A kaleidoscope of neon and racy nightlife, Thailand’s second most-visited city has softened its image, drawing more couples and families to its beaches.
Situated 93-miles (150-kilometers) southeast of Bangkok, Pattaya has long been thought of as a kind of naughty little sister to the Thai capital. The massage parlors, go-go bars and late-night discos have been the main draw since the 1960s, when American servicemen stationed in Vietnam came here to let off some steam. There can be no denying that this after-hours culture is still very much a part of life in Pattaya as a stroll down Walking Street after dusk will attest. However, recent attempts by authorities to make it a more well-rounded travel destination have seen a more sophisticated side to this city emerge.
Blessed with a chain of gorgeous, curving beaches, the city offers plenty to the tourist looking for some quality beach-side rest and recreation. Stake out your place in the sun from the sea of sun lounges on Pattaya Beach. Rent a Jet Ski, take to the sky by parasailing or book a dive or snorkeling trip to the nearby Kho Larn Island. Alternatively, settle back with a good book at one of the more serene stretches of sand nearby. Dongtan Beach and Crescent Moon Beach provide a couple of havens where you can escape the crowds and beach vendors.
Climb aboard an elephant for a jungle safari at the Pattaya Elephant Sanctuary, an ecologically sound center with a focus on education and rehabilitation. Another must-do is the spectacular Sanctuary of Truth, a hand-carved, wooden complex which integrates the symbolism from Asia’s main four religions using traditional Thai artisanal techniques. If you’re looking for souvenirs, then take a wander around the Pattaya Floating Market, where you’ll find handicrafts and cuisine from each of the four main regions of Thailand.
Traffic can be chaotic and may intimidate the first time visitor. Confident drivers can rent a car, jeep or moped to get around. Otherwise, hail one of the songthaews, or Baht Buses (shared taxis), which run a number of set routes throughout the city. Prices are the same for locals and tourists, and with lots of them cruising the city streets, wait times are never long. The streets also teem with taxis and motorbike taxis, so getting around is never a problem.