Seaside town Pattaya is not famous for its breathtaking white sandy beaches but is often portrayed negatively by the media due to its infamous sex tourism. But does this mean you should avoid Pattaya? I went to look for myself and stayed for one week in the seaside town near Bangkok. These are my findings…
Earlier this year, the Bangkok Post said that the prime minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, wants to overhaul the current image of Pattaya. Official figures show that in Southeast Asia more than 120,000 people are working in the sex industry. Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, but at many locations, including Pattaya, the law is not strongly enforced.
At the end of June 2018, the same newspaper published the following article: “Aussie arrested for offering B50,000 sex cruises.” The Thai police seem to be dealing more firmly with prostitution in the seaside resort, but have they achieved the intended effect? On July 12, 2018, sixty prostitutes were arrested but were soon released without a fine or any further consequences.
The Thai people in Pattaya are facing a dilemma: On the one hand, they would love to have a more positive image, but on the other hand, this industry offers an income for many people.
How does someone who is not a sex tourist, as myself, experiences Pattaya?
The promenade of Pattaya is bursting with life. Bars alternate with eateries, food stalls, and shopping malls. This street can easily be done on foot, but for a small fee, you can also hop in a taxi.
At the end of the well-filled promenade is Walking Street. As its name indicates, this is a pedestrian street where no cars and motorbikes are allowed. The street is filled with bars, neon signs, restaurants and a lot of pleasant noise. It’s a ‘bar street” comparable to Khao San Road in Bangkok.
Except for one major difference.
Even though there is a pleasant atmosphere in Walking Street, it was the first time I was faced with Pattaya’s sex tourism.
Between the bars and restaurants, you will find a bunch of strip clubs with a team of scantily dressed ladies in front who try to convince you to enter their establishment. Particular shows are not suitable for a regular tourist.
At certain places, you will be shown a ‘menu’ while someone whispers in your ear “ping pong show?” It’s best to ignore these people. They try to convince you to visit a sex show somewhere in a side alley of Walking Street. This menu mentions several activities and shows on offer.
However, what I did enjoy on Walking Street, was the live music. Many establishments offer an easy-to-listen-to cover band. The lyrics might not be accurate as most of the bands will have a Thai person as their singer – but that doesn’t spoil the fun.
The atmosphere on Walking Street is full of live and pleasant. There is no reason to feel unsafe in spite of its hustle and bustle. Do not get me wrong, the sex tourism is present here, but not to the extent that it feels irritating or intrusive.
Is sex tourism as bad as the media wants us to believe? Yes, it’s present, but I didn’t see much of it.
Obviously, I haven’t gone out of my way to look for it.
There are some strip clubs and bars with scantily dressed ladies, but you can visit Pattaya without even coming into contact with one of these establishments. The sex tourism is present, but especially if you go and look for it.
In Pattaya, you do see many Western (older) men, who have a Thai girlfriend, but everyone is free to do what he or she wants, and it wasn’t a nuisance for me.
Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to justify or advocate sex tourism, but my experiences were positive in comparison to what the media wants us to believe. But I cannot – and will – not look behind closed doors.
So, what else does Pattaya have to offer?
As I mentioned earlier, Pattaya is not well-known for its white sandy beaches. You could visit the beach, but Pattaya is not the place to be to make a picture-perfect snapshot.
That is not to say that you cannot enjoy yourself! All six beaches offer beach beds, eateries, and entertainment.
Almost each beach pavilion offers the opportunity to ride a jet ski, parasail or go banana-boating. There are also plenty of licensed massage therapists who provide you either with a massage or a manicure.
The employees at the beach pavilions are friendly and can arrange a delicious Thai meal for you or get you something to drink. There are plenty of seats available, so it’s easy to find a nice place on the beach.
Unfortunately, due to the many boats at anchor in the bay and their rubbish, much of it ends up on the beach and causing the water to be murky. It’s best to leave your snorkel at home, if you are only planning on visiting Pattaya.
But luckily there is an alternative! For 30 baht you could take a 30-minute ferry ride to Koh Larn, an island off the coast of Pattaya, including white sandy beaches!
My personal experience
Is it recommend for a woman to travel by herself to Pattaya? If I am completely honest, I was happy I could leave Pattaya after a week. You can enjoy yourself there, but Pattaya is not really the go-to-place for backpackers and solo female travelers.
Single men, Russian families and Indian groups of friends make up the primary target group of Pattaya. Not exactly the kind of people who are looking to share their travel stories.
I found Russians and Indians to be the more antisocial tourists, so as a woman you would sometimes be addressed or shouted at. Not really disturbing, but it did make me feel more aware that I was walking on the street alone and therefore I would rather avoid deserted locations at night.
You also notice that the Thai locals here are more influenced by the kind of tourism that comes here. Especially the food stalls are less eager to please and help in comparison to other places in Thailand.
On the other hand, not a boring day goes by in Pattaya. There is plenty to see and do. This can be pleasant from time to time but is not that kind to your wallet. Many excursions quickly amount to 1,000 baht a person and, especially if you are with a family, could become costly quite quickly.
Is Pattaya worth the visit?
To be completely honest: no.
There is a pleasant atmosphere, and there is more than enough to enjoy. However, there is nothing that makes Pattaya unique and different from other locations. Thailand offers many more great alternatives. If you fancy the hustle and bustle and do you enjoy the nightlife, then a trip to Phuket is much better. If you are traveling with your family and you want to stay near Bangkok, I recommend a trip to Koh Samet.
It is a waste of time to visit Pattaya as a solo traveler. You won’t meet other travels to share travel experiences with or have a nice conversation.
Fortunately, there is no reason to feel unsafe in Pattaya, but on the other hand I never really felt 100% comfortable either.