Pattaya is a unique city. There’s cheap hotels, cheap food, cheap experiences, and cheap massages. Sounds pretty good, right?
The problem is the fact that Pattaya is perhaps the most repulsive place I have ever been in the world.
Pattaya was once a sleepy fisherman’s village, but things changed in the 1970s with the coming of an American Air-force base just 30 minutes away during the Vietnam War. Army personnel would head into Pattaya for rest and relaxation, and entertainment quickly surpassed fishing as a means of income for the locals. GIs who were far from home and looking to unwind not only loved booze, but women. While prostitution has existed in Thailand for centuries, the spiked demand led to brothels springing up left and right to a point there were more people than accommodations, particularly as GIs shared the word upon trips back state-side. Cheap hotels, hostels, and resorts were built, and Pattaya quickly became one of the first budget travel destinations not only for men looking to get boom boom (as they call it), but also for tourists wanting a cheap vacation and hippies seeking a low cost life.
Sex tourism exploded as people from across the world flocked in for beach time as well as cheap, easy, discrete sex. As the Vietnam War ended and the GIs left, Thai tourism adapted and restructured to maintain it’s status as a hub for cheap tourism.
While prostitution has always been illegal in Thailand, a blind eye was turned in the cities known for sex tourism (Pattaya, Phuket, districts in Bangkok). It has been a huge part of Thailand’s economy, with it accounting for 10% of the country’s GDP in 2015, and unfortunately, a key livelihood for many of the women. The profit opportunity far exceeds what can be earned in a 17 hour day at a factory, providing a better means to support a family. Many also hit the clubs with the goal of finding a rich man who might sweep them away from the grunge and poverty. In the past twenty years, Thailand’s economic slump has only made matter worse. As factories have closed down, even more women have taken to the sex tourism industry out of necessity.
Some women made the choice to enter the sex tourism market, but pimps, human trafficking, and exploitation are inevitable in such a shady industry. Stories of the mistreatment are gut wrenching and heart breaking, but I’ll let you do your own google research on that.
In the last decade, the Thai government has been cracking down on human trafficking, prostitution, and drugs and there are frequent raids and club closures, but it’s safe to say sex tourism is still alive and well.
The Westerdam hits Lem Chebang every cruise as it is the closest port to Bangkok. Bangkok is a 2 hour drive away, and as a result, I have been to Pattaya quite a few times, and I find it fascinating. There are bars with names such as “Horny Girls”, huge complexes where you “can feel like a rich man” with a special Yogurt massage (I don’t even want to know what that means), and women (or maybe lady boys) offering themselves at every venue.
The infamous “walking street” is the Times Square of Pattaya. As the sun goes down, the narrow road fills up with bachelor party bros, ex pats with young thai girls, gaggles of middle-age Indian men on the prowl, Thai men offering drugs, and women/lady boys yelling at you to come to see a ping pong show (and no, they aren’t playing table tennis…). The street is one huge cesspool with a “what happen in Pattaya, stays in Pattaya” mentality.
Ironically, it may be one of the only places where you feel safer as a woman than as a man. When easy, cheap prostitution is everywhere, why bother wasting time with anyone else? Men, on the other hand, watch out. Prepare to be cat called and pestered as women vie for your dollars.
While there are areas such as Walking Street and Soi 6 that are clearly where one goes to engage in sex tourism, the city as a whole has a sleazy, dirty nature that is impossible to not see.
I know what you’re thinking….. “I’m booking a ticket to Pattaya!!!!”
With that being said, Pattaya does have some great things to do that won’t result in an STD and that won’t break the bank.
The Sanctuary of Truth
This beautifully crafted wooden temple features intricate carvings reflecting Thai culture and beliefs rooted in Buddhism. The detailing and craftsmanship are astonishing and will give you a jaw dropping travel moment. The coolest part is the fact it is still being built, and you might even catch some artists working away!
The Elephant Sanctuary
The Elephant Sanctuary in Pattaya is nothing short from amazing. As I learned, the domestication process of elephants is abusive and inhumane, and having nonstop riders causes spinal damage. This organization buys abused elephants (which go for around $150K ), and provide land, medical attention, and care for them.
For $70 usd, you get to feed the elephants, give them a mud bath (hello spa day!), then go for a swim with the gentle giants. It’s a special experience well worth the price tag.
Find an Infinity Pool
Resorts and trendy hotels are great way to escape the grit of Pattaya. Most allow you to use the pool and amenities for a fee, but this most recent trip we went the whole 9 yards and booked a room at Siam @ Siam with Jeremy’s free hotel room from Bookings.com. The room had ocean views with a soaking tub and big day bed, and we had access to complimentary afternoon coffee, a free happy hour, and one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve seen. Not to mention, the infinity pool on the top deck is nothing short of epic.
Get a Massage
$6 Thai massages will ruin you from all the fancy $100/hr spa massages you splurge on at home. Little Asian women use their hands, elbows, and feet to rub and beat your muscles into a relaxed state. Your body will be bent and battered in new ways, but the journey is fun and you feel great afterwards. If you can, go with friends to avoid trouble.
Get Street Food
In Thailand’s sin city, avoid the clubs and hit the street food stalls where you’ll find out what your favorite Thai dishes are suppose to taste like. Southeast Asia has access to the freshest thai basil, tamarind, chilis, and spices that make the food taste different than American replicas that are made from dried or jarred ingredients.
You can score solid street food for 120 TBH or less. If a noodle or rice based dish is less than 100TBH, it’s a steal, if it’s more than 120 TBH, continue the search elsewhere.
Thai food consists of beautiful curries, fresh seafood, hot soups, and noodles galore. As you can imagine, runny massaman curry and spicy Tom Yum soup may not be what the inebriated 2am party-goers want, and won’t be common at street food stalls. The following four dishes, however, are ones I’d recommend seeking out specifically in Pattaya.
Pad Thai is a classic thai dish consisting of rice noodles stir fried with egg, bean sprouts, peanuts and chicken, shrimp, or tofu, and it is a must eat when traveling in Thailand. In Pattaya, there are street food carts serving up heaping plates just about everywhere and it is fresh, delicious, and oh so cheap.
Pad See ew
Pad see ew is my favorite Thai noodle dish. Compared to Pad Thai, Pad See Ew has wider rice noodles and a sweet soy sauce that gives the dish a delicious salty/sweet flavor. The thick, chewiness of the noodles is incredibly satisfying, and it my go-to Thai food.
In Pattaya, Pad see ew isn’t as easy to come by as Pad Thai. I have found that even if it isn’t listed on the lamented picture menu, they can make it for you more often than not.
Mango Sticky Rice
Glutinous rice doused in sugar and coconut milk topped with beautifully ripe mango is a delectable treat I wake up in the morning craving. Sweet, tart mango is a match made in heaven with slightly salty, thick rice. When in Thailand, I have it just about every day. As with Pad Thai, there are mango sticky rice street carts throughout the streets of Pattaya.
Middle eastern men flock to Pattaya to escape their home countries that have contrastingly restrictive sex cultures. Thai chefs are savvy, and there are kebab places with rotating meat everywhere. You can score a pita stuffed with meat and fixings for 80 TBH, and don’t be afraid to speak up about how you want it prepared to avoid disaster. We tried out two different Kebabs this most recent trip, and the first one was slathered in ketchup, making for a less than enjoyable experience.
To sum things up…..
You can scrape up descent things to do in Pattaya, but I’d recommend heading to Bangkok, Koh Samui, or any of the other beautiful places Thailand has to offer.
Or go, and learn something new about the world.
I find Pattaya outrageously heinous and disgusting, and that’s what travel is all about. Experiencing a culture so outside my normal and getting the reality shock of what underlying human nature is capable of has expanded my mind and views of the world. It’s hard to understand how monstrous people can be until you strip away repercussions and hand over vices on a platter. It begs the question of whether people visiting Pattaya are succumbing to environmental pressures, or if the true inner beast is simply let free.