Love it or hate it. This Thai beach resort does not tend to illicit many neutral opinions. Some think of it as a paradise, some a trashy tourist trap. Located 147 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, the resort attracts one-and-a-half million tourists annually.
Pattaya may be the most foreign town in Thailand. You are just as likely to hear English and German spoken on the streets as you are to hear Thai. On the newsstands there are more foreign newspapers and magazines available than there are Thai publications. This is quite an accomplishment as Thailand produces a tremendous number of newspapers. The store signs also have English written above Thai which is not very common throughout the Kingdom.
The first Western tourists to visit Pattaya were American soldiers who arrived for a spell of R&R in four transport trucks on the 29th of June, 1959. These dozen men rented a couple of houses near the southern end of the beach. Even though they were only there for a week, once they got back to base they raved about the place, and spread the word about Pattaya, so many more GIs followed. As a result, Pattaya Beach as a tourist centre was born.
Pattaya was originally known as Tupphraya which dated back to the time when Phraya Taksin (Duke Taksin) camped near here with the followers he had gathered to help free Thailand from the Burmese (Tupphraya- the Phraya's army). As the village grew, the villagers wanted to give it a seperate identity, so they adopted the name of Pattaya, which was the name they used for the strong winds that came from the South West at the beginning of every rainy season.
During the Vietnam War Pattaya expanded rapidly as soldiers stationed at U-Tapao air base spent a lot of their freetime and money at the resort.
The attraction of Pattaya for most men is that they can make love to many beautiful prostitutes for very little money. The women in Pattaya cost about 20 dollars for a short time. Back in Europe and North America they may cost 5 times that or even 15 or 20 times that.
Many men (and women) live out their fantasies in Pattaya as they may have several different women in one night or they may have more than one woman (or man) at the same time, all at prices that are relatively cheap compared to the West.
Many of the girls are from Issan (Northeastern Thailand), and desperate for money. Flattery will get them everywhere and they are very good at it. They call the tourists gorgeous, sexy, handsome and beautiful, even if the foreigners bear a strong resemblance to the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Many of them are looking for a ticket out in the form of a farang husband. One of their sister's may have already gotten out, so they are encouraged by this. As time goes on, however, they become jaded though if their luck is not as good. Some end up staying in Pattaya for years and becoming mamasans, or recruiters for the bars.
It is obvious that some of the girls are underage. The moral dilemma is that they don't think there is anything wrong with what they are doing (nor do many of their parents), and many of them seem to enjoying what they are doing.
Prostitution is a billion dollar business and it brings in tons of money to Thailand every year. From the amount of money the customer pays the prostitute, to the amount spent on hotels, food, drinks, condoms, gifts, taxis etc. a phenomenal amount of money changes hands in the flesh trade and a lot of people profit by it.
There is no doubt that Pattaya was developed due to the sex trade, maintained because of the sex trade, and prospers today because of the sex trade.
The Thai English daily, The Nation, recently reported in a column by Pravit Rojanaphruk on a survey of British male tourists, who visit Pattaya, by a British social researcher from the University of Central Lancashire. The Nation reported the researcher found that most sex tourists choose Thailand as a holiday destination for a number of reasons. "Thailand is different because it is very `easy and convenient' to buy sexual services there, and second because Thai women are so `natural', so charming, and so innocent that the transaction does not feel purely commercial.
Street scene in Pattaya
The researcher divided the tourists into two types `Macho Lads' and `Mr Average.' `Macho Lads' like Thai prostitutes because, "Over here they are not low-lifes like English prostitutes. ... You don't really think of them as prostitutes. They treat you well."
"To `Mr Average' Pattaya is a fantasy island precisely because when a 22-year-old woman approaches `Mr Average', and puts a slim arm around the rolls of fat bulging over the waistband of his trousers or strokes his balding head and tells him he is a `sexy man' he can convince himself that it is true".
In his article in The Nation, Khun Rojanaphruk wrote that in his tour of Pattaya he was accompanied by David Melding, a freelance contributor to BBC Wales and a former Conservative Party candidate. Melding, aged 31 was shocked. "It was the most profound corruption of the human spirit," he said. "I had been warned what it was like, the sex industry and everything. But it's still a shock to see it in such an unapologetic and absolute way. I mean there's nothing else going on here except sex as far as I can work out... it's in the most brutal, cheap and ugly way, and I find that desperately, desperately unhappy."
Too often in Thailand policemen have taken bribes from brothel owners to look the other way, because their salaries are so low. The Crime Supression Division (C.S.D.) of the Thai police force needs a special task force just to investigate enforced and underage prostitution.
Many ex-pats own bars in Pattaya, where the prostitutes work (you have to pay the bar a fee to take the girls home). Some of these grizzled veterans look like they have been glued to their chairs since the Vietnam war ended. Every once in a while someone comes over and gives them a new beer, and they bellow away at some injustice or another.
Every type of Thai massage seems available in Pattaya including; Natural Thai Massage, Thai Hand Massage, Body Massage, Chinese-Thai Massage, Original Thai Massage, Whole Earth Massage and simple Thai Massage.
The renowned Bangkok Post columnist Bernard Trink (who devotes at least a part of his column every month to a section on Pattaya) thinks that the city should one day be awarded a film festival similar to the one held in Cannes every year. It would be a very good idea as long as there would be a focus on Asian films and filmmakers.
Pattaya has been plagued by a tremendous amount of bad publicity over the years. Every pedophile the Thai police catch seems to be operating out of Pattaya.
Many scams are perpetrated by foreigners and Thais alike in Pattaya. Earlier this year journalist Andrew Drummond reported that a Scandinavian was posing as a policeman and driving around with a Thai policeman on the take. They would hire a woman to lure a man back to her hotel, then they would arrive on the scene flashing identification and claiming the woman was underage. They would either demand a exorbitant amount of cash or take the victim's passport. Most times the men were so bewildered they just acquiesced. The two even had a blue flashing light that they would put on their car to further intimidate their targets.
Pattaya has been a haven for con men over the years, but there are still alot of honest people in the beach resort. There is a friendly bit of over-charging that goes on in the marketplace, but as long as you have your wits about you, you should be able to get a good deal.
When a crime does take place the police seem bent on prosecuting katooeys (transvestites) for all the illicit activity that does take place. The victims are shown books of mug shots and 70% of them appear to be kamooeys (thieves).
The resort definitely caters to foreigners in ways that many other locations in Thailand don't care too. A&W offers customers full mugs of coffee. It is very difficult to get a full cup of coffee anywhere in the Kingdom so this is a very refreshing treat. Dunkin Donuts provides reading racks of English newspapers so you can catch up on the news while you drink your coffee and eat your donuts.
The resort does smell of money. Not many backpackers can be seen strolling around. One in every four tourists that comes to Thailand makes their way to Pattaya. About 64,000 people officially reside in Pattaya, yet police estimated that the number of unregistered aliens is to close to one million.
Songtaows (pickup trucks with steel canopys which are used as taxis) are the easiest and cheapest way to get around town, although they have been known to charge unsuspecting tourists ridiculous amounts of money for a trip around the block.
Pattaya is home to many transvestite cabaret shows, the most famous of which is Tiffany's. Three times a day 60 dancers entice and spellbound their audience with their dazzling costumes and antics on stage.
Every type of food is available in Pattaya including; Thai seafood, Korean seafood, French, Scandinavian, Swiss, Vietnamese, Polynesian, German, Danish, Mexican, American, Indian, Pakistani, Italian and Chinese.
The question isn't what can you buy in Pattaya it's what can't you buy in Pattaya? Everything from neckties to stilettos, belts, T-shirts, underwear, Thai boxing shorts, watches, lighters, playing cards, sunglasses, silk shirts, socks, swords, tapes and videos is available.
Who visits Pattaya? Russians and other East Europeans are the leading new market followed by South Africans. The mainland Chinese who appeared in hordes just a year ago have all but disappeared due to the changed monetary politics af Chinese leaders. German speaking Europeans are the largest single group of tourists.
On the issue of safety in Pattaya the new chief of the Pattaya Tourist Police, Pol Lt Col Somsak Wannawak, is slightly annoyed by all the negative publicity the resort continues to receive. Mr Somsak states, "Statistics show that more than one million foreign tourists visit Pattaya every year, but tourist police records show only about 30 accidents including tourists every year. Most accidents take place on the roads and are usually caused by reckless driving. Petty thefts head the list for crime complaints- usually drunk tourists are robbed by their girlfriends. For a person with an ounce of common sense, Pattaya is much safer than any beach resort in Italy or Spain."
There is a beggars brigade in Pattaya, but they are all conspicuously well dressed and at lunchtime they go home to have a shower and change their clothes.
It is difficult to be bored in Pattaya. aside from the many and varied carnal activities you can go windsurfing, parasailing, bungy jumping, horse-riding, Go-Karting, shooting, scuba diving, waterskiing, snorkeling, sailing, jet-skiing and bowling. Or you can play snooker, golf, badminton, tennis or squash. You can even race Formula 3 cars at the Prince Bira International Circuit which is located on the outskirts of town.
Pattaya will always be a strange dichotomy. Some will cringe in fear at the thought of going there, while others will wet their lips in anticipation. Love it or leave it, the option is yours.