Former ‘Sin City” Pattaya sings a different tune and is geared for families and business travelers today.
A LOT of people are ambivalent about Pattaya. Yet, this city on the Eastern Seaboard remains a favorite repeat destination of both local and foreign visitors probably because it is so near Bangkok and, no matter what some may say, has all the elements to make for an exciting, enjoyable holiday. As Tourism Authority of Thailand director, Chaiwat Charoensuk, once told us, “Pattaya has it all. The choice is up to you!”
Located 150kms from Bangkok, Pattaya first became famous worldwide through the American soldiers who made it their R&R camp town during the Vietnam War. When the Americans left, they also left behind their R&R vestiges, and Pattaya became a veritable “singles” destination” — famous for its go-go bars and nightlife attractions than anything else. While the city boasts a variety of tourist offerings even then, its nightlife gave Pattaya its fame, along with a not-so flattering reputation, a stigma even, some might say.
It took Pattaya a while to prove to the world that it is serious in changing its “image.” But today, largely because of the city’s hardwork into presenting a more wholesome face, Pattaya has been seeing a large increase in family tourism; the more than two million tourists who visit the city every year seem to agree.
NORTH PATTAYA – At the old village in Nak Klua today, you can still see wooden houses and narrow streets, traditional noodle shops and working fishing boats. The old houses over the creek are especially picturesque and a walk through the selling handicrafts and domestic goods. The Dolphin Roundabout and the beginning of Beach Road mark the junction with North Pattaya and the surroundings change dramatically. This is the classy end of the resort with hotels and restaurants facing out over the beach.
CENTRAL PATTAYA – Pattaya Klang (Central Pattaya) is a little funkier than the northern district. The hotels are not so grand, the restaurants smaller and here you will find the beginning of Pattaya’s beer bars or open bars and some go-go bars. Three shopping malls – Central Festivall Beach Road, Royal Garden and Mike’s – are the main landmarks. In addition to action along Beach Road, many sois (streets) are very lively, Soi Post Office and Soi Pattayaland in particular. There is a police box on Beach Road near the junction to South Pattaya’s Walking Street. The sois will take you to the 2nd Road where there are more bars and restaurants and a couple of dive shops. There are many small hotels and guesthouses offering good value accommodation and no-frills Western and Thai dining.
SOUTH PATTAYA – South Pattaya comes sharply off from Beach Road taking the traffic away from the busy district, which is known as the “Walking Street.” This pedestrians’ only zone allows visitors to browse among the endless little shops offering tailor services, sports goods, jewelry and souvenirs. The bars are almost endless as are big seafood restaurants, several of them built near the ocean and offering pleasant surroundings to enjoy your meal. South Pattaya tends to be older, brashier, and busier than the rest of the city.
JOMTIEN – This is where you find more Thais enjoying the seas, which is not as congested with boats as Pattaya Bay. This is also the place to relax for a suntan, or for a long early morning or sunset walks. There is little in shopping or beer bars because it is essentially a residential area with beach hotels, restaurants, bungalow complexes, and condos. It has been said that there’s a distinctive gay beach here, which can be accessed by turning right at the bottom of the hill. For all other attractions turn left.
WHY GO Pattaya has something for everyone. Top quality sports – an opportunity to learn scuba or gain a golf handicap at bargain prices. Beaches — clusters of island beaches isolated from crowds or the popular 7km Jomtien Beach. Excursions — nearby islands, rural villages, fruit orchards, and etc. Sightseeing — theme parks, open zoos, elephant village, and more. Entertainment — Cabaret shows, live music, and others. As some proponents of the city say, Pattaya — also a regional center for the eastern seaboard — is Thailand’s most accessible resort destination and the opening of Suvarnabhumi airport has made it even more accessible. Also, Pattaya has a well-developed infrastructure, good hospitals, and a range of retail outlets and entertainment, and a total lifestyle package that makes it very attractive to visitors.
WHAT TO DO As a whole, the destination has become more family friendly. From “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” at the Royal Garden Plaza, to the Underwater World, to the Mini Siam, to Nong Nooch Garden, to the Three Kingdoms Theme Park, there are more than enough places to bring the children too for some satisfying family time. There are even resorts now geared exclusively for family holidays, such as the Horsehoe Point Resort and Club House located just 15kms away from the city proper. Indeed, there is more than just Tiffany and Alcazar cabarets, the annual “Pattaya International Music Festival,” the elephant shows or the excursions to the nearby islands today. Even spa lovers will love the new Pattaya. Almost all five-star hotels operate spa facilities with well-trained therapists and unique treatments. Places like The Royal Cliff Spa and Dusit’s Devarana Spa has gained worldwide recognition for their spa facilities and services. Spa havens with unique concepts such as Eravana Spa in Jomtien offer wonderful Thai twist on the local spa experience. Then, there is the Oasis Pattaya, which was a success right from the start because of its unique Lanna style spa treatments. And oh, lately with the state-of-the-art dedicated exhibition center, Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall (PEACH), and the MICE facilities and services now available in many major hotels and resorts, the city has been catering to large-scale incentives and events, from product launches and trade shows to sport extravaganzas.
SHOP Business continues to flourish and the mushrooming of commercial centers suggests that shopping is going up the next level. Did we get it right that in 2006 alone visitors spent Bt53 million in shopping alone? No wonder, the Central group, one of Thailand’s biggest department store chains has built a new large shopping mall just a few steps away from the pioneering Royal Garden Plaza, the plush Central Festival Mall. Now there’s also a community mall, Avenue, on Pattaya Central Road not to mention old dependables such as the Central Festival near the dolphin rotunda and Mike Shopping Mall in South Pattaya. Of course all the major convenient and specialty stores are now present in the city: Lotus, Carrefoure, and Index.
SLEEP The arrival of more five-star luxury hotel chains – there are now more than 35,000 hotel rooms in Pattaya it is said — and the rising quality of facilities and tourist infrastructure imply that the city’s guest profile is getting more mixed and sophisticated. The Amari Orchid Resort & Ocean Tower, the Royal Cliff Beach Resort (a complex of four or five 5-str resorts), Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort Pattaya, Pullman G Pattaya, Hilton Pattaya, Pattaya Marriott, Sheraton Pattaya, and Dusit Thani Pattaya are just among the many signs that the Pattaya hotel industry has climbed up to the upper luxury market. But visitors can still find all kinds of accommodation offerings, from the dazzling d2 baraquda, the reliable Sukosol hotels such as Siam Bayshore and Bayview hotels to Holiday Inn, Hard Rock Pattaya, Montien, Ibis, Best Western, etc. From five-star hotels to quiet, rustic bungalows, Pattaya boast a diversity of accommodation noted for quality and service. Room rates range from Bt200 for a simple guesthouse to Bt20,000 up for five-star hotels.
Coming up are intimate chic properties such as The Wave, which is just out of the blueprint. The apparent boom in the residential and serviced apartment sectors — many of which now rival the hotels in facilities, service and comforts — also continues.
EAT & DRINK New dining and entertainment venues are fast appearing, Amari Orchid’s Mantra restaurant is a big favorite, as are other new fine dining eateries both in the big hotels and outside.
What do these all mean to the regular tourists? We asked a repeat visitor, John Mick, at random on Beach Road and his reply, “Pattaya today has more things to enhance our holiday experience. There is so much to see. There is so much to do. It wasn’t like these just five years ago. The changes are amazing – and I think they’re for the better!”
Mind you, John Mick is not alone. If you go about asking tourists what they think of Pattaya today, you will probably get the same positive answer.
Area: Approximately 208sqms. Besides the four sections we mentioned earlier, Koh Larn, Koh Krok, and Koh Sak, about 8kms from the shore, are part of the city administrative district.
Climate: Warm and dry from November to February, hot and humid from March to May, and hot and rainy from June to October.
Transport and Services: Mini-bus travel is most convenient but motorcycles and car rentals are easy to find. Boat trips to the islands are available everyday.
Pattaya is a mere two-hour drive on the Sukhumvit Highway via Bangna, Bangpakong, Chonburi, and Sri Racha. Suvarnabhumi Airport is just 70km north of Pattaya and there are available bus services.
By car: From Bangkok, Chonburi can be reached via many expressway routes.
By bus: Two bus terminals in Bangkok serve the route, one in Ekkamai and one in Morchit. Fare is Bt117.
By train: There is a single train leaving for Chonburi daily from Bangkok with its destination at Plutaluang Station (Call 02 223-7010 for more information).