Pattaya, Thailand: Sin City of Southeast Asia

If Bangkok is the ‘New York’ of Southeast Asia, then Pattaya fits right in as its southern Sin City. Located just 90 miles south of the congested metropolis, you can find your way to Pattaya easily by buses that run daily, or if you’re confident in your haggling skills, taxis run between the two cities regularly. Cab fare from Bangkok to Pattaya is likely to cost around $50, or 1500 Baht in the local currency, though you can generally find a cheaper cab returning to the capital.

Pattaya sprawls across the eastern coastline of the Gulf of Siam, littered with islands in either direction. Once the destination of American soldiers in Vietnam on ‘R&R,’ Pattaya has infamously evolved into a party town on speed. Whether you love it, or love to hate it, Pattaya has a reputation in Southeast Asia comparable to no other. After living in Thailand for six years I have found that Pattaya, albeit a spectacle, is still the hot spot of activity in eastern Thailand. Although efforts are being made to clean up the city’s image, I can’t recommend this as a family-friendly destination; but if you’re up for an adventure, head to Pattaya and proceed with caution.

Plenty of Rest for the Wicked:

Sukumvit, the main motorway from Bangkok leads you right into Pattaya; turn towards the coast and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the city. The majority of hotels are located on the road hugging the beach, appropriately named “Beach Road.” Pattaya offers a plethora of accommodations, and with more than a hundred hotels in the city there is no need to book ahead. For those looking for extravagance, Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort comes widely recommended.  Offering everything from spa services to a water park and wedding sites, Centara satiates every indulgence. The Amari Orchid Resort, The Montien, and Royal Cliff Garden Resort also come highly recommended for those searching for a plush stay. For a frugal find, the Sawasdee Sunshine Hotel is a great value at just $12 a night.  Located in central Pattaya, it’s close to shopping, night life, and the beach. Continuing with the under $20 trend, the Sawasdee Sabai Hotel, and Sawasdee Pattaya Hotel are two other choice options.

A Vice for Everyone:

Recently, Pattaya began to expand its appeal beyond its nightlife in an effort to clean up its image, although I can’t say it’s working. If you’re looking for a therapeutic pastime, you can find refuge in one of the many spas. If retail therapy is your calling, there are a handful of malls including the newest Central Festival, with its 6 plus stories of shopping. water sports abound; you can jet ski, learn to scuba, wake board, kite board, snorkel, and parasail. Perfect your stroke on the golf course, or take a horseback ride.  For the thrill seekers, you can raise your adrenaline with a race on the Pattaya Kart Speedway, or choose between bungee jumping and skydiving. Be cautious of scams, as many tourists are forced into paying for ‘repairs’ for damage they didn’t cause.

Fuel for the Night:

As an international city, Pattaya caters to its tourists by offering a wide selection for every palate. If you want a true taste of Thai and beachfront atmosphere, try ‘Mum Arroy.’  Located on the far north end of Pattaya beach, almost out of town, it exchanges the bustle of the city for the sound of the waves lapping against the waterfront deck. If you arrive with a group, plan ahead as there is always a crowd. Other waterfront choices include The View, located on the opposite end just out of Pattaya town. You can comfortably sit on a wooden porch swing nibbling on Thai chicken satay while watching the sunset. Both the Lighthouse, located off of Jomtien Beach, and Cabbages&Condoms are popular choices as well. Playing off the risqué reputation of Pattaya, Cabbages& Condoms is a unique restaurant that is both environmentally conscious and promotes the grassroots movement to educate locals about family planning in rural Thailand.  Whatever you are craving, Pattaya masters every cuisine; just take a stroll down Beach Road and be sure not to miss the fiesta, at Tequila Reef on Soi (street) 7, where margaritas are fresh on tap to quench your thirst.

The Sin in the City:

Nightlife abounds in Pattaya with back-to-back beer and Go-Go bars. If you’re looking for a low key pub they are few and far between, but they do exist. I would recommend grabbing a table at one of the handful of ‘cocktail bars’ located throughout the city.  If you dare head down Walking Street, located at the far end of Beach Road and Pattaya’s official red-light district, it wont be long before you begin to confuse the night with a scene from the movie ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ It is great for people watching, but keep your eyes on your belongings; the spectacle of the street makes a perfect distraction for pickpockets. For the club cravers, tread to the end of Walking Street where Mixx Nightclub offers a dance floor and popular music. If you are looking for more variety you can try the Den of Lucifer, also located on Walking Street. The club offers a deep cavernous atmosphere with great live music and mixed drinks.

Sinless Attractions:

Pattaya’s attractions do not end on Walking Street; embrace the true beauty of Thailand by hopping on a ferry to a nearby island for a day trip, or rent a guesthouse if you want to stay the night. For a one dollar ticket and a forty-minute ferry ride you can relax on the serene beach of Koh Larn (Coral Island), or play in the clean, clear waves. Being off the mainland ensures less foot traffic, meaning fewer interruptions from beach peddlers and street noises that can become overwhelming back on shore. If you are a culture seeker, the Floating Market on Sukumvit Highway offers edible goods and gifts for people to peruse as long-tail boat vendors cruise around the manmade water market cooking egg crepes and fried pork with sticky rice.

Head further down the highway to Nong Nooch, the tropical garden where you can experience a traditional Thai show including dance, Muay Thai, and performances by elephants, Thailand’s most revered animal. For an additional cost, you can hand feed the elephants and take an elephant ride around the park to see the sights. Catch the sunset over Pattaya at View Point for panoramic views, and make sure to head to Buddha Hill, where lies a massive golden Buddha erected by hand. Lastly, as the night lights come out, head down to the street market located on Theppasit road on weekend nights for an endless maze of market goods and the mix of sweet and spicy smells from street vendors.

The lights never go out in Pattaya, and everyone leaves with stories. So whether you venture to Sin City to embrace your inner demon, or are merely passing through for the experience, Pattaya will leave you searching for redemption.

Kirsten Ruyter Written by:

Kirsten Ruyter was born in small town Iowa, and raised in a small fishing village south of Bangkok, Thailand. After running wild with neighborhood children for a few years, her mother eventually enrolled her in a British International School. Upon graduation she returned to Iowa, enrolling in the University of Northern Iowa at the age of fifteen. Having grown up in the slums of Thailand, and volunteering her time at an orphanage in Peru, Kirsten was inspired to study Social Work, and earned her B.S.W. with a Minor in Health Promotion. After graduation, Kirsten and her now husband migrated their way west, first settling in Sioux Falls, SD before relocating to the Bay area in California to be near family. She took a position at an agency that offered employment services and job training to the mentally ill, but before long she was once again faced with an opportunity to return to Thailand with her husband to work for her parents as a company translator. She took this opportunity to study the language, and began writing about the experiences they had. Kirsten and her husband will be returning to the Bay area in early December of 2010.