Pattaya (พัทยา) is a popular coastal resort city in Eastern Thailand.
Pattaya is famous for its go-go and beer bars and massage parlors, but it's also one of Thailand's best spots for practically any sport imaginable from golf and horseback riding to watersports such as jet-skiing and windsurfing, not to mention bungee jumping, karting, shooting, and a whole lot more.
Once a sleepy fishing town, Pattaya boomed as an R&R spot during the Vietnam War and has been a sex tourism destination trying to improve its image ever since. Some of the beaches are dirty and lackluster (by Thailand's high standards) and rampant overdevelopment has long since destroyed any natural charms it once had, but its plethora of hotels and guesthouses and convenient location with easy access from Bangkok make it a popular weekend getaway. With over a million tourists packing in yearly Pattaya also offers an excellent range of eating choices, as well as myriad things to do and see.
Central Pattaya is easy to get around. Beach Road runs north-south alongside the beach, and is parallelled by Pattaya Second Road, Pattaya Third Road, and the main Sukhumvit highway, each one a few hundred metres from the next. Running east-west, there are three major roads - North Pattaya Road (Thanon Pattaya Nua), Central Pattaya Road (Thanon Pattaya Klang) and South Pattaya Road (Thanon Pattaya Tai) - and between them a large number of smaller streets (sois).
The numbered sois run from 1 to 16, from north to south; there are also quite a few unnumbered sois. Sois 1-6 are between North Pattaya Road and Central Pattaya Road; sois 7-13 are between Central and South Pattaya Road (along with the Pattayaland sois just north of South Pattaya Road); and sois 14-16 are south of South Pattaya Road.
Beach Road south of South Pattaya Road is closed to vehicles in the evenings, and is also called Walking Street; it's a major tourist area, both for nightlife and shopping. Other major tourist areas include the section of Second Road between sois 1-4, and the sois immediately north of South Pattaya Road.
Jomtien Beach and Naklua Beach flank the city centre. Jomtien, to the south, is considerably more sedate and family-oriented, and the beach itself is in better shape too; Naklua, to the north, is also quieter than central Pattaya, but is not as well known for its beach as Jomtien.
Pattaya is well connected to Bangkok, 147 km away.
U-Tapao Airport (formerly a US airbase and largely responsible for Pattaya's initial transformation) fields only a few flights a day to Ko Samui and Phuket (Bangkok Airways) and Siem Reap (PMTair), although there are expansion plans. Most visitors arrive via Bangkok, and Pattaya will be even better connected when Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport, some 40 km closer, opens in June 2006 (if the date does not slip further).
1st class buses (all air-con, and almost always with toilet) from Bangkok's Eastern, Northern, and Southern bus terminals to the North Pattaya Road terminal cost 110 baht. Services from the Eastern and Northern terminals are frequent (every 20-40 minutes, depending on the time of day) and take about 2-2.5 hours; those from the Southern terminal are less frequent and take a little longer.
From the North Pattaya Road terminal, songthaews depart when full (every few minutes). The fare to anywhere on Beach Road ("the beach") is 20 baht.
2nd class buses (air-con, no toilet) take considerably longer than 1st class buses, and there's not a huge saving to be made - the fare is 73 baht. Although they depart more frequently, you'll still arrive sooner if you wait for the next 1st class bus.
There are also direct minibus services from Don Muang (every few hours) - expect to pay around 300 baht, including delivery to a nominated hotel. The trip takes around two hours in good traffic, but factor in some buffer during rush hour.
These bus services appear to have ceased in mid to late 2004. An exhaustive search in March 2005 was unsuccessful in finding anyone that knew about any current bus services from the airport to Pattaya. The standard response was "finished".
Confusingly, Pattaya itself has no less than 3 major bus terminals. Bangkok-bound 1st-class buses (only) use the busy little terminal on North Pattaya Road, while non-AC buses to Bangkok and other short-haul destinations use the more centrally located South Pattaya Road terminal. Services to the north and north-east use a third cluster of terminals near the end of Central Pattaya Road.
Taxis from Bangkok (or directly from Don Muang Airport) cost between 1000-1500 baht. Licensed taxi-meter cab prices should be negotiable to the lower end of the range; arranged car services will tend to the higher end. The trip should take around 90 minutes, except around rush hour.
Provided it's a weekday, the most economical way to get from Bangkok to Pattaya by public transport is by rail - the one-way fare is just 31 baht.
From Monday to Friday, one 3rd class train a day departs Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station at 06:55 and arrives in Pattaya at 10:18, before continuing on to Sattahip; the same train returns via Pattaya at 14:21 and terminates back in Bangkok at 17:40.
Pattaya Train Station is located a little to the east of Sukhumvit, just north of the South Pattaya Road intersection - from Beach Road budget around 40-50 baht for a motorbike taxi.
Hundreds of songthaews (pickup trucks converted to buses, also called baht buses or simply taxis) cruise the streets of Pattaya offering rides. The official price is 5 baht for trips within Pattaya but foreigners are expected to pay 10 baht, and on rare occasions a driver will demand even more. Longer trips to Jomtien might cost two to three times that amount. Flat fares only apply when operating as a bus: a stationary songthaew, especially an empty one, might assume you want to charter - in which case expect a much higher fare of 100 baht or more depending on your negotiating skills.
The most common route is the beach loop: south along Beach Road, east on South Pattaya Road (Thanon Pattaya Tai), north on Second Road, and east on North Pattaya Road (Thanon Pattaya Nua). But the routes often vary, with a left turn (from Beach Road or Second Road) into Central Pattaya Road (Thanon Pattaya Klang); or no turn at the dolphin circle and going straight on to Naklua (or even a right turn to the bus station). The only way to know the route for sure is to ask (but don't let the driver mistake your asking as a charter request). Sometimes the driver will just decide to turn down a random soi for no apparent reason, or because he's just been hired as a taxi, but you'll still be expected to pay your 10 baht if you've ridden for more than a soi or two.
It's also fairly easy to catch a songtheaw going either direction on Central Pattaya Road and South Pattaya Road. North Pattaya Road usually has a songtheaw waiting at Dolphin Circle. From Naklua you can catch the white songthaew out to Sukhumvit and on to Si Racha.
If you're heading south, Jomtien bound songthaews wait on Pratamnak Road (the continuation of Second Road) at the corner with South Pattaya Road.
On Sukhumvit Road you can catch songtheaws that go as far as Si Racha and Sattahip (marked by color); it's also possible to catch a ride with one of the many full-size buses, to destinations as far away as Trat and even Chiang Mai.
By local bus
Pattaya has finally introduced a long-delayed public bus system, featuring air conditioning and running along set routes (map). The 13 km Green Line and 30 km Red Line routes are already in operation, while the 19 km Yellow Line route will be running soon. Each service will run from 06:00 to 02:00, with scheduled stops along the way. Single tickets cost 30 baht, while a one-day ticket is 90 baht and a monthly pass is 900 baht.
By motorbike taxi
The quickest way around for a single traveller is usually by motorbike taxi (motosai). These are less expensive than using a songthaew as a taxi, but arguably less safe. Some drivers are willing to take two or more passengers. Motorbike taxis can be recognized by their drivers wearing colored vests, and will often call out "Taxi, Sir?" to travellers walking by. Motorbike taxi stands can be found throughout town, and in front of most major tourist areas and nightlife spots. Expect to pay around 30 baht for trips around the inner part of town.
The only metered taxis of the sort found in Bangkok will be a handful who have dropped off passengers from that city. There are also some car services and conventional taxis on an on-call basis; these can also often arrange a private minibus. These are suited primarily for longer trips to destinations outside of the core of the town or to another city, and can be arranged through most hotels or any of the innumerable small travel agencies in town. Expect to pay considerably more than the cost of a songthaew hire, probably in the order of a few hundred baht.
By rental car or bike
Motorbikes and scooters can be rented at countless locations in and around Pattaya, with rates starting around 150 baht/day. It's a popular way to get around for some visitors, but not the safest, especially in the case of visitors with limited previous experience of motorcycling and Thai traffic habits.
Car rentals are also readily available, although generally this isn't such a practicable way to get around as in the busiest areas traffic is often congested and parking space limited.
Theme parks and museums
Zoos and nature
There are two submarines (yellow ones, of course!) with tour operators in Pattaya:
Pattaya beaches are for relaxing and for various activities on day-time only. One can have chairs and umbrellas and enjoy the service: food, drinks etc. A lot of additional services will be offered by local people around: jet-skiing, parasailing, riding on rubber dolphins, etc. An endless stream of hawkers offer massage, manicure/pedicure, tattoos, ice cream, lottery tickets, newspapers, seafood, fruits, herbs, flowers, gems, perfumes, sunglasses, CDs, watches, lighters, clothes, toys, souvenirs, handycrafts and, believe it or not, even more...
Jomtien Beach is the main (and longest) beach in south Pattaya, with countless places to eat, shop, and stay just a few steps away.
This is the "central" beach, bordered by Beach Road. It's a narrow and often crowded strip of sand at the best of times, and even more so at high tide. The sea is not very clean around here.
Naklua is cleaner and more suitable for relaxing, and comprises:
Dong Tarn Beach and several other small beaches are located around the Buddha Hill.
Laan (or Lan or Larn or Coral) Island, 7.5 km west of Pattaya, is a very small but decidedly "touristic day-trip" island that has several beaches with minimal development and pollution, likewise two neighbouring islets, Ko Sak and Ko Khrok. Ferries take about 45 minutes and charge 20 baht. Faster speedboats are much more expensive but can be chartered just about anywhere on Pattaya's main beaches.
Pattaya can provide for an entire holiday of sports and activities.
Pattaya is known for its kathoey cabaret (aka ladyboy or transvestite) shows. Two of the best known (expect busloads of tourists) are:
Cinemas in Thailand tend to be air conditioned very heavily; you may wish to bring a jacket or long sleeve shirt. Projection and sound reliability varies significantly, as does the price and selection of snacks and beverages for sale, but the two large mall cinemas in Pattaya are mostly up to western standards. Thai-language films are often, but not always, subtitled in English; usually the billing at the theater will indicate this, and some theaters will have both subtitled and non-subtitled showings.
Cinema patrons must stand during the King's anthem; singing along is generally frowned upon.
Many of the Karaoke places you might see are a little seedy.
There are plenty of massage parlors in Pattaya. The most common types of massage include Thai massage, foot massage, oil massage and reflexology massage. Body massage parlors are non-sexual, although sometimes they may ask, "does he like massage?". Three soapy massage parlors can be found on the Second Road, near Big C. The service includes bathing with a girl, soapy massage and sex.
There are PlayStation shops all over Pattaya (and all over Thailand). The usual rate is 20 baht per hour making for pretty cheap entertainment. There's a big shop on Soi Chaiyapoon (right off Soi Buakaow across from Soi Diana Inn) that's open 24/7 and has more comfortable chairs. There are also lots of computer game shops. Expect both to be very crowded and loud in the hours after school lets out. There are also plenty of touch-screen machines throughout the shopping malls.
There are a couple of arcades in town: one is behind the cinema in Central Festival Center (the Big-C shopping mall), and the other is in the Tesco Lotus complex on North Pattaya Road. Neither is worth getting excited about.
You're in Thailand, so you know shopping is never far away. There are a number of large malls, smaller malls, markets and hundreds if not thousands of other shops. Sadly, you'll be seeing a lot of the same products over and over again — there's no endless variety here.
Shopping malls and supermarkets
There are many bazaar-style markets in Pattaya including:
Pharmacies, gold shops, tailor shops etc
Pharmacies are everywhere and for most medications a prescription is not required. Viagra and the other tools of trade of the sex tourist are widely available from almost all pharmacists. The international chains Boots and Watsons each have locations at the Festival Center and Royal Garden Plaza Malls, and tend to have pharmacists with stronger-than-average English skills.
Gold shops are everywhere but some are concentrated around the market on South Pattaya Road and around Central Pattaya Road near Second Road. There is a concentration of jewelry shops towards the south end of Beach Road.
7-Eleven and Family Mart and smaller, family run convenience stores are everywhere. If you shop in the family run shops the prices aren't usually marked but should be the same, or just a baht or 2 higher, than the big chains. Plus you'll have the satisfaction of knowing your money isn't flowing back to the USA or Japan.
Tailor shops are everywhere. Are there any good ones?
You're in Thailand so you know food is never far away. There are heaps of restaurants, hot food markets, food carts and courts, motorcyle-sidecar hotdog and meatball vendors, fruit sellers both mobile and stationary, even a roaming coffee peddling Tuk-Tuk. OK, so the germ theory of disease doesn't yet seem to be widely accepted but don't let that stop you from ordering the sushi.
Many, although not all, non-Thai-cuisine restaurants will also have at least a limited menu of Thai favorites as well.
Pattaya is internationally known for its nightlife; although it's infamous as a sex tourist destination, there are ample opportunities to dance, drink, and observe humanity even if paid sex is not of interest.
Pattaya is especially famous for its open-air beer bars, staffed by bar girls who are for sale to the tourists and ex-pats who drink there. Clusters of these bars can be found all over the city, with the biggest and best known concentration around Soi 7 and Soi 8.
There are also numerous Bangkok-style go-go bars, predominantly concentrated along Walking Street and the three Pattayaland streets. Soi Pattayaland 3 also has male dancers and a focus on gay customers. Note that cameras are not welcome in go-go bars, and signs prohibiting photography are common.
Pattaya has a huge selection of inexpensive midrange accommodation, and a variety of more expensive options. Budget (less than 400 baht) accommodation can also be found, away from the main tourist zones.
Like other resort areas in Thailand, hotel pricing in Pattaya is highly seasonal. The exact high season dates will vary from hotel to hotel, but typically prices go up considerably during the Christmas-New Years period, and are lower between February and October/November. In addition to higher rates during the holiday period, guests staying over Christmas and New Years Eve will often be required to pay for "Compulsory Gala Dinners" which can substantially increase the cost of the room. Unless otherwise noted, prices below are low season.
With the exception of large resorts or international chains such as the Hard Rock and the Marriott, the lowest rates available from abroad are typically those available from the hotels directly - except for the least expensive, many will handle reservations via email or a web form.
While some hotels do not allow prostitutes to accompany guests to their rooms, this is uncommon in budget and midrange hotels in Pattaya. Some "upmarket" hotels may charge a "joiner fee" for unregistered visitors.
Like most of Thailand, Pattaya is very safe, and violent crime such as mugging or robbery is unusual. However, as with most tourist districts, Pattaya does have more than its fair share of touting and scams. Also, as with all of Thailand, penalties for drug possession and distribution are very harsh.
Single individuals are normally safe in the active nightlife/entertainment areas of Pattaya even quite late at night, at least up until the bars close. At night, visitors should stick to the inland side of Beach Road except where organized events are occurring - the beach side is frequented by "freelance" prostitutes, many of whom are notorious pickpockets. As always, travellers should take extra care in more remote or less well lit areas.
The legal drinking age and minimum age for customers in a drinking establishment or disco is 20. This is rarely enforced for foreigners, but is frequently enforced for locals, including those accompanying foreigners. Raids to enforce closing times and/or check for drugs and underage patrons or employees occasionally occur, usually close to or at the the 01:00 closing time. Foreigners are generally not the subject of these raids and are almost always allowed to leave quickly, but will be asked to show ID (a photocopy of the photo ID page of your passport is usually considered adequate). There is a small chance that foreigners will be tested for drugs along with the staff.
If considering renting a vehicle, bear in mind that traffic in Thailand can seem very erratic by Western standards, and driving on the left can be confusing for those who have previously only ever driven on the right.
When renting a motorbike, a safety helmet will be included. Wearing a helmet is mandatory, and the police in Pattaya do enforce this. Also bear in mind that motorbike theft is common, and that motorbike rentals do not include insurance.
All adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2529 or earlier if they are over the age of 18 in 2005 (in the Thai calendar, AD 2005 is the year 2548). Many hotels retain the ID cards of prostitutes for the duration of their visit.
Some prostitutes are "freelancers", but most are employed by bars or similar businesses. Petty theft and other problems are more common with "freelancers".
Technically, some aspects of prostitution are illegal (eg soliciting, pimping), however enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It's not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a "barfine".
For any kind of trouble, do not hesitate call 1155 for Tourist Police.
The best rates for taxis from Pattaya to Bangkok are typically found with Bangkok taxi-meter cabs returning home; hotels and travel agents can arrange this. The widely advertised asking price is 800 baht (about 200-300 baht less than in the opposite direction). When negotiating the price, confirm that it already includes all the highway ("motorway") taxes. The trip should take around 90 minutes, except around rush hour.
Numerous minibus services (300-400 baht) run to Bangkok hotels / Bangkok airport, but take longer due to multiple pick-ups and drop-offs. One such minibus runs between the Pattaya Dynasty Inn and the Bangkok Dynasty Inn on Soi Nana; arrange through the hotel directly.
For buses to Bangkok, head to the North Pattaya Road Bus Terminal. From here there are direct 1st class services to the Eastern, Northern, and Southern bus terminals in Bangkok (all 110 baht). It takes about 2-2.5 hours to get to the Eastern and Northern Terminals, more for the Southern Terminal - see Get in | Bus | First Class for departure times.
The Eastern Terminal (Ekamai) bound bus will stop at the On Nut Skytrain Station (map) on Sukhumvit if requested. Depending on your final destination and traffic conditions, you may want to transfer to the Skytrain here. If so, wait until the bus departs from Pattaya and then confirm with the crew that you want to be dropped off at "On Nut".
If you're going to Don Muang Airport, take the Northern Terminal (Moh Chit) bus; a taxi from there direct to the departure concourse doors should be less than 100 baht by meter.