Many who have heard of this city may associate Pattaya with sex tourism. Media reports of sex on the beach, bars packed with girls, strippers in nightclubs and sex for sale on the streets and in dimly lit back rooms abound. Lady boys, call girls, bar girls, housewives, the gay, the glum, college girls and their grandmothers are all apparently staring skywards for planeloads of lusty tourists to come calling. Pardon me, hate to burst your bubble, but that’s not the real Pattaya.
Each year about two million tourists arrive in the coastal resort, and although it is quite possible that a considerable percentage of that merry band come with these pictures in their minds. But then there’s much more to Pattaya than sex tourism. As with most cities in Thailand, there’s also something called local culture that, if not better than sex, should at least be just as, well, interesting?
Culture in an Ancient Land
Thailand was never colonised by the West. You could say they’re trying to make up for that now, but what that means generally is that the ‘Land of Smiles’ is one of those rare destinations with a culture all its own. In Pattaya, as well as modern blocks of concrete and steel, you find age old temples like the Wat Yansangwararam temple complex (call it Wat Yan for short or you’ll probably never find it in a taxi). Besides the attractive architectural style you might also be interested in the meditation courses they offer there. You should also consider visiting the Golden Buddha Pratamnak Hill, which is another cultural icon with incredible views of the bay and the coast.
The Khao Cheejan Buddha Mountain is an amazing historical gem in Pattaya. The main attraction here is a laser-carved statue of the Buddha in gold-plated splendour. It is enormous and, not surprisingly, touted to be the largest of its kind in the world. History aside, the area is attractive in its own right. You travel through breathtakingly beautiful hillside scenery with the tops of temples glistening among the greenery and serenity infused in the air.
Majestic oriental architecture is not just confined to religious monuments in Pattaya either. Check out the Sanctuary of Truth, or as the locals call it, the Prasat Satchatham. A monumental wooden structure that embodies ancient Thai philosophy as well as traditional architectural ingenuity, it showcases to visitors what Thailand stands for without a word being said. Being such a huge attraction, the generous hosts have thoughtfully provided other more modern entertainment in the vicinity such as horse carriage rides and speed boats, not to mention performing dolphins. Perfect for soothing crabby kids who couldn’t care less about how old the temple is or what other folks might think if they don’t stop shrieking.
Local People and Their Ways
It may seem surprising for a city with such a sordid reputation, but people of Pattaya are extremely conservative, especially if you venture outside the popular tourist hotspots. They follow traditions and lifestyles that have been handed down over the generations. No amount of Western interaction can dilute this culture, which is perhaps why visitors return again and again to get yet another taste of it. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to dress conservatively when visiting temples and other historic or government sites.
Restaurants and Shopping in Pattaya
Dining in Pattaya is not for the faint-bellied. From greasy to gourmet you are confronted with a variety that would beat Tiger Woods’ wish list hollow when it comes to spicy, sour, sweet, and swell. You need not be chained to local food if your taste buds declare them passé. Cuisines from around the world come to you in Pattaya. Choices range from Ye Olde English pubs to Texan food via Mexican, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Lebanese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Vietnamese, well, you get the idea. If you’re looking for Russian fare, you’ll probably find that too. For a feel-good sit-down affair, you can’t go wrong with the Mantra at the Amari Resort. As multi-cuisine as it can get with a heady wine list to complement the menu. The food will have you coming back like a love-sick pup.
Then there’s the Lobster Pot for the seafood specialists; the Ali Baba for Indian; Ciao for, well, take a guess; Shenanigans and the Queen Victoria for pub crawlers; Alt Heidelberg for schnitzels and sausages and all other things German, plus much more. Local cuisine is something you can never say no to in Thailand, but then as the name implies, it’s everywhere. Stalls and small restaurants appear to materialise out of thin air as the sun goes down and stay open until all hours, serving what is perhaps the most scrumptious food on offer, Thai. It’s more wizardry than mere cooking and watching them at work is part of the whole experience of dining local in Pattaya.
Shopping in Pattaya makes you believe in fairy tales, Aladdin’s Cave and world peace. What sets the Pattaya shopping scene apart is the touch of the laid back that lets you drop your armour. Foreigners who’ve made their way through the madness that is Bangkok will surely appreciate this quality as they browse the souvenir shops on the beach or the western style supermarkets such as the Best and the Big C. Bargaining is all; if you’ve mastered the art of this social skill you’ve earned your badge. Of course, you sooon realise what you’re holding is an impeccably crafted fake Rolex when they let you win without too much of a struggle. The Avenue and the Central Festival combine big brand shopping and entertainment in the form of movies, karaoke, bowling and book shops. If you haven’t had enough of big brands such as Nike and Espirit, head for the Outlet Village on Sukhumvit Road.
All about the beach too
Intricate belief systems, good manners and a long history of spiritualism and tradition all make Pattaya one of Thailand’s most fascinating beachside destinations. History, culture, and the beach make Pattaya a win-win destination, but it is perhaps the local people’s unflagging bonhomie and genuine smiles that linger longest when you return home. You are always greeted with a wai, the joining of palms at chest level, at least. If it’s higher and closer to the chin, they really like and respect you, but if lower, you need to work on your people skills. The elders are greeted first and that is in keeping with the local culture which calls for considerable respect to be shown to seniors. Visitors are accorded pretty much the same amount of respect, which means tourists come somewhere near the top of the pecking order. You can choose to ignore all this and head for the bars, of course, but opening your eyes to the culture of this historic city will definitely make your visit that much more rewarding and enjoyable.
Though more commonly associated by first timers with nightlife than family fun, Pattaya has some facilities for the old and young alike:
- Pattaya Park (www.pattayapark.com), complete with a water park and separate fun park.
- Ripley’s Believe it or Not (www.ripleysthailand.com) for some eye raising and jaw dropping moments in the museum, infinity maze, and haunted adventure.
- Go karting (www.easykart.net) provides some healthy family competition.
- Bungy jump (www.thaibungy.com) 165 feet down towards a jungle lagoon, and for a scarier leap try the night jumping.
- Take a Flight of the Gibbon Canopy Tour (www.treetopasia.com) for a safe way to soar through 3 kilometers of treetops in a lush rainforest.