Pattaya is a seaside resort on the Eastern Gulf Coast of Thailand, about 150 km southeast of Bangkok. Pattaya is mostly famous for its go-go and beer bars, but local authorities have made some efforts to provide more family-friendly attractions and activities. Although the sex industry is still going strong and sex tourism remains the key money earner for Pattaya, the resort also attracts local families and holidaymakers from around the world.
Efforts by local authorities over the past few years have improved the quality of the beaches, but they are still lacklustre by Thailand’s standards, and over-development has long since destroyed some of the natural charms the area once had. However, the plethora of hotels and guest houses, and easy access from the capital and airport, make it a popular weekend getaway. Catering for over five million annual visitors, Pattaya is also able to offer an excellent range of eating options and a wide variety of things to do. Its population is a colourful mix of nationalities and ethnicities from near and far.
Pattaya occupies most of the coastline of Bang Lamung District (one of the eleven districts that comprise Chonburi Province). This article only deals with Pattaya proper, which spans the areas to the east of Naklua Beach and Pattaya Beach, plus the Buddha Hill headland (which is immediately south of Pattaya Beach). Jomtien is covered in a separate article, and contains Jomtien Beach and the areas east of it, including Dongtan Beach. The beaches of Jomtien are much broader and generally in a better shape, and the atmosphere locally is more sedate and family-oriented than at Pattaya Beach.
The name Pattaya evolved from the march of Phraya Tak (later King Taksin) and his army from Ayutthaya to Chanthaburi, which took place before the fall of the former capital to Burmese invaders in 1767.
When his army arrived in the vicinity of what is now Pattaya, Phraya Tak encountered the troops of a local leader named Nai Klom, who tried to intercept him. When the two met face to face, Nai Klom was impressed by Phraya Tak’s dignified manner and his army’s strict discipline. He surrendered without a fight and joined his forces. The place the armies confronted each other was thereafter known as “Thap Phraya”, which means the “army of the Phraya”. This later became Pattaya, the name of the wind blowing from the south-west to the north-east at the beginning of the rainy season.
Pattaya was a fishing village until the 1960s. Then, during the Vietnam War, American servicemen stationed at nearby U-Tapao or other US bases in Thailand began visiting Pattaya. One story, unverified by a reliable source, has it that it all started when a group of 500 American soldiers stationed at the military base in Korat were driven to Pattaya on 29 June 1959 for a week of rest and relaxation (R&R). They rented several houses at the south end of the beach from a prominent Thai, Lord Sunthorn. Despite their short stay, the GIs had a great time and raved about the place. The word spread among other American soldiers stationed in the region and Pattaya quickly became a hot alternative to Bangkok. Pattaya developed into a popular beach resort. Now greatly expanded, it attracts over 4 million visitors a year. Fishers’ huts along the beach were replaced by resort hotels and retail stores, including Asia’s largest beachfront shopping mall, the CentralFestival Pattaya Beach Mall and hotel (Hilton) on Beach Rd in central Pattaya. Today Pattaya is making efforts to clean up its image to become a family-oriented seaside destination.