Pattaya: A City of Contrasts

The Beach of Pattaya

Pattaya is a city of many narratives. Sex tourism capital for some, comfortable retirement retreat for others, a weekend gateway for modern Bangkokians. It’s a city that played a role in Thai history, but afterwards built itself a questionable reputation that is hard to shake off.  It lies about 130 kilometres south-east of the capital and is a city that appeals to some, while others avoid it like the plague.

Pattaya (or Phatthaya) gained its prominence and its name from Phraya Tak (who later became King Taksin) and his marching army, which he led to this area before Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767. He met a local leader, who initially wanted to fight Phraya Tak, but was subsequently so impressed by him that instead, they joined forces. The place was thereafter called Thap Phraya or ‘Army of the Phraya’.

The present links with prostitution and wild nightlife began under another army ‘siege’. During the Vietnam War American soldiers used Pattaya as their R&R (rest and recuperation) location, and thus the precedent for carnal pleasures there was set. Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, yet widely tolerated. Pattaya’s infamous Walking Street is full of go-go bars, massage parlours, ‘hostess’ bars and the likes. Pattaya is also known for having Asia’s largest gay scene, and for glitzy lady-boy shows.

LadyBoy Pattaya

However, during the day altogether different groups of visitors cruise the city. Pattaya is popular with families, retirees and weekenders from nearby Bangkok. They find Pattaya attractive for completely different reasons: it’s an affordable base, offers good swimming (some claim the water is much clearer than Hua Hin’s), water sports and shopping. There are two main beachfronts in Pattaya: Pattaya Beach and Jomtien Beach. There you can try waterskiing, parasailing and small-boat sailing. For SCUBA diving go to one of the offshore islands. For beautiful beaches, go to Ko Larn, Ko Krok or Ko Sak. These island can be easily reached by boat from Pattaya’s southern pier. For touristic purposes, the numerous islands around Pattaya are often referred to as ‘Near Islands’, ‘Far Islands’ and ‘Coral Islands’. If you have time, you can also visit Mini Siam, 1.5 kilometres east of the city and view miniature replicas of Thailand’s ancient sights.

Mini Sian Pattaya

If you decide to visit, Pattaya should be easy to reach by road or rail. Trains leave from Bangkok’s Hualumphong station daily; buses depart from Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal (Morchit)  and Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai).

Maybe you can go there with fresh eyes and add a new narrative to the story.