Once a sleepy fishing town, Pattaya first boomed during the Vietnam War as an official R&R spot and has been a sex tourism destination trying to improve its image ever since.
Now it's Thailand biggest seaside resort with 13,000 hotel rooms, whose main attractions are its golf courses, its wild nightlife, its family theme parks and its proximity to Bangkok. World famous for its girly bars, Pattaya has recently diversified and is trying to become one of the best family destinations in Thailand, living a somewhat schizophrenic life as a night-time bacchanalia and day-time fun park.
The beaches are somewhat lackluster by Thai standards and rampant over-development has long since destroyed Pataya's natural charms, but its huge range of facilities and convenient access from the capital's Suvarnabhumi Airport make it a good destination for families who have only a short time in the kingdom. For adults who have come to party Pattaya is the place to be, with its kicking bars and clubs of all descriptions and with the riotousness scored to pretty much whatever soundtrack you fancy, from the middle-aged to the manic.
The main Pattaya Beach is a crowded and relatively narrow strip of sand that runs along the city centre and pulses with life. The street along the beach, Walking Street, comes alive with rock music as the sun sets and the night-owls wake up and come out to play. In a country populated by people who love to party, Pattaya's Walking Street is probably the wildest and most frenetic party-zone in the country, except on full moon nights, when Koh Phangan's Hat Rin beach takes the number one spot.
Jomtien Beach, which has grainier sand, is separated from the main Pattaya Bay by a hill and is more popular among family vacationers, due to its slightly calmer atmosphere and to its childrens' amusement park. Wong Phrachan Beach, situated to the north of Pattaya Beach, is a favourite among swimmers.
Pattaya's main beaches are popular and busy places where activities include banana-boat riding, jet-skiing, water-skiing, parasailing and windsurfing. For those more interested in inactivities there are acres of sand jam-packed with recliners and umbrellas and serviced by an army of usually polite but tenacious hawkers offering everything from food to massage, manicure/pedicure, tattoos, lottery tickets, newspapers, herbs, flowers, gems, perfumes, CD's and sunglasses. It's a bit like TV shopping: as soon as you've declined one offer, it's time to consider another. Eventually you buy a pair of very dark sunglasses and then pretend to be asleep. It's best to visit the beaches only after the beach cleaners have disposed of the previous night's detritus, which can include potentially deadly needles. There are several well-frequented but pleasant islands nearby.
Underwater World is an aquarium where visitors walk along a 105 metre transparent-sided underwater tunnel through 4 separate zones. The first zone displays pretty and exotic fish that would, if not separated, be eaten as afternoon nibbles by the sharks in the second zone. The highlight of the third zone is the turtles darting in and out of an artificial shipwreck, whilst the fourth zone holds some giant Amazonian monster-fish.
Pattaya Elephant Village. Although it's a bit disconcerting to see the gentle giants languishing in a city, this a mandatory stop for parents, as the children will love, among other exhibits, the pachyderm football and the war parade.
The Million-Year Stone Park and Crocodile Farm features a rare species zoo, and crocodile, fire-swallowing and magic shows. Great for the kids, but about as exciting as watching paint dry for their parents.
Mini Siam features miniature replicas of iconic structures. Thai structures include the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Bridge over the River Kwai, whilst replicas of the Tower Bridge of London, Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and Trevi Fountain are displayed in the section called 'miniworld'.
Pirom Submarine. Visitors board the submarine from the nearby island of Koh Sak: not for the claustrophobic.
Pattaya's 3 huge multiplex cinemas are air conditioned back to arctic temperatures, so bring a long sleeve shirt, or jacket, or both. Some English-language films will be dubbed into Thai with no English subtitles, which can be disappointing for adults and cause a minor riot from the children. Cinema patrons must stand during the King's anthem. For some reason singing along by Thai-speaking foreigners is generally frowned upon: maybe it's because they are likely to get the tones wrong and sing something completely inappropriate which, whilst it would usually be regarded as hilarious, is anything but when the revered royal family is involved.
Whilst the fishing and scuba diving are not amongst the country's best, the golf is (www.thebunkerboys.com). There are more than 20 courses within an hour's drive of Pattaya, many designed by some of golf's most famous names, including Nick Faldo (Great Lakes), Jack Nicklaus (Laem Chabang), Gary Player (Sri Racha) and Robert Trent Jones (Eastern Star Resort and Country Club). Laem Chabang International Country Club is considered the finest golf course in the area and is ranked in Thailand's Top 3 best courses.
The Pattaya Sports Club has good online resources at www.pattayasports.org for those seeking to play golf or other sports while in the area. Some of the sporting possibilities are aerobics, aqua-aerobics, badminton, billiards/pool/snooker, bowling, bridge, bungee jumping, cycling, flying, paragliding & skydiving, horseback riding www.horseshoepoint.com, hot air ballooning ww.patayaballoon.com, jet-skiing, motorsports www.highsidetours.com, Thai boxing paintball, parachute rides, sailing www.sailing-pattaya.com, shooting, swimming, tennis, waterskiing & wakeboarding, windsurfing & kiteboarding.
Pattaya has a veritable trolley-load of malls and supermarkets, but is not a good place to buy hi-tech products such as cameras, computers, etc - expect high prices. Beware of buying fake perfume, as this may be confiscated by customs officers at the airport where, in 2007 and in front of press cameras, five tons of counterfeit designer perfume were crushed by a bulldozer. The driver got sick of all the strange looks he got on his way home, and hurried back to shower. Of the many bazaar-style markets in Pattaya where you can haggle till you drop, Made In Thailand Night Bazaar is perhaps the most fun. In Typically Thai fashion, despite its name, it is open daily from 8am and also sells foreign products. The reputation of the city's art galleries is up with that of the best in Thailand, with KC Gallery on Walking Street and Narai Art Gallery (Soi 6, Phratamnak Road) being the best at the time of going to print.
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