, education facilities and plenty of food and drink choices contribute to a rewarding family day out.
Back to the hustle and bustle of an activity-fuelled holiday and you might want to check out the private Sri Racha Tiger Zoo, Mini Siam model village, the Pattaya Crocodile Farm, the Silverlake Winery, Aquarium, or any of the many amusement and waterparks dotted around the region.
Time your trip carefully, and you may find yourself caught up in one of the many festivals which take place throughout the year. Bikers will enjoy Burapa Pattaya Bike Week in February which brings together motorcyles and international music, whiles those who prefer their entertainment without engine noise will enjoy March’s Pattaya International Music festival, or the Songkran festival, which lasts for several days in April. Regattas, dance parties, beauty pageants, gay celebrations and traditional light festivals are here in abundance, there’s something going on here every day of the year, and if you hit Chinese New Year, there’ll be dragons, lion dances and fireworks too.
Eat, drink and sleep
The Thais are very casual when it comes to eating and drinking. This is a busy place with lots going on, nobody is going to notice if you eat with your hands, spit out your seeds, or put your elbows on the table. Eateries pop up in the most unlikely doorways so watch out for those special little places – particularly on Second Road and in Naklau. These are the most likely places for real Thai food and if you’re sensible you will follow the locals to the best places. Anywhere with a queue is bound to be good. Street food is one of the joys of South East Asian dining, don’t miss the opportunity to experiment.