Synonymous with sex tourism, Pattaya is unapologetic about its bread-and-butter industry. Go-go clubs, massage parlours and girlie bars occupy block after block of the central city, making Bangkok’s red-light districts look small and provincial. But walking the same streets as the stiletto-wearing ladyboys are ever-increasing numbers of Russian tourists and Chinese tour groups. More than anything, Pattaya today is a schizophrenic experience: part package holiday destination; part prostitution central.
During the day, the city is slightly less seedy as the beach gets crowded out and jet skis and speed boats bounce across the waves. A fair few Thais, too, have adopted Pattaya as a weekend getaway, drawn by the excellent seafood and lower prices than elsewhere on the eastern seaboard. But not even the most enthusiatic Pattaya promoter could claim that the city has changed too much from its original incarnation as an anything-goes sin city for GIs on R & R from the Vietnam War.
The city is built around Ao Pattaya, a wide crescent-shaped bay that was one of Thailand’s first beach resorts in the 1960s. The surrounding area is now Thailand’s manufacturing base, transforming the bay from fishing and swimming pool into an industrial port. Some provincial Thais still swim here but we don’t think you should as the water is dirty. The oceanfront promenade does, however, provide a scenic stroll under shady trees and a lovely coastal view.
Optimists claim that Hat Jomtien, south of the centre, is a family-friendly scene. True, there are fewer girlie bars and the beach is nicer, but Jomtien is about two decades away from being retro and there's a preponderance of mediocre hotels and restaurants. North Pattaya (Pattaya Neua) is fashioning itself as a mini-Bangkok with modern condo towers and respectable corporate hotels. North of the city is Naklua, which is glossier than Jomtien and a little more promising for Pattaya’s alternative tourists.