I’ve been to Thailand several times over the years, but never visited Pattaya. Thus when Robin said that he has to go there for work, I quickly decided to come along and once-and-for-all decide for myself if this is the sex capital of the world or not.
As we entered the city at night, driving under the ‘Welcome to Pattaya’ flickering sign, it was a weird scene for the first thing I noticed was that there were lots of electrical and telephone cables stacked sky high on both sides of the road. So instead of seeing the buildings and lights, the first thing you saw were cables!
For me at least, being in Pattaya evoked a lot of different feelings and definitely opinions. One thing that you notice is that as you walk down the street, enter shops, go to restaurants, the people as Robin put it, are omni-available … from the continuous bowing as they open the door to the hotel, to the constant availability of girls and boys as you walk past them in downtown Pattaya. You’re never quite sure how to interpret this ‘availability’. The value ‘integrity’ also sprung to mind. You would see a Thai girl with a European man, and as you walk by, her eyes and lips would follow you, trying to decide if the grass would be greener if she stayed with you that night. I would be thinking ‘focus girl’!
Then there is the continuous bowing. One of my friends that also attended this conference summed it up the best way. When they bow to you she said, you should take that as a ‘hello’ and nothing more. Bowing to a Western person may symbolize respect, honour and dignity. Thus when they continuously bow to you as you enter a sex bar, if to be interpreted by Western cultural standards and given what you will see inside, the gesture will come across hypocritical. Taking it as a simple greeting will require much less questioning of the subsequent actions.
As I’m writing this, I notice that all my examples revolve around sex. Hmmm! I guess that’s because sex is so present in everyday Pattaya.
Curiously enough, the government is investing a lot of money into Pattaya, to further develop it as a tourist and a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events for those that do not recognize this acronym) destination. I still don’t fathom why though, for other than its proximity to Bangkok, it does not even compare with so many other beautiful places in Thailand. I also found it a bit hypocritical that the government/businesses in their promotion of the place completely close an eye to the sex industry, which is so blatantly obvious once you’re in Pattaya!
So how did Pattaya get its reputation as a sex destination? The story goes that during the Vietnam war, this was an air force base where the GI’s flew in on mammoth B-52’s enroute to Vietnam or back to the US. It was also an R&R stop for the many soldiers that fought in the region. Understandably so, after weeks/months of fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, when the soldiers came to Pattaya they entertained themselves with joints, girls and alcohol. The practice somehow continues till today.
After spending a week in Pattaya I’ve come to the following conclusions:
- It is a sex destination
- It is not a very pretty city, dare I say ugly?
- Come with an open mind and try not to judge
- Lots of girls and boys accompanying big, fat and old European/American men
- Girls throwing themselves at you and going straight for your crotch
- You primarily see only male tourists (I wonder why!!)
- Like in the rest of Thailand, you will eat very well … there is nothing like Thai food ☺
In the end though, Pattaya redeemed herself. Prior to departing, Robin and I took a three hour massage at the Royal Cliff Spa that was one of the best massages ever. And I have had a lot! The setting was beautiful and the Thai massage was strong, deep and very relaxing. So both of us left with a smile on our face.
Pattaya is not my type of destination … but I’m also the first to say that you should witness everything at least once ☺ So run to your nearest Thai Airways office and book your ticket for Pattaya! You will definitely leave this place with a strong opinion!
HOW TO GET THERE
The new Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport is a very big hub in Asia, so it is well connected from all Asian and global destinations. We took an evening flight from Singapore that lasted approximately 2 hours 20 minutes. What you have to take into consideration is that you need an additional 2 hour plus car transfer to get to Pattaya (approx 150 km). Given that it was late at night, the traffic was very light. However, we were told that if you do this trek during the day, it can sometimes take up to 2.5 hours. So get ready for the long drive!
> Royal Cliff Beach Hotel: This is a sprawling complex right on the beach, with several buildings and a conference centre, Spa, Sports and Fitness Club, etc. When I say beach, it’s the private beach that belongs to the hotel. The complex is built on a cliff adjacent to Pattaya, but not within walking distance of the city centre. You invariably have to take a tuk-tuk or a limousine transfer to enjoy the many ‘pleasures’ of Pattaya town. The Royal Cliff Grand & Spa hotel has a remarkable design from the outside, draped with semi-circular balconies overlooking the sea. However, the rooms are a bit tired looking. The adjacent Royal Cliff Beach Hotel didn’t have the interesting external structure and the great view, but was certainly newer and more modern from the inside. If you want a very large room, make sure you head for the Royal Wing & Spa, which is the suite-only section of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort.
> Pattaya Marriott Resort & Spa Hotel: This hotel is located right in the centre of Pattaya, thus everything is within walking distance. The hotel looked superb, outfitted in traditional Thai style with a wonderfully appointed pool amidst ponds, bamboo trees and wooden pagodas. Compared to the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, which in many ways reminded me of Varadero in Cuba, the Marriott looks very authentic.
> other hotels: While driving up and down Pattaya, I saw that there is also a Hard Rock Hotel, Dusit Thani Hotel and Amari Nova Suite Hotel. A special mentioning should go to the Sheraton Hotel, which is right next to the Royal Cliff Beach Resort and is supposed to be quite wonderful with very large rooms.
THINGS TO DO> Walking down Pattaya Beach Road and the Walking Street: You cannot come to Pattaya without strolling down Pattaya Beach Road which ends in a pedestrian only Walking Street. Funny enough it’s a walking street only at night for during the day you will be honked off the road area by crazy drivers. Shops, lights, restaurants, food stalls, girls, boys – all mixed in a cacophony of light and sound. You’re not sure what to think when you see all this. Are you to rejoice, participate, feel sad, question, be repulsed? I guess to each their own.
Make sure you also weave through all the streets running perpendicular to Pattaya Beach Road. That is where you will see bars with school girls, witches, Adonis boys, etc. alongside the many food stalls serving delicious Thai food.
> Elephant Village (half-day): You also cannot come to Thailand without seeing elephants. This tourist attraction is a half-day packed program encompassing feeding elephants, bathing with them (if you so choose to), going on a one-hour ride elephant-back ride, watching them perform various tasks demonstrating how they were used for work, as well as you get a chance to see how silk is produced, feed catfish in a lake and play with monkeys that jump onto your jeep to say hello. It’s a wonderful 6 hours both for you and your kids. And to end, you even get a photo of yourself riding on an elephant, if you happened to look into the camera shutter when they were taking the photograph.
> The Sanctuary of Truth: I have to say that this place surprised me completely. We went there for an evening reception, and I didn’t quite know where we were going. It’s located right by the water on the opposite side of Pattaya (relative to the Royal Cliff Beach Resort). It is an amazingly large wooden structure in the shape of a Thai temple, with very intricate and beautiful carvings both on the inside and outside. When we arrived there it was illuminated with beautiful shades of purple and pink, giving it a very impressive and regal look.
For the event they had placed beautiful Thai dancers in all the openings of the structure, so that wooden sculptures were juxtaposed with the human type creating a stunning effect.
The biggest shock came just before we were to exit the building and head for the drinks, while we were observing a beautiful statue decorated with yellow garlands. A guide quickly approached us to tell us the significance of the statue and then springed on us the news, that the whole building was built 26 years ago!!! And there I thought I was observing something from the 16th or 17th century.
Not sure what it looks like during the day, but I’m sure it’s worthy of a visit on an early morning before it gets too hot.
> Coral Island tour (full day): If you’re tired of the beaches in and around Pattaya, for to be honest they are really not that special, go for a full-day excursion to Coral Island. It is located in the bay right in front of Pattaya and takes about 25 min to arrive by speed-boat. Even though it’s quite touristy, the beach is wider with nice powdery sand, has cleaner water and is lush with vegetation. There is a simple but nice restaurant on the beach where you can have your lunch, and it’s actually worth the day trip even if just for a change of scenery. Did I mention that no one harasses you there? For the sea-sports fanatics, there’s a myriad of options available to you.
And on your way back you will actually be surprised, for you will notice that Pattaya actually has quite a lot of highrises and seems like a bigger city than the impression it leaves when you’re crawling the crowded streets around Pattaya Beach Road.
> Alm giving at Wat Chai Mongkol: How about starting your day by making donations to the monks and performing rituals for good luck? Every morning around 8:30 you can go to the Wat Chai Mongkol Buddhist temple and give alms and gifts to monks. It’s a nice way of learning more about Buddhist rituals and experiencing it in practice.
There are several rituals you can perform for good luck. On one side of the temple there is a square courtyard with a big bell-shaped structure in the centre, and dozens of smaller hanging bells surrounding the perimeter. Take a wooden stick and hit each one of these hanging bells in order, and good luck will be yours for the day. An alternative is to feed the catfish in a pond nearby.
While we were driving to the temple, our guide was telling us about the five precepts of Buddhism: (1) one shall not kill; (2) one shall not steal; (3) one shall refrain from sexual misconduct; (4) one shall refrain from lying; (5) one shall not drink alcohol. But, he says, Thai people have ‘adapted’ these rules! I really thought this summed up Pattaya quite well … adapting the rules ☺
One thing I also learnt is that each day of the week has a colour assigned to it. Starting with Sunday, which is day one of the week, the colours are the following:
- Sunday - red
- Monday - cream/yellow
- Tuesday - pink
- Wednesday - green
- Thursday - orange/brown
- Friday - blue
- Saturday - black/purple
Thus we were told that the reason yellow is so prolifically used in Thailand these days is because the current king was born on Monday. When they celebrate the Queen’s birthday, then all the decorations are done in blue.
> Excursion to Rayong Province (full day): Rayong is a coastal province located some 70 km from Pattaya. The drive there is very picturesque, and in many ways this is the Thailand that one expects. Nice beaches, small towns, beach-side resorts, palm trees, sunshine and without the hectic feel of Pattaya.
We stopped for lunch at the Novotel Rim Pae Resort in Rayong (www.novotel-asia.com/1130) which was very pretty and right on the beach. It was located on a quiet stretch of beach and I could have seen myself stay there for a few days. Don’t know what the rooms are like, but the setting was charming.
We also stopped at the HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirndhorn Herb Garden. I’m not much of a herb lover, but for those that are interested in medical herbs, there are more than 260 species on display here. For more information call (66) 3891-5213-5.
> Royal Cliff Spa: This is something you should definitely do. The setting is spectacular. You’re on the 6th floor of the Royal Cliff Grand & Spa hotel, with a huge outdoor terrace facing the sea. The Thai massage is done in one of the three bungalows on this terrace. Besides a Thai massage, we also had a body scrub, anti-stress massage and a facial. The whole treatment took 3 hours and was strong, deep and very relaxing.
Without any doubt, Thai food is consistently good no matter where you eat. And this holds through for Pattaya as well.
> Food stalls: If you’re adventurous at heart, try going into the alleys in the Walking Street, and amongst the many sex bars you will find street vendors selling delicious and very inexpensive Thai food. You sit outside, you enjoy a chilled bear, eat delicious food and simultaneously do some people watching as shady characters enter the doors to questionable bars. And when you finish your meal, you will find yourself following them too.
> Mantra: For an up-scale culinary experience, definitely drop by Mantra. It is located adjacent to the Amari hotel and is beautifully decorated in a red and black theme. Passing a large water feature, you enter the premise through large black doors opening up into the bar area. The décor is modern with a Thai touch. You could be in New York or Istanbul. When you are ready to taste their cuisine, which is a mixture of Japanese, Indian and Western favourites (no Thai though), the waiter/waitress will assist you into the cavernous but exquisitely appointed dining room. You won’t regret it!