Rayong province is situated to the North of the Gulf of Thailand, bordered by Chon Buri and Chantaburi. It consists mainly of low coastal plains, with hills to the North, and is incorporates several islands which sit peacefully in the Gulf, including Ko Samet, Ko Mun and Ko Kodi, all popular tourist destinations which have experienced a rapid development over recent decades.
Rayong City is the capital of the province, and boasts a population of around 55 thousand. Its main industry is fishing, and it is the main producer of Thailand’s fish sauce, whilst also being a centre for the automotive and chemical industries.
Rayong has origins in antiquity. Back in 1500 in the Buddhist Era the Khmer settled the area. Thailand was in a constant state of defending itself against the Burmese army. The old capital, Ayutthaya was burned by invading soldiers in 2309 BE. The ruling Thai king at the time Praya Vajiraprakan, fled south with his entourage and supporters.
Later, during his journey to Chantaburi in the east, he made a stop at Rayong to gather reinforcements. He was given a great welcome by the citizens of Rayong who conferred on him the title of Phra Chao Taksin or the King of Thonburi.
With a bolstered army and naval force, Praya Vajiraprakan returned to Ayutthaya where he was successful in regaining independence. The landmark victory was marked by constructing a new capital city at Thonburi. The people of Rayong had their own commemoration of the victory, building a shrine to the king’s memory which still attracts devotees every day, centuries on.
It was during the Ayutthaya era that the oldest Buddhist temple of Rayong was built, and still houses a huge statue of a reclining Buddha, which is no less than 12 metres long.
There is other, more recent military history that makes up the story of Rayong. During the Vietnam War, Sattahip was used as an American base and the forces enjoyed the region for their recreational and relaxation time when not fighting. They didn’t leave much of a mark on Rayong but it led to the growth of modern Pattaya.
Another landmark of Thai history at Rayong is the statue of Sunthorn Phu. One of Thailand’s most revered and celebrated poets, he wrote what is adjudged to be the finest example of Thai literature in Rayong 200 years ago during the Ratanakosin era.
Despite this colourful history, however, most travellers spend little time in the city, but will instead take the chance to explore the wider province’s rich geography, or hop on a bus and head straight for Pan Phe, the port. From here you can take further transport along the coast to small and unsophisticated resort towns including Hat Mae Rampeung, Laem Mae Phim, Hat Sai Thong and Laem Charoen. Ferries from nearby Ban Phe take visitors to private resorts on the secluded islands of Ko Man Klang and Ko Man Nok, as well as the more popular tourist islands.
The weather is consistently all year round, only falling below 80 degrees around December and January, and rising to its hottest point around May. Rainfall is at its most likely in September.
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Things to see and do
Walk in the Park
The Khao Laem Ya/Mu Ko Samet National Park, links the mainland with the islands. Here you can find sandy stretches of beach, easy going hiking trails and clear water for snorkelling. The Sopha Botanical Park is full of trees and Thai flora, and three 100-year old traditional Thai houses on stilts exhibit ceramics and prehistoric pottery.
Turn Turtle. The park is also home to the Rayong Turtle Conservation Centre, a breeding place for endangered sea turtles. Volunteers are welcome at the centre. Typical activities include the monitoring the progress of the turtles, releasing young turtles into the ocean and explaining the project to tourists on day trips. Accommodation is in a fishing village, and every day you’ll go to work in a speedboat.
The Rayong Aquarium in the Eastern Marine Fisheries Research and Development Centre houses plenty of beautiful fish and sea plants, whilst conducting study, research and testing of marine biology and behaviour.
The best diving around Ko Samet is at Hin Pholeung. It’s an isolated spot and free from disruptive boat traffic. There’s two impressive underwater rock pinnacles with excellent visibility and a great assortment of marine life, such as barracuda, rays, sharks and, on occasion whale sharks.
As with most of Thailand, the landscape is dotted with shrines and temples. According to legend King Taksin tethered his elephant to a tree whilst leading his troops to Chanthaburi to defeat the Burmese. Now it’s a shrine, with a statue of the King himself.
At Kaochamao Rayong, there are lots of wonderful shrine buildings which house statues of Kings and priests, and there is also a coins and antiques museum. Another temple worth a visit is Wat Pa Pradu, which dates back to the Ayutthaya period.
Look and Learn
The Wat Ban Don Shadow Play Museum is home to one hundred traditional shadow-play characters, or Nang Yai, which are made from large carved and painted leathers.
Worship the sun
Most travellers to Rayong do so for the beaches. The nearest is Hat Laem Charoen which is close to where the Rayong River meets the sea. A little further away is the sandy stretch of Hat Saeng Chan and Hat Mae Ramphueng – Ban Kon Ao is about11 kilometres from Rayong town. See sunsets and island views from Khao Laem Ya or enjoy the shade of pine trees on Suan Son, roughly four kilometres from Ban Phe.
This is what many people come here for. The most famous these days is Ko Samet. This is believed to be the inspiration for Thai classical writer Sunthon Phu’s ‘miracle island’. Nearby, look for Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin, approximately 600 metres north of Ko Kudi, dive the coral reefs of Ko Kidi, Ko Kut, or Ko Thalu. One of the best for swimming is Laem Mae Phim, 48k from Rayong town.
The Supattra Land Orchard opens to the public. There’s huge variety of local fruits such as the infamous durian along with star fruit, mango, rambutan, grape, and longan.
Experience a Waterfall
The Namtok Khao Chamao waterfall has seven levels, and stretches for three kilometres. The largest pond is called Wang Matcha and is home to brook carp. The small Namtok Khlong Hin Phoeng waterfall can be found 10 kilometers from Rayong, in Chanthaburi province. Water flows all year round, amidst limestone mountains and fascinating caves.
Eat, sleep and drink
As a seaside town, Rayong offers a fabulous seafood menu, usually at budget-friendly prices. Restaurants offer everything from street specialities, to fine dining, barbecues or more traditional Thai cooking, and almost every restaurant or bar has a fabulous view of the sea . The most popular places to eat are located along the beaches and waterfronts of Laem Mae Phim, Saeng Chan and Had Mae Rumpheung.
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Just a bit further out from the town center, Laem Charoen beach, is also a wonderful dining out spot. In all these you’ll find a whole line of waterfront establishments to choose from, many of which are part of resorts or guesthouses. There are even barbecues on the sand in many places, just turn up and join in. For those on a budget or who want to get down with the locals, there are noodle bars on every street corner.
From high end continental dining in 5-star hotels, and German, Italian or Indian cuisine, to hawkers of dim sum and local delicacies on the beach, there’s something for everyone.
For a pre or post-dinner drink, there are plenty of bars, often attached to restaurants of small hotels Keep an ear to the ground for the latest happening joint, and head for the sound. Many revellers hang out around the Naga Bungalows in Ko Samet, but as it’s difficult to know where one bar ends and another begins, just pick one you like the look of. Nightlife is lively and sometimes crowded but there are some great deals on drinks right on through late into the evening.
Many try their luck at the popular coin toss where there’s a 50/50 chance of winning a free drink. Lots of resorts and hotels offer live music, and there’s usually a gig going on somewhere.
The area produces fine fruit and this is showcased in many fairs and festivals, mainly in May and June. Pineapple is particularly special and there’s the dedicated Pluak Daeng Pineapple Festival but fruit has a starring role in many events including the Buffalo Racing festival each October.
When it comes to where to stay, it’s worth remembering that it can get pretty hectic at the weekends, so if you’re travelling day-to-day, you might want to start looking for somewhere to sleep in Rayong in the middle of the week. The islands in particular are very popular with Thais, foreign visitors and expats from Bangkok, and Rayong itself, so there’s usually a good cultural mix amongst the guests. Watch out for weekend price hikes, they can rise by as much as 60%. Contrary to popular opinion, sleeping on the beach is permitted, but this isn’t for the more wary traveller.
The East coast of Ko Samet is the most popular place to stay, with its wealth of beaches, restaurants and bars. However for a quieter life, there is upscale seclusion to be found at the bijou west coast beach. The nightlife is far more limited, but the sunsets over the sea are a popular attraction. Up in the North of the island, a just a small number of guesthouses cling to the shoreline, for near-perfect peace.
Hua Hin Cha-am : Travel Guide, with Info on Nightlife, What to See & Covid-19 Report
Hua Hin Travel Guide
Hua Hin is a district in the Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of Thailand, 295 kilometers from Bangkok and 90 km from the provincial capital. It is the oldest and most traditional of Thailand’s beach resorts combining the attractions of a modern holiday destination with the charm and fascination of a still active fishing port. Beaches are located in the east of the province, including a 5km stretch of white sand and clear water. Although it has developed to cater for tourists from all over the world, the resort which began its development over 70 years ago, remains popular with Thais too, a good sign for those looking for an authentic experience.
The resort was originally founded in 1830s, when farmers, moving south to escape the results of a severe drought in the agricultural area of Phetchaburi, found a small village beside white sands and rows of rock, and settled in. The tranquil fishing village was turned into a ‘Royal resort’ becoming popular among Siam’s nobility and smart-set.
Accessibility was greatly enhanced by the construction of the railway from Bangkok, which brought visitors from wider social groups, and kick-started the industry which would bring tourists from other countries. The first hotel – The Railway Hotel – was built in 1921 and it still stands today continuing to serve tourists as the Sofitel Central.
Hua Hin was made famous in the early 1920s by King Rama VII, who decided it was an ideal getaway from the steamy metropolis of Bangkok. He built a summer palace and this was echoed when King Rama VII ordered the construction of the Palace of Klaikangwon (“far from worries”). The latter is still much used by the Thai Royal Family today.
The resort continued to develop slowly, protected to some extent by its Royal reputation. Its fishing port grew alongside golf courses and all the big hotel chains are now represented. Many of Bangkok’s rich and famous and a growing number of expats have built their own summer homes along the bay, making the resort more cosmopolitan every year.
Development has taken over much of the prime government land, so the coast road suffers from obstructed views of the sea these days, but Hua Hin is trying hard to retain its beach-side atmosphere. Compared to Pattaya, the resort remains relatively serene and attracts families and older travelers. The beach has a gradual slope, into clear warm water which so far has escaped pollution of any kind.
Further afield, the Prachuap Khiri Khan Province is a charming region, where limestone cliffs and islands, bays and beaches, are home to a national park, and several temples, and travelling through this area will be a welcome experience for those hoping to avoid the tourist traps found further South. Driving from Bangkok through Prachuap Khiri Khan takes around three hours, a journey punctuated by summer palaces, huge temples, beautifully kept gardens and salt flats.
Visitors head to Hua Hin all year round. The area has one of the lowest rainfalls in the country, and there’s usually a gentle sea breeze to punctuate the heat, particularly welcome in the summer season between March and September.
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Things to see and do in Hua Hin
As you would expect with a resort boasting a 5km clean white beach, sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling are popular pastimes. Swimming is safe, and with one of the driest climates across Thailand, there’s plenty of opportunity to dry off in the sun afterwards.
Possibly due to its noble history and elegant clientele, Hua Hin has the highest density of world class golf courses anywhere in Thailand, although it has yet to be discovered by the international golf tournament circuit. Green-fees and other costs are surprisingly low, given that course maintenance and services are superb. The Royal Hua Hin course is one of many, but considered to be the best.
Shop till you drop
Chatchai Market is colourful and inexpensive and is one of Hua Hin’s major attractions. Vendors gather nightly in the centre of town, where they cook fresh gulf seafood for hordes of hungry Thais and provide a spectacle for visitors. As well as plentiful food shops, it offers much that will appeal to souvenir hunters too.
Klai Kangwon (which means ‘Far From Worries’ ) is the Royal Palace built by King Rama VII in 1928. It was designed by Prince Iddhidehsarn Kridakara, an architect and the Director of the Fine Arts Department at the time, and officially opened in 1929. Further structures have been added over time, including a mansion ordered by King Bhumibol (Rama IX) for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and accommodation for the royal entourage, built in the style of the original buildings so as to preserve the harmony of the palace. Although Klai Kangwon is still in regular use by the Royal family, it is also open to the public.
Hop on a train
Or more importantly, visit the railway station. Built in the reign of Rama IV, the brightly painted wooden buildings somehow combine traditional Thai ideas with a Victorian feel, and in 2009 Hua Hin made it onto NewsWeek’s Best Stations list, in great company such as New York’s Grand Central, and London’s St Pancras.
Although one of the joys of Hua Hin is its serenity and calm, if you’re keen to take in more, its fairly easy to find trips which will take you to many of the other southern beach destinations such as Koh Nangyaun, Koh Toa, Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi and Koa Sok. You may find however that some of these legendary destinations have suffered more at the hands of the global tourist industry than Hua Hin has.
Khao Takiab is referred as Monkey Mountain, but as well as the mischievous residents, it also boasts a hilltop temple with sensational views of Hua Hin, a pagoda-style shrine and a giant golden Buddha which faces the sunrise.
Walk in the Park
The region boasts several parks, and natural attractions, such as the Kangajan National Park, and the Koa Sam Roi Yod Marine Park. You’ll find miles of good walking, amongst lakes, caves and waterfalls, and you’ll be in the company of as elephants, tigers, wild dogs and leopards.
Eat, drink and sleep in Hua Hin
As more affluent ex-pats from all over the world gather to weather the winter, or snap up beachfront properties in Hua Hin, the restaurant scene becomes more cosmopolitan. French, Italian, German and Scandinavian restaurants are all here, in case anyone feels homesick. However, there are also rustic seafood restaurants, especially on the pier, and at several of these you can choose your own fish from the fish market right outside and waiters will bring you the finished result.
There are plenty of simpler local restaurants both inside and out on the streets where you can sample authentic Thai food too.
If you want to try to cook your own Thai food in Hua Hin, the very best place to buy your ingredients, not because it’s the cheapest, but because it is a fabulous experience, is the night market. Right in the centre of town, it opens at 18:00. It’s also a terrific place to buy handicrafts, souvenirs and clothing.
The Chatchai market is a great day market and the place to go for the best street food, as vendors grill, fry, boil and dress the fabulous local fish and shellfish, but don’t forget to leave room for a real local speciality. Roti Hua Hin is a delicious dough-based snack filled with strawberries, custard or raisins.
In a side street just off the market is the Hua Hin Thai Show, a pagoda-style restaurant which combines great food with a nightly musical performance, where you can sample folk with your fish or classical over your clams.
Unlike many Thai resorts, here you will also find more elegant dining, including Thai and Vietnamese food with a more upmarket touch for a real treat. Monsoon is the most romantic and expensive, but it’s worth it for the wine list and the elegant atmosphere. If your budget doesn’t run to dinner, you can enjoy afternoon tea on its teak-decked terrace.
Lopburi : Travel Guide, with Info on Nightlife, What to See & Covid-19 Report
Lopburi (ลพบุรี), also Lop Buri or Lob Buri is a historic city 3 hours north of Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Basin region of Thailand. Lopburi has a mountain called Khao Chan Daeng. Understand Lopburi is very laid back, and its convenient location less than 3 hours (~180 km) from Bangkok makes it a good […]
Lopburi is very laid back, and its convenient location less than 3 hours (~180 km) from Bangkok makes it a good place to escape the stress and pollution of the capital.
History of Lopburi
Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, a former capital and the second capital after Ayutthaya was established in 1350. It was abandoned after King Narai passed away in 1688, but parts were restored in 1856 by King Mongkut (King Rama IV) and in 1864 it was made the summer capital.
Lopburi had been an important part of the Khmer Empire and later a part of the Ayutthaya kingdom. It was Ayutthaya’s second capital under the reign of King Narai the Great, who used to spend eight months a year in Lopburi. Later on King Mongkut of the Bangkok Chakri Dynasty used to reside here. Thus the remains of almost all periods of Thai history can be found.
There are two central areas in Lopburi: New Town and Old Town. Most of the important sites, plus the train station, are in the Old Town; buses arrive and depart from the New Town.
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Lopburi is famous for the hundreds of crab-eating macaques that overrun the Old Town, especially in the area around Phra Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kaan Shrine, and there’s even a monkey temple/amusement park where you can buy snacks to feed to them.
Keep an eye out for monkeys hanging from trees and wires and sitting on roofs and ledges, and be aware that they have some unpleasant bad habits including defecating on unsuspecting pedestrians from their overhead perches, jumping on people to snatch food and stealing bags that they suspect may contain something edible.
At night nothing much is going on in the Old Town, thus the street dogs consider everybody running around after midnight very suspicious. While most of them will just look at you, some might bark, run behind you and jump at you. While common at night, it is very rare during the day.
From Ayutthaya, local buses run every 20 minutes, take around 2 hours and cost 35 Thai Baht.
There is a minibus service from Mo Chit to Lopburi.
Travel by minivan in Lopburi
From Bangkok, air-con vans leave from Victory Monument, take about 2 hours and cost 110 Thai Baht. There are multiple van services in the area, so if the timing for one service does not work try another.
Air-con vans also leave from the main Mo Chit (northern) bus station for the same price. The last minibus normally departs around 18:00.
Trains from/to Bangkok main Hualamphong station take about 3 hours. Take the Northern Line from Hua Lamphong Railway Station everyday, many rounds per day.
Trains from/to Ayutthaya take about one hour and cost 13 Thai Baht for third class.
- From Bangkok, take Hwy 1 (Phahonyothin Road) passing Phra Phutthabat District, Saraburi, onto Lopburi. The total distance is 153 km.
- From Bangkok, take Hwy 32 which separates from Hwy 1, passing Ayutthaya. There are three routes as follows:
- Enter Bang Pahan District, passing Nakhon Luang District into Rte 3196. Then, pass Ban Phraek District onto Lopburi.
- Enter at the Ang Thong Interchange to Tha Ruea District and turn left onto Rte 3196, passing Ban Phraek District onto Lopburi.
- Pass Ang Thong, Singburi, and take Rte 311 (Singburi–Lopburi), passing Tha Wung District onto Lopburi.
The blue local bus (8 Thai Baht) circles constantly between the bus station about 2 km from the town centre, passing Phra Kahn Shrine, going south on Sorasak Road, and ending up in front of the TAT office on Phraya Kamuad Road.
- Ban Vichayen (Narai Maharat Road). Daily, 08:30-16:00. The remains of Constantine Phaulkon’s residence, built in the reign of King Narai the Great. Only the outer walls of the three main buildings remain, in a small grassy area. 30 Thai Baht.
- Phra Kahn Shrine (Narai Maharat Road). The site of a small shrine, the remains of a Khmer prang, a few stalls and lots of monkeys. The stalls sell offerings to be dedicated at the shrine, and food and drink. The monkeys eat the food, drink, offerings and anything else going. Good for a few photos. There are signs warning of purse-grabbing by the monkeys, but they appear docile if not provoked. 50 Thai Baht.
- Phra Narai Ratchanivet (King Narai’s Palace) (Entrance on Sorasak Road on the east wall). W-Su, 8:30-16:00, closed M-Tu and holidays. Built in 1677 by French, Italian, and Portuguese engineers, the palace was used by King Narai to host receptions for foreign envoys. Restored in 1856 by King Mongkut, it was converted into a museum in 1924. The palace grounds consists of the remains of various buildings in an enclosed park, with the central palace serving as the Somdet Phra Narai Museum, which houses prehistoric exhibits, along with Buddha images of Dvaravati, Lopburi and Khmer styles; and King Mongkut’s bedroom. Foreigners 150 Thai Baht, Thais 30 Thai Baht.
- Phra Prang Sam Yot. A Khmer-style temple known for its three linked towers. Entrance fee, foreigners 50 Thai Baht and Thais 10 Thai Baht.
- Wat Phra Phutthabat (17 km southeast of Lopburi. Take any Saraburi bus (Bus 104) which leaves the main bus station every 20 min and takes 30 min to get to the side road 1 km from the wat). 21 Thai Baht.
- Wat Phra Sri Rattanamahathat. Built in the 13th Century, this is one of the town’s most important monasteries; visitors can view a bas relief illustrating the Buddha’s life on the central prang. No monkeys. Admission, foreigners 50 Thai Baht, Thais 10 Thai Baht.
- Wat Sao Thong Thong (On Rue De France). A viharn in the compound of a working wat, also has a small amulet market in the grounds. Previously used as a Christian chapel and a mosque, it has now been restored and features a large Buddha figure, with several smaller Lopburi-era Buddhas in wall niches. Free.
- Rock Climbing (จีนแล) (Near Suwannahong Temple (Jiin Lay 2), Baan Nong Kham). At Jiin Lay Mountain.
If you are going to be in Lopburi long-term, you will need the services of the two department stores. There is a Big C mall in town, with a KFC, along with a Tesco Lotus in the Monkey Mall further down. The latter has a very large outdoor market in the evenings.
The street vendors in the Old Town are very nice and have all kinds of tasty things. In the evenings, a lot of street food stalls are set up on a road in front of railway station.
- Bualuang, 46/1 Moo 3, Tasala (In the New Town, about 6 km from old city). Cash only.
- Louis Steakhouse (On Phahon Yothin east of the large roundabout around 1/2 km from Big C under the pedestrian overpass). A great restaurant owned by a Belgian. A great change if you are looking for something a little different from Thai food.
- New World Steak House (Just west of Sakal, the large town centre with the fountains, just to your left before you cross a bridge, at the lights (look for a rather large hotel next to it)). Good English cuisine. Run by Barry and Noi, an Englishman and his Thai wife. The prices are higher than typical Thai food, but the steaks are huge, the Shepherd’s pie is excellent, and sometimes has tacos.
- White House (Just behind (north of) the Tourism office (TAT)). Romantic Western architecture with a beautiful yard and second floor, offers good food. Crab meat fried rice and red curry is very good. The owner, Mr Piak, speaks English and will tell you everything you need to know, even if you don’t dine there.
You might find the nightlife in Lopburi fairly quiet for a town of its size but there are a selection of places to catch a drink in the evening. Old Town has a few curbside bars, which are excellent for those who are still new to Thailand, as there are usually some foreigners about. There is also a small club (look for the large “Ben More” sign) next to a local park near the train station in the Old Town, but it is a little pricier than average.
Pattaya : Travel Guide, with Info on Nightlife, What to See & Covid-19 Report
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.
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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.
However, as this is such a multinational tourist destination, you may find it difficult to find a truly authentic Thai culinary experience along the main drags. You’re as likely to find an American diner, Italian spaghetti house or Greek emporium so it’s worth seeking out the quieter corners and watching to see where the locals eat.
Most formal meals consist of a meat or a fish dish, fried or steamed vegetables, a curry, stir-fried dishes of meat and vegetables and a soup. If you decide to enjoy a traditional meal, expect to take time over it. You’ll experience flavours including lemon grass and coriander, plenty of chilli, and flavourings such as fish sauce and Java Root. Most Thai meals are centred on rice or noodles.
Drink flows freely in Thailand, and the traditional accompaniment to a Thai meal is local beer or rice whisky. However, this is Pattaya, and you can’t travel more than a few metres without finding yourself in a bar. The designs, interior décor, themes and even the drinks may not be traditional, but you’ll find plenty of company as you pile into the drink. It’s unlikely you’ll be trying to stay sober, but if you do, ask for a melon ice drink, or a citrus banana punch, two of Thailand’s favourite non-alcoholic tipples.
HM King Bhumibol Royal Jazz Composition
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