Pattaya is known to be the world's largest red light district, and not without reason. However, in recent years, the city has done a lot to attract ordinary tourists; thus, it now has much more to offer than the many bars with girls you can rent for a short or a long time.
At this page, I am writing about what ordinary tourists can experience in Pattaya. If you want to visit Pattaya for the sexual offers, please read the article The Naughty Side of Pattaya.
A few years ago, single western men were the predominant tourists in Pattaya; today, you will find many families from Russia and China, as well as from the rest of Asia and the West. What makes Pattaya popular among ordinary tourists, is the many offerings and the prices, which are lower here than in for instance Phuket and Bangkok.
You will find some of Thailand's best golf courses near Pattaya, and there are plenty of shopping opportunities and tourist attractions. Pattaya even has a beach, although it is probably not because of the beach the tourists choose Pattaya.
Pattaya lies in the province of Chonburi on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand – about 160 kilometres (100 miles) south-east of Bangkok.
Up until the early 1960s, Pattaya was merely a small fishing village. However, that changed during the Vietnam War when American soldiers from the nearby U-Tapao base began to visit the city on their leave. The soldiers wanted to have a good time, and Pattaya was willing to give them a good time. The word spread, tourists began to visit Pattaya too, more bars and hotels shot up, and more girls went to Pattaya to earn a living.
In recent years, Pattaya has successfully tried to entice other tourists than sex tourists to visit the city. Today, more than half of the tourists in Pattaya come from Russia, China and other Asians countries, and very few of those tourists come for the sexual offers. Incidentally, Pattaya is the favourite holiday resort in Thailand for Russians. In 2014, more than 1.7 million Russians visited Thailand, and about half of them stayed in Pattaya.
Pattaya is also popular for a visit for the weekend for residents of Bangkok as there is plenty to see and experience in Pattaya besides the sex industry.
If you are on a holiday with children, the kids will enjoy visiting Art in Paradise Pattaya and Mini Siam; they can splash around in a water park, see animal shows, and the older of them will have a great time zip-lining or driving a go-kart.
Activities targeting adults include an unusually large wooden house, a stunning botanical garden and a lavish show with ladyboys. In addition, Pattaya and the nearby area are offering some of the best golf courses in Thailand; you have many opportunities for shopping, including shopping at a floating market; and, of course, you can get a relaxing massage. You can read more about the various activities in the article Activities in Pattaya.
If you happen to be in Thailand in the middle of April, you can experience Songkran, the Thai New Year. In Pattaya, the celebration of Songkran is longer and more intense than it is anywhere else in Thailand. If you love fighting with water, Pattaya is the place to be; otherwise, you should probably stay away from Pattaya in the week of Songkran. Usually, the celebration of Songkran last 2-3 days; depending on where in Thailand you are. In Pattaya, they celebrate Songkran for a week.
Beaches in and around Pattaya
The almost 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) long beach in Pattaya is only for the most desperate tourists or for those who do not want to spend the necessary time to get to a proper beach. For everybody else, fortunately, there are several better beaches in the area. Jomtien Beach is located just south of Pattaya, a 5-10 minute drive from the south end of Pattaya Beach.
Although Jomtien Beach cannot live up to the image of a beautiful tropical beach, it is significantly better than Pattaya Beach and more family friendly too.
Just north of Pattaya, you will find Wong Amat Beach and Naklua Beach; even farther north, you will find Bang Saen Beach, which is popular among Bangkokians for a weekend trip.
However, you will get a lot closer to the image of a tropical paradise beach, if you take a boat trip to Koh Larn, also known as Coral Island. The sand at Koh Larn is white and fine-grained as opposed to the sand at Jomtien Beach and most of the other beaches mentioned above, where the sand is yellowish and coarser.
The ferry from Bali Hai Pier will take 30-45 minutes to Koh Larn. Bali Hai Pier is located at the southern end of Walking Street in Pattaya. The price for the trip is 30 baht.
If you are in a hurry, and if you do not mind a rougher ride and a much higher price, you can take a speedboat. The trip will take only about 15 minutes, and the price will be from 150 baht and up. Be sure that you agree on a price before the trip; otherwise, the price will be much higher than usual!
Most of the visitors to Koh Larn are on a day trip; however, if you want to spend more time on the island, you can find accommodation. You can read more about the island and its beaches in the article Koh Larn.
Koh Samet is another option if you want to visit a lovely tropical beach. Koh Samet is located south of Pattaya, about one hour's drive and half an hour by boat. Koh Samet is a national park; thus, it costs 400 baht to get access to the island. If you visit Koh Samet, I will recommend that you stay at least one night on the island rather than rushing back to Pattaya the same day. You can find a list of Hotels on Koh Samet at Agoda.
Bringing Children to Pattaya
Having heard about Pattaya's reputation, you may wonder if you can bring your children to Pattaya. I will say that it partly depends on the age of the children, and partly depends on where in Pattaya or the area around Pattaya you will be staying.
If you are bringing small children to Pattaya, they will probably not wonder why they see middle-aged or even old white men accompanied by young Thai women. Even more so, the small children are probably sound asleep by the time the nightlife in Pattaya begins.
However, if the children are old enough to wonder about the things they see in Pattaya; you will need to have a chat with them. The older the children are, the longer the chat will probably need to be.
No matter their age, children will certainly not be bored in Pattaya, as there are many activities for children in the area.
If you bring children, you should probably choose a hotel on the landside of Third Road; or north or south of the area you find in the drawn map farther down the page.
The Climate in Pattaya
Pattaya has a tropical savanna climate, meaning that Pattaya has three seasons: the cool season from November to February, the hot season in March and April, and the wet season from May to October. You should not take "cool" too literally; typically, the temperature is above 30 degrees Celcius (86 F) during the day all year round. Although, the cool season is less humid, meaning it feels less hot than the hot season. The night temperatures are usually above 20 degrees Celcius (68 F) all year round.
The rainy season is not as bad as in some other parts of Thailand. The worst months are September and October with a little more than 200 mm (8.0 inches) each, and that is nothing compared to for instance the resort island of Samui, which is peaking at over 500 mm (20 inches).
Even though 200 mm (8.5 inches) may sound bad, it is not as bad as it sounds. Typically, it rains in heavy showers, lasting only 15-30 minutes; then the sun is back. Should the rain decide to last the whole day, you can at least take comfort that the rain is somewhat warm.
Getting to Pattaya
You can take the train from the main station in Bangkok, Hua Lamphong, to Pattaya (the route to Ban Plu Ta Luang); however, the train should probably be your last choice unless you want to save money or if you want to experience a train ride in Thailand. The trip to Pattaya takes almost four hours (if on time); the price is only 31 baht.
There is only one train a day and only on weekdays. The train leaves Hua Lamphong at 6:55 in the morning; and it leaves Pattaya at 14:21 (2:21 PM). If you want to take the train, please check the timetable beforehand as the departure times may have changed.
The bus is somewhat faster than the train; it only takes a couple of hours. You can take the bus from gate 8 at level 1 at Suvarnabhumi Airport (timetable). Alternatively, you can take the bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit); or from the eastern bus terminal (Ekamai). The bus ride costs about 125 baht.
If you are in a hurry, a taxi is even faster. From Suvarnabhumi Airport, it will take about 1½ hour, and it will cost you 1,000 to 1,500 baht. If you start from Bangkok, the price will be 200-300 baht higher; and the trip will be 30 minutes longer or more, depending on the traffic jams in Bangkok. Be sure to agree on a fixed price beforehand, or the price may be considerably higher. You should also make sure that the highway tolls are included in the price. You can ask any taxi driver if he will take you to Pattaya, or you can order online (Google search).
At the Victory Monument in Bangkok, you can find minivans on route to Pattaya. Typically, the price for the trip is between 100 baht and 140 baht. Usually, the trip takes between 2 and 3 hours, depending on the traffic jams in Bangkok.
Pattaya has an airport, U-Tapao Airport. However, there are no domestic routes to the airport. You may be arriving at U-Tapao Airport if you are on a chartered flight from Russia or China.
Getting Around in Pattaya
It is easy to orientate in the central part of Pattaya, as soon as you understand the overall grid system of roads. Take a look at the map below.
Along the beach, you have Beach Road; then Second Road and Third Road, followed by Sukhumvit Road. On the other axis of the grid, you find many small roads, and three main roads: North Pattaya Road, Central Pattaya Road, and South Pattaya Road. Beach Road is one-way southwards, while Second Road is one-way northwards. Click on the map above to see it in a large version (please note that the map is not to scale).
The easiest way to get around in Pattaya is to take one of the many baht buses. A baht bus is a songthaew that acts as a bus on specific routes. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to figure out where the baht buses are going. Therefore, it may be a good idea to keep track of where you want to go, for example, by following the trip on Google Maps on your phone; that way you can get off the baht bus if it is no longer going in the right direction. You can then find another baht bus going in the right direction. You may have to use several baht buses to get to your destination.
The fare for a trip is 10 baht within Pattaya and 20 baht for longer trips; for example, a trip to Jomtien, located south of Pattaya.
The baht buses can also serve as taxis, and then the price is noteworthy higher. If you ask the driver whether he goes to a specific destination, he may decide to act as a taxi even if he is carrying other passengers. Thus, you should ask him for a price at the same time. If you stay inside Pattaya, the fare should not be more than 50 baht and not more than 120 baht if you go to Jomtien. However, some drivers may want to take advantage of you and demand much more; especially if you did not negotiate a price beforehand.
Beware of the baht buses parked along the streets. Typically, they all act as taxis, and they are only waiting for a clueless tourist to scam. If a parked baht bus already has other passengers, the driver is probably just waiting for more passengers before starting on the route.
The driver of a baht bus on its route will typically honk the horn when passing you to let you know that you can get a ride. If you want to stop a baht bus, hold out your arm diagonally downwards and wave your hand up and down. When you want to get off the baht bus, just press one of the bells, located at the underside of the roof. The driver will then stop as soon as possible.
You pay when you get off; go up to the driver on the left of the baht bus, and pay him through the window. Make sure you have small change as he may not have change for notes. In addition, if you pay with notes, he may try to charge extra. Pay the driver 10 baht (if it was a short trip), he will then assume that you know the system.
Pattaya is not necessarily Pattaya. Just south of Pattaya lies Jomtien; however, the two cities have more or less merged to become one city. Many hotels and activities use the more famous Pattaya name, even if they are in Jomtien. For example, Pattaya Park Beach Resort, Pattaya Floating Market and Pattaya Dolphin World, which are all situated in Jomtien.
If you want to avoid the nightlife and prostitution, you are probably best off finding a hotel in Jomtien or on the landside of Third Road; or north or south of the drawn map farther up the page. Conversely, if you go to Pattaya because of the naughty activities, you are probably best off finding a hotel close to them.
You can see the locations of the various hotels on the map at Agoda's list of hotels in Pattaya.
In the article The Naughty Side of Pattaya, you will find a map showing the location of go go bars and bars with girls for rent. Compare the map with the map of the hotel's location to find out where to stay or where not to stay.
Please note that the map does not show all the bars in Pattaya. You will find bars with girls to rent everywhere in Pattaya and indeed even in Jomtien, albeit not to the same extent. Reading the comments about the hotel at the booking service may offer you more information about the area surrounding the hotel.