Bangkok Phil

A day in Pattaya

How was Thailand's favorite beach resort holding up?

Perhaps it's something to do with becoming middle-aged, but I've found lately that weekends have become awfully routine. And the truth is my wife and I like it that way. On Saturdays we'll potter around the house in the morning and do a few odd jobs. We'll go out to a local restaurant for lunch. Perhaps some reading or a movie in the afternoon, and then evenings are usually given over to watching Premier League football or waiting for the scores to come through on the internet. Sunday is a shopping day. We'll compile a shopping list, analyze what we need to buy, and then decide whether it's going to be a ‘big shop' at either Tesco or Foodland, or a leisurely stroll around Paradise Park Mall and pick up a few ready meals for the freezer. And of course we collect our laundry on the way home. It's jet-set stuff.

This weekend, thanks to England preparing for a meaningless international, there was no premier league football. This meant going to bed earlier than usual and getting up early on Sunday morning to face a long day ahead of us.

"Let's go out for the day" my wife suggested.
"OK where to?" I said.
"What about Pattaya?"

I almost choked on my Cornflakes. "Pattaya! You mean Thailand's favorite beach resort? The Pattaya we haven't been to for almost twelve years despite it being less than two hours away. That Pattaya? The Pattaya that in the words of the bloke who wrote ajarn's region guide, is, in its very essence, the stale, rank smell of the morning after. It is youth and age entwining together and supping from the same cold pot. It is the deep chill of regret and the flushed heat of need. It is the mist-wracked border-land between the night-fumbled dreams of stilted adolescence and the crass cash-fueled opportunities of middle age. You mean that Pattaya?"

"Er.......yes" my wife said.

I couldn't believe I was in the mood to make such reckless, spur-of-the-moment decisions, but thirty minutes later, we were filling up with gas and buying snacks for the journey. We were most definitely on our way to Pattaya. Sod the laundry and to hell with the grocery shopping. We were both flushed with a certain devil-may-care attitude. It doesn't take much to make us happy.

A 90-minute leisurely drive is all that's required - and suddenly you are tootling along Pattaya's beach road in its full glory. I rubbed my hands together with glee. I could barely conceal my excitement. It had been a long time.

What struck me about Pattaya - at least observing it from the angle of the beach road during daylight hours - is how similar it is to Benidorm on Spain's Costa Blanca. At least in the way it feels. Shirtless tourists wander around a tad bleary-eyed from the previous night's excesses and there is always somewhere you can get a full English breakfast. My wife made the same observation. She's been to Benidorm several times.
"Why would Europeans travel to the other side of the world to do the same things they could do much cheaper at a Spanish resort like Benidorm?"

A three letter word beginning with S immediately came to mind but it was far too early in the day to engage in an analysis of society and market demands. So I just nodded in agreement.

We stuck the car in the very impressive-looking Hilton Hotel Complex, and emerged into the Pattaya sunshine ready for a stroll along the beach road and to find somewhere for a late breakfast / early lunch.

The pedestrian walkway, which skirts Pattaya's main beach, is still one of the greatest places on earth to people-watch. There are small clusters of ex-pat retirees, all white hair and leathery sun-tan, sitting on the wall chatting and putting the world to rights. There are Thai hoodlums and chancers necking back large bottles of Singha - their eyes peeled to see which gullible tourist might be up for a hustle. There are Thai operators selling boat trips to the islands as well as jet-skis, parasailing, scuba-diving, snorkeling, and all manner of activities aimed chiefly at tourists who can't go to a beach and just sit still. There are the ordinary Thai working-class day-trippers, who have set up a small picnic mat and are now getting excited about a bowl of fish heads. And then of course there are the ladies of the night. Those in particular who have found themselves the wrong side of forty and have to resort to hustling in broad daylight, dressed up to the nines, and hoping to catch the attention of a flabby retiree looking for a bit of lunchtime slap and tickle. The whole scene is a wondrous melting pot of the good, the bad and the ugly. I love it. Benidorm isn't in the same league.

After a half-hour walk along the beach road, taking in the sights and sounds but getting ever hungrier, we happened upon the Hard Rock Café Complex with its restaurant, shop, hotel, swimming pool and a rather fetching giant-sized guitar handle that seems to have just erupted from out of the ground. We've been in the Hard Rock Café in Siam Square, Bangkok several times and while the menu prices always prompt a quick call to the bank manager, the food quality is always exceptional.

We walked into the very large and very empty Hard Rock Café restaurant and I instantly regretted the decision. Eating an overpriced Sunday lunch is one thing, but eating it in a place where you are the only diners and all there is to do is watch the staff as they re-arrange bar towels, break large lumps of ice into smaller lumps and polish wooden table-tops is quite another.

We sat there and ate our meal and watched a succession of music videos performed by a veritable ‘who's who of rock bands I can't stand' - Dire Straits, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick - you get the picture. Just above us was a glass case in which a military jacket allegedly worn by Sting during one of his concerts was mounted. To the left of this was a hat worn by George Harrison while he was filming ‘Let it Be'. Nice if you like that sort of thing.

I can never complain about the food at The Hard Rock Cafe though. We ordered a combo platter of spicy chicken, beef brisket and spare ribs with a side order of chips, beans and salad. The citrus salad dressing was delicious, the food was piping hot throughout and the meat just fell off the bone. It's just a pity that to wash it all down you get stung for Coke or Sprite at 185 baht a glass. Plus 7% government tax. Plus 10% service charge. You do however get to keep the souvenir glass but you aren't allocated shares in the company or given a seat on the board, which is what I half expected. No wonder the place was empty - almost eight dollars for a soda. There was an open-air beer bar I noticed a few yards down serving all drinks, including beer, at 40 baht a glass. And at no extra charge, a dusky maiden would give you a rub-down with a cold towel and you could play Connect 4 until your fingers bled.

Before we hit the streets to continue our tour of Pattaya, I paid a quick visit to the gents. The toilets were spotlessly clean. My mom would have appreciated that.

Back on the beach road, we decided to plonk ourselves down on a couple of deckchairs. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than snoozing under an umbrella on Pattaya's gorgeous beach (no, don't laugh) with a young coconut, a good book and listening to the roar of a jet-ski as it decapitates a German holidaymaker. And then of course there are the beach vendors - that endless stream of sellers who file past your deckchair, invading your personal space, and trying to flog you an array of stuff you're in no mood to buy. In the space of barely twenty minutes, I counted eight ice-cream sellers, four people selling sunglasses made in Italy (I know this to be true because it said "Made in Italy' on the frame), six people who were willing to decorate me with tattoos, a dozen or so vendors selling deep-fried squid and two chancers wanting me to part with cash for the wooden frog that croaks when you run a stick along its back. And if you haven't seen the wooden frog, you've never been to Thailand. When the bloke with the full-size poster of four dogs playing pool in a whisky joint made an appearance, I grabbed my wife by the hand, threw 120 baht at the deckchair owner for two chairs and two young coconuts - and ran!

A lifetime ago, I sat on Pattaya Beach for the very first time and spent all day saying ‘mai aw khrap' to a thousand beach vendors. They got so tiresome at one stage that I had a Thai friend write a message on a piece of cardboard, which I would then rest on my chest whenever I just wanted to close my eyes and do a spot of sunbathing. It said "I do not wish to make any purchases so please kindly fuck off" - or words to that effect.

I was under the impression that the authorities had banned vendors from Pattaya Beach. If anything, the situation was worse than it was twenty years ago. I invented a whole new acronym - VPM - vendors per minute. Wouldn't it be useful if they had small signage boards along the beach giving you an estimated VPM. This would give you an inkling of how many times you are likely to be bothered if you choose to sit in that particular section of the beach.

"Oh I'm not sitting there my love. The VPM is way over ten. I'm looking for somewhere with a VPM of one or two - certainly single digit."

"Gone up-market" is always a risky expression to use where Pattaya is concerned, but that's genuinely how I felt about area around the beach road and the sea-front. Gone were many of the tatty beer-bars I remember from yesteryear and in their place was an assortment of pricey Indian restaurants, air-conditioned shopping malls (none more impressive than the one where we had parked the car) and a selection of swanky hotels. Getting the idea that Pattaya might well become a decent place for a weekend getaway, we decided to enquire about a few room prices, starting with a modest-looking hotel that appeared to have some spacious corner units with an attractive sea-view.

I walked into the lobby and marched up to the receptionist, a middle-aged woman with a face like thunder, who looked me up and down as if I were an imperfectly formed piece of shit.
"What?" she barked. Nothing else. That was it. "What?" Just one word.
I don't think I've ever had the desire to punch a woman quite like I had at that moment. Conjuring up my finest snarl, I asked about the rates for the corner rooms with the nice balcony - the ones with a sea view. "1500 baht a night" The receptionist spat the answer back at me. This was fantastic. We were like two stags locking horns in the morning mist. My wife - with a far higher degree of politeness than the situation merited - asked if we could see a room. I closed my eyes and waited for the woman to chase us out of the hotel with a broom. Surprisingly she tossed a key at some hotel handyman and the three of us squeezed into the world's smallest elevator. The rooms looked far better from the street outside. From the inside, they were like a shrine to plastic vinyl and chipboard. There was no way I could stay there even though the thought of winding up the receptionist appealed to me immensely. "These rooms are only 1300 baht a night" said the handyman in a desperate last-ditch attempt to convert a walk-in.

We stuck our heads into the bathroom where another one of the hotel staff was hosing down the bathtub. She told us without any prompting whatsoever, that the rooms were 1100 baht a night. So at least we had a good idea of the room rates. Basically the staff didn't have a clue. They just made it up as they went along.

On the same soi, leading off the sea-front, was the A-One Boutique Hotel. The term ‘boutique hotel' always lowers my spirits. I can picture a flat screen TV, a remote control unit still in its original cellophane, a pastel-colored bath-towel lying on the bed and arranged in the shape of a swan, and all this in a room so tiny you have to go outside in order to change your mind. To get to the reception, you had to skirt an elaborately designed swimming pool and a patio with expensive-looking wicker furniture. I asked the receptionist if she had any special weekend rates and was quoted 3,500 baht a night. The normal rate was apparently 7,500.

I wanted to ask what time she would be coming upstairs to tuck me in if I parted with over a hundred dollars a night for a boutique hotel in Pattaya but opted to ask if the hotel had wi-fi instead. Free wi-fi was indeed available in the lobby but if I wanted to use my laptop in the room, it would cost me an extra 500 baht a day. But she went to great lengths to assure me that for 500 baht I could use the wi-fi all day for a 24-hour period. I told her I would take a brochure and have a think about it. Then I left just in case she charged me for standing there and asking too many questions. The brochure and name-card both went into the nearest bin.

By now the afternoon heat was at its most fierce. We had intended to walk in the other direction towards South Pattaya but I'm sure it's an area best savored at night and perhaps we should think about heading home. We decided to have a stroll around the Hilton Hotel Shopping Complex and ponce off the air-conditioning. The complex boasted three floors of retail space with the usual designer brand names.

I went into menswear shop, Nautica, to ask if they stocked any men's jeans. Although I'm not one for ambling along the jetty in a striped rugby shirt or splicing the mainbrace with a sweater draped casually around my shoulders - an image that Nautica seems to promote - I do like their jeans. I thought that the snarling woman on the reception back at the first hotel was perhaps an isolated case of ‘Pattaya folk jaded by tourism' so it was reassuring in a way that the sales assistant who approached me in Nautica was every bit as rude and obnoxious. After giving me the unfriendliest welcome imaginable, he directed me to a modest pile of jeans, and then stood so close to me I could almost smell what he'd had for lunch.

It was refreshing to see that a few Pattaya folk - those who are given the responsibility of dealing with the general public - are still as nasty as I remember them all those years ago. But I'm certainly not going to let a few grumpies spoil the day. It was a nice change to be back in "Thailand's favorite beach resort' and I'm sure we'll return soon. I won't leave it more than ten years next time. Honest


Obviously this article is a bit dated, but cheers to the author! A wonderful and highly amusing read. I am actually moving to Pattaya next month, largely on a whim, and having never visited Thailand, I am grateful for the story!

By Sam, Savannah, Georgia, USA (11th July 2012)

Somethings i agree with in what your experience was in Pattaya beach but i know you are not portraying. That all of Pattaya is the same(as i have found out).But i think you should let people know that there are some lovely people all over Thailand and also in Pattaya and it is still a cheaper place to visit than most other countrys all over the world and if i am not making a mistake ,Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destination in the world .Plus our very good friend who did his visit to Pattaya must also live in Thailand as his journey only took him 1hr 30min.

By tomo, ireland (7th January 2011)

Jomtien beach road and the Jomtien area in general is a different kettle of fish, I think its a really nice part of Pattaya. Lots of polite, smiling faces in the places I stayed at and food pitches I visited. Pattaya beach road and that area surrounding has been destroyed by the foreigners, so what do people expect?? The Thais to be happy, grateful and pleased with foreigners?? Ha,ha,ha!!! Thailand is great, Pattaya has it's own uniqueness but it's not a great place to be unless your a drunken sex tourist ;-)

By daniel, UK (15th December 2010)

loved reading this, Ive never been further East than... Latvia! (Im from the UK) but I would love to visit places like that someday. Great article.

By Stock Redler, uk (29th November 2010)

I've never been to Pattaya, but I've heard similiar stories from friends. If you held your cool while the workers were rude to you, you were a much better man than I could ever be. No one will ever be rude to me. I guess the "westerner" in me comes out when that happens. As I said, I've never been to Pattaya and your blog reinforces my reasons to never go. Great read!

By ralph l. sasser, Nong Khai (30th October 2010)

That was a good description of how overpriced a place can become as time passes by.
I used to go to Pattaya nearly every weekend for many years because it is so much more entertianing than Bangkok. Occasionally I would also come across Thai employees or Thais with "attitude and mood" which makes you want to slap the silliness out of them. I always recognised that many Thais feel it is thier personal right to be moody, along with the creepy attitude and everyone is supposed to just accept them. But a person can meet plenty of people who are like that...not just in Thailand.
Yes they should be smiling and polite and happy looking when occupying a public position but everyone has a bad day occasionaly and their mood will often be refected in how they interact with other people. But yes can ruin your mood and your day when the ugly side of people get in your face and Pattaya certainly has plenty enough Thais with a sneer on thier face and a low opinion of foreigners.
Just be glad that the overwhelming majority of Thais do not let thier feelings and opinions be known about how they feel about so many of the foriegners they have to deal with everyday.

By Sylvester, Bangkok (28th October 2010)

Ponce off the air con!........Love it! Reminds me of the 3 or 4 trips to Pattaya I have made over the last 20 years. Each one becoming more miserable and depressing. The outright rudeness of the people was/is astounding. Each day a struggle to keep my calm. Everyone seemed to be sneering at me. Butt ugly chicks didn't help the situation. Each time I ran screaming for the exit. A friend of mine had the temerity to comment on the dirt in his hotel room, as he left for cleaner digs, and was climbing into a taxi, the hotel manager came running out of reception and began punching him around the head, he got away with cuts and bruises!

By Jeremy, udon thani (25th October 2010)

Enjoyed your blog, I havent been back too Pattaya for a very long time and after reading your blog reinforced the reasons why.

By pete sims, Melbourne (24th October 2010)

Your article is lopsided. Hard to believe you would contemplate staying in Pattaya with a receptionist like that when you can find totally polite hospitality at both Jomtien and Naklua - only 10 baht away in a taxi bus - where the ocean water is not so polluted and the vendors are more sparse.
For many years I stayed in cheap beachfront hotels and paid no more than 800 baht a night before deciding to live in the area permanently - moving around a bit until finding a really quiet spot in Naklua. Ended up paying close to 1000 baht a night for a really nice beachfront unit with NO main road noise. Met a chap who was paying 9000 baht a month for a hotel room inclusive of breakfast but not beachfront and no view.
Depending on what you want and your budget you can get it in Pattaya or the surrounding area. And, I have never encountered an impolite or ugly receptionist - did you go out of your way to find her? Or was it luck of the Irish?

By chester, downunder (23rd October 2010)

Nice article. I remember a similar experience at the Hard Rock in Bangkok. I think we all enjoy these places more than we want others to know. Otherwise being an ex-patriot would not be so alluring.

By Thomas Stearns, Winnemucca Nevada USa (21st October 2010)

van - I also have a Thai wife, and we lived about 8km ouside Pattaya for 3 years, teaching at a school in the area. I first arrived in Thailand about 20 years ago.
20 years on and off is a long time to spend as a person getting worked up about what some strangers might think. Particularly when to your wife it is water off a ducks back. In any case, polemics on such things are a dime a dozen.

By cyrille, uae (17th October 2010)

"Perhaps like your welcome, you’ve stayed too long"

Blimey, that's a bit strong isn't it mate? You obviously can't stand the place and that's fine but I didn't set out to write the blog from the angle of a serious social commentator. Ajarn World is written to give people a few laughs. Plain and simple. I really couldn't give a monkey's what the Pattaya locals think of my wife, although we certainly avoided snogging in the street. That would have been a no-no.

By the way, Benidorm must provide relatively safe shelter to half of Britain's armed robbers and seasoned villains on the run I think. I don't know if that falls under your category of 'social ills'

But seriously - thanks for contributing.

By philip, (14th October 2010)

Disappointed by its superficial, dull and banal commentary on what we all know.Only a third world morally and ethically bankrupt country could, and does, produce human suffering on a commercial scale, openly for sale; that is Pattaya.

For a man with a presumably Thai wife, why no comment regarding her reception from Pattaya's resident sex tourists? She's Thai, she's in Pattaya ergo she's for rent. Moreover,the locals see her that way, too. Hence your 'warm' reception when your wallet was closed. Without condemning Pattaya for its filth you simply condone it. As an educator should you not be raising the bar guided by some moral code rather than encouraging what is clearly unacceptable?

Benidorm has problems with drunkeness. It does not have the myriad of social ills epitomised and concentrated on a single street that Pattaya so proudly accepts, claims and publicises. I'm baffled by your reluctance, a blindness, to acknowledge the squalor, suffering and misery that ouzes from every pore of the peeling Pattaya skin.

Perhaps like your welcome, you've stayed too long.

By Van de Graff, AusserStrasse (14th October 2010)

The one bit you missed out was the farangs who sit legs wide apart in their shorts , bottle of water in hand blocking the entance to the Subway sandwich shop on beach road, commenting at every women who walks past. I think they are the Subway mafia 'cause in the last 18 months we visited 6 times for short breaks They were there! (Never see them eat, just a bottle of water and they never move out the way so you have to go round to the side door) And as you stated nobody eats at the hard rock! unless you are from the US on a package tour

By Lomsakpeter, Phetchabun (13th October 2010)

Nice piece - captures the attraction and repulsiveness of Pattaya perfectly.
You kind of want it beforehand but feel queasy afterwards.
Pattaya - the junk holiday resort.

By cyrille, UAE (12th October 2010)

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