FIRE in Thailand

The changing face of Pattaya

Is Pattaya's reputation now completely undeserved?

You either love Pattaya for its bars and sleaziness, or you despise it. 

I thought I would be in the latter category forever. That changed when I visited recently for the first time in a long time. The few times I went in the past, I could only stand its seediness for a couple nights at most. I even avoided telling friends and family where I actually was, so famous is its reputation as the #1 Sin City in the world.

As a long-term expat in Bangkok, I always laughed every time the local media talked about the gentrification of Pattaya and infinite arrivals of quality tourists. Internet forums and regular discussions with other expats fooled me into believing Thailand can only go in one direction - down, and as fast as possible. 

That's exactly what I found has happened to nightlife in Pattaya. Bars are now poor value for money, but not because Thailand has become a failed state. On the contrary, it's because Thailand has experienced dramatic economic growth for decades.

Better days

Poverty and unemployment are at their lowest levels in history. Education and healthcare have never been more accessible. It seems everyone has an expensive smart-phone or car no matter what their job is. Most expats have seen lovely Thai girls selling products on social media or LINE. Thailand has one of the largest social commerce markets in the world, particularly among young people. Barriers to entry are so low, almost anyone can start selling online. Thailand 4.0, another media gimmick I used to laugh at, is real and tangible. The middle class has mushroomed as a result.

Isaan, where most bargirls are from, has benefited the most economically out of all the areas in Thailand. 

Many girls destined to bar work in the past are now either in university, selling online, or working at another easily obtainable job. As Westerners, we may not consider all the new McJobs as the epitome of a thriving economy, but to many young Thai girls, it's a perfect life. The economic expansion has left behind only a small part of society. The girls who end up in bars nowadays are society's leftovers - the poorest and least educated who are unable to benefit from the modern economy.

The death of nightlife?

Decades ago, expats and tourists looked forward to epic nights out every time they stepped into a bar. Prices were cheap. Girls were friendly and always in a good mood. Mamasans were glad to see you and there was little pressure to pay for extras. These days, girls are crass and Mamasans are mercenary. Thai smiles and fun are gone. Prices are through the roof. Pressure is regularly applied immediately to buy lady-drinks and bar-fine. The whole environment is often inhospitable. 

Open-air bars are more like cesspools than adult playgrounds. It's a struggle to find just one attractive girl out of hundreds. Unable to entice even the most decrepit punter with the tried-and-tested, "Hello handsome man, where you go?" many bars are completely empty. Society's leftovers fighting over scraps.

Tourists - the new breed

At the same time, young tourists fill new shopping centers and restaurants along Beach Road. The sidewalk along the beach is wider, full of new trees, and is surprisingly pleasant to walk along. Most tourists are now from Asia, the Middle East, and Russia. Families with kids are everywhere. 

In many ways, it's like nightlife doesn't exist unless you specifically go looking for it, just like in most cities in the world. If you had never heard of Pattaya before, you would never know in the past it was full of Western tourists who mainly came for bargirls. There's no doubt the industry is dying.

I never thought I would say this when I first came to Thailand, but Pattaya 4.0 is here and I like it.

You might also be interested in: 

Why FIRE is Better Than a Bar Girl - Thailand's reputation as a cheap adult playground may be slow to die, but there’s no doubt nightlife is nothing like it used to be and is now poor value for money.

How to Avoid Investment Scams in Thailand - independent financial advisors in Thailand have the shameful reputation of being some of the most immoral in the world, and that reputation is often well-deserved.

The Retirement Lifestyle in Thailand - have you ever wondered what it would be like to retire to a tropical paradise?


This is an interesting read, and much of it represents what is taking place in Thailand, but it is not the complete picture. Mentioned is the fact that most Thais seem to have a fancy smartphone and a car these days. What is not mentioned is that Thailand has one of the highest rates of consumer debt in all of Asia. More than 50 percent of the new cars bought in the past 5 years have already been repossessed. Credit card debt is through the roof. When a young person only makes 12-15K a month at most, charging a 30K smart phone makes no sense - yet that is what is happening. Also, the nightlife for expats may not be as in your face as before, but for Thais it is still very much alive and well. They do not pay the exorbitant prices for drinks, etc. Sex trafficking is also very alive and well - we just do not see it. It is not all roses, peaches, and cream. That being said - I love what is happening in Thailand. There is more opportunity for Thais than ever before - if they will just go out and grab it. I hope the best for them - I have invested my life here and have no intention of going anywhere else. Thanks for writing this - it is a good look at what may be happening in the Land of Smiles.

By Jason, Khon Kaen (18th June 2018)

This article is absolutely correct in assessing the decline of the adult industry in Pattaya, but somehow completely forgot to mention what it's been replaced with - a set of tacky attractions with huge car parks for hundreds of Chinese tour coaches. In other words, for a Western traveller or expat, even less reason to go

By Danny, Bangkok (30th May 2018)

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