Updated: Mar 6, 2019
The first place in this series is the much maligned and misunderstood City of Pattaya on Thailand’s eastern seaboard. This bustling city, constantly going through the throes of change, affected by world economics and tourist industry. It has grown massively since it was a small fishing village with one main street, the now infamous Walking Street. Then in the 60’s the Americans came. It was the R & R centre for U.S. Service personnel in the days of the Vietnam war. Easily accessible from the airbase at U Tapao, the sea, sand, sex and sunshine were the lure, the place had it all. The pleasures of the old Saigon, hot spicy Asian food and girls followed the boys and their money.
Today, much of the old is still visible and an attraction for male tourists, but the city council has tried to improve the image and drive some of the old bar culture out and replace it with swanky shopping malls. The influence of the rest of the world on the fake traders has also driven out much, though not all the counterfeit goods that used to be prolific in the markets and on the streets. The police counterfeiting unit often raid market stalls and smaller malls, but they spring up again or hide when they get warning, but the fake goods although some still available, are not as prevalent as fifteen years ago when I first lived there.
Once you have lived there in amongst it, lived and breathed it you can see the inner beauty of the place. The cosmopolitan feel, the liberality, food from all over the world, gourmet and ordinary and most of all the wild freedom makes it the glorious place it is. I’ve seen snooty press reports from the UK claiming in headlines like “20,000 Prostitutes operate in Pattaya!” That is a total insult to the Thai culture. If you put the view from a puritan perspective and definition of sex for sale then maybe, but that is to totally get it wrong. Girls mostly come from the north east of the country known as Isaan, seeking employment, sent by their Moms back in the villages to work and send money back to keep the farm going or keep a kid they’ve had from their early sexual encounters back home. Some are escaping abusive situations, and some are just ordinary folk trying to live. These are on balance beautiful people, with a gentle demeanour and culture, but beware if you cross them or make them lose ‘face.’ Yes, it is all available there if you want but delve deeper and go just outside the City bounded by the main Sukhumvit highway, and there are many housing developments where ex-pats from around the world live happily. Some have married or live with former Bar Girls, Go-Go dancers or even their cleaners and maids. There are small communities with villas and swimming pools and restaurants, with security at the gatehouse. All the same local night life is available, without the noise and brashness of the Tourist areas of Beach Road and Walking Street. The general liberality of the place makes for great retirement homes for engineers and construction workers around Asia & the Middle East. I lived in one road in which the majority were from Europe who had settled down with local girls and had families like anyone else. One of the local newspaper columns for ex-pats is aptly named “A Fool in Paradise!” That is how to think of yourself when there. We used to have the most wonderful street parties on the weekends that the bars were closed for public holidays like the King’s birthday.
You simply couldn’t go to Pattaya without experiencing that bar culture. Depending on what you are looking for LK Metro, off Soi Bua Khao, or Walking Street are where it’s at. Walking Street is where it all began in the 60’s and is now home to many of the city’s best nightclubs along with hundreds of beer bars and the popular go-go bars that are sure to get the pulses racing in any red-blooded male.
The Thais have some great phrases like “up to you” or “up to he or she” which can cover almost any desire. It is why Transsexuals are freely accepted and known semi-officially as either ‘Ladies of the 3rd gender’ or just ‘Tomboys.’ The guy who used to stop for a beer and chat while attempting to sell me copy watches at a bar in town, was born a girl. He would turn up with his girlfriend on the pillion of his motorbike, she would act as lookout, while he, chewing gum and wearing his baseball cap back to front would act like one of my mates, watching the other ladies go by! I’ve met many Khatoey’s, as the ladyboys are known, who work normally in shops, bars and have either local or ex-pat boyfriends like anybody else. There is a gay area downtown known as ‘Boyz Town’ where the go-go bars have boys as the attraction. There, I’ve seen older European Women picking up local boys. There was even a guy from England, apparently a teacher from Birmingham who regularly came for vacations, dressed as a girl, looking more like Grayson Perry in his garish dresses. A friendly bloke who the bar girls loved. I’ve seen a guy from the USA, on honeymoon with his bride, having a beer while his wife asked if one of the bargirls wanted to join them for the night. Yes, Pattaya has everything if you wish.
For the best in cabaret with the most beautiful of the Ladyboy fraternity. Pattaya is blessed with having a superb selection of shows so there will be something that captures your imagination. Go along to the world-famous Tiffany’s, a ladyboy cabaret show that is family friendly and a wonderful spectacle. Alternatively, you could go to the official Muay Thai bouts and watch a good standard of Thai boxing, rather than the drunken imitations in the bars downtown.
The tourist places are all around, just go to any travel agents and get a tour bus out further to the Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens where along with the beautiful gardens, they have Thai cultural shows, even pig races and crocodile shows and Elephant cabaret. The Tiger Zoo at Sri Racha breeds tigers and uses huge Sow porkers to suckle the young. They have incubators for the vulnerable young and export Tigers to many places around Asia. I’m not so sure of the morality of this trade, but when in a country I never judge from a western point of view. There are many of these sorts of attractions near Pattaya. Or go on a tour. Tours can take you from Pattaya to Cambodia or Vietnam by road in a matter of hours and I’ve even used these for visa runs. There are Buddhist Temples to visit, a giant Buddha carved into a mountain cliff laid out in gold leaf within a half hour’s drive. If you are a Golf fanatic there are umpteen courses that you can book within an hour drive also. The Caddies are mostly ladies and there are small bars for refreshment around the course, be careful as they may ask where you stay or your telephone number.
Probably Pattaya’s most iconic landmark is the Sanctuary of Truth, at Naklua, a hand carved wooden structure that was commissioned back in 1981 and is due for completion in 2050. It is said to represent Eastern Philosophy and is not associated with any religion. From there you could on to visit some of the city’s more unusual museums such as the Teddy Bear Museum, & Art in Paradise, or even the Bottle Art Museum. Market days are Wednesdays at the back streets off Pattaya Tai road leading on through to Soi Bua Khao and you will find cheap goods, have your nails painted or even Tattoists, plus lots of street food. There is another large night market on Fridays at Pattaya Tai close to Sukhumvit Highway.
To get around the town flag down any of the ‘Baht Buses’, pick-up truck taxis that use a circuit that runs from Second Road up to the north end at Naklua, then down Beach Road to Walking Street and back up to Second Road. No matter where you go or get off it is 10 Baht per person. These run from midday until 10pm. If you wish to go further afield you can negotiate a fare. At various street corners you will see boys with motorbike taxis, mostly identified by their waistcoat vests with advertising on, negotiate a price with them and jump on, they will give you an ill-fitting crash helmet, a legal requirement, though not much good in an accident! You can hire small motorbikes or big ones all over town be careful to have your International Driving License or if not always keep a couple of hundred Thai Baht under the seat for any questioning cop. That’s life!
It doesn’t matter whether you are a male or female, if you ask for assistance from any of the girls at a bar where you have a drink they will help. They will tell a Motorbike taxi where to take you, or even run out and pick up a kebab or food from a street stall, just tip them afterwards or buy them a drink. I’ve found this sort of assistance all over Asia, not only Thailand, it is why I love the East.
I could write so much more about Pattaya, but my advice to anyone heading there is be friendly, be respectful and be confident. Like anywhere there are rogues and thieves, don’t openly flaunt gold jewellery or cash and be careful where you leave your phones and cameras and you’ll survive Sin City.
I’ll answer questions about almost anything if anybody is heading out there, so don’t be afraid to ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you straight or tell you where to look.