Synonymous with prostitution, Pattaya is unapologetic about its bread-and-butter industry. Go-go clubs, massage parlours and girlie bars occupy block after block of the central city, making Bangkok’s red-light districts look small and provincial. The city is slightly less seedy in the daylight hours, when families from Russia and Eastern Europe, fresh off a charter flight, might outnumber stiletto-wearing drag queens. More recently, Bangkok Thais have adopted Pattaya as an affordable weekend getaway. They dine beside the sea from a dry location, remarking how much cheaper it is and how much clearer the water is here than in Hua Hin. Does this mean that Sin City is becoming Something-For-Everybody City? Hardly, but there are a few pockets of wholesomeness amid the vice (though it is doubtful that anyone but a missionary would be lured by such a claim).
The city is built around Ao Pattaya, a wide crescent-shaped bay that was one of Thailand’s first beach resorts in the 1960s. The surrounding area is now Thailand’s manufacturing base, transforming the bay from fishing and swimming pool into an industrial port. Some provincial Thais still swim here but we don’t think you should as the water is dirty. The oceanfront promenade does, however, provide a scenic stroll under shady trees and a lovely coastal view.
Optimists claim that Hat Jomtien, south of the centre, is a family-friendly scene. True, there are fewer girlie bars, but minus that Jomtien is about two decades away from being retro and in the meantime is decidedly dated with a lot of mediocre tour-group hotels and restaurants. North Pattaya (Pattaya Neua) is fashioning itself as a mini-Bangkok with modern condo towers and respectable corporate hotels. North of the city is Naklua, which is a little glossier than Jomtien and a little more promising for Pattaya’s alternative tourists.