By Jason Rupp and Carla Marie Rupp
Pattaya, Thailand, draws us back every year because it’s so comfortable it reminds us of home.
It’s a city filled with a variety of foods, excitement and people, a mélange of cultures from all over the world. Most importantly though, in Pattaya everyone in this melting pot gets along, even though they might not elsewhere. Racial tensions just don’t exist here.
About two hours south of Bangkok, Pattaya is the capital’s closest beach resort. It’s so popular, in fact, many Thais came here from Bangkok during the recent flooding.
Although the place is all family fun during the daytime, after the sun sets it really comes alive. Popular Walking Street is then closed to traffic and those who can’t sleep flock there to eat and enjoy the show. The street is lined with an incongruous mix of places to eat — homemade Italian gelato stands are snuggled up next to go-go bars, seafood restaurants are wedged in next to Middle Eastern Shisha bars – and after dark it comes alive with break dancers, acrobats, mimes and celebrity impersonators, entertainers of every sort. You’ll find just about everything here at night since it’s a place where anything goes.
Like Walking Street, Pattaya itself has its extremes and variety and it makes you fall in love with the place. Even the spas and massage shops range from the high-end at five-star hotels such as Dusit Thani, Marriott, Sheraton, Hard Rock Pattaya, Royal Cliff, Holiday Inn and Hilton, to the small cozy businesses.
During our holiday we enjoyed massages at Ayutthaya Traditional Thai Massage, just steps from the beach, on busy Pattaya Beach Road. The prices couldn’t be beat, at just 180B (less than $6) for a Thai Massage upstairs, with relaxing music and beautiful decoration. Even more fun was to go with friends, stay downstairs and all get foot massages, while chatting away with the welcoming owners about all things Pattaya. After first trying the massages here, we ended up going back each day religiously.
Since Pattaya doesn’t have a long history, it isn’t one of Thailand’s great historical sites. But it does have one of the most impressive, unusual and largest temples around, the gigantic Sanctuary of Truth, all made of wood, and intricately carved inside and out. It is spectacular, a living Thailand heritage sight right on the waterfront that continues to be a work in progress. On any day you can visit and see the artisans, and walk around observing the temple’s small details. The temple is right on Naklua’s coast, which is on the north side of Pattaya.
If you go to the Pattaya Floating Market, where you’ll not only find real Thai food but also a scene that’s great for a postcard-style photo op. Also visit Koh Larn Island, a beautiful white-sand island beach that’s popular with day-trippers (the cheapest way to get there is by ferry from Bali Hai Pier, but numerous speed boats are always available to take tourists to different beaches on the island), and Sriracha Tiger Zoo, where you can hold a baby tiger and feed it with a bottle, an unforgettable experience. Also unforgettable are the impressive elephants you see in the entertaining productions in the Thai shows at Nong Nooch Gardens (photo ops everywhere!) and extravagant Alangkarn Theater, both popular attractions.
If you want to snorkel or dive, there’s a great and friendly dive shop run by two Brits, brothers Neil and Peter. Their day trips are a great bargain for snorkelers since the trip costs less than $30 for everything– equipment, snacks, lunch, a 90-minute boat ride boat ride to a far island, and lots of fun and laughter with new buddies from around the globe. And you might just see some giant turtles among all the beautiful fish. Their day trip boat for divers and snorkelers leaves at 8 a.m. daily.
All these attractions help make Pattaya popular with Thais. But it’s also popular with foreign tourists on extended stays since it provides another unique benefit: you find authentic food from every part of the world here, offered at every price level.
Hungry for an authentic Shawarma Kebab? South Pattaya has it, prepared by a man from Egypt. If you’re in the mood for Russian, you’ll find fresh borscht always available. Pizza? Pizza Hut and Sizzler are here, but you can get a pizza baked in a brick oven down the street for the same price.
The Indian buffets are amazing (the owner of the restaurant Indian by Nature even wrote her own cookbook for customers) and there’s also German, Irish, English, Dutch, Danish, Finnish and French places scattered about. And of course, you find Thai food, such as Pad Thai and Tom Yum, around every corner.
We also dined at Central Festival Mall, a large Bangkok-style, high-end mall that serves international food in its basement and has a good ocean view on the fourth floor. Up-scale Royal Garden Mall, not too far south from Central on Beach Road, has a good-quality food court on the top floor and its outdoor area has a great panoramic view.
For a cheap breakfast buffet locals steered us to the Lek Hotel, which has both Thai and international dishes, and is open until 1 p.m. You can follow that with a visit to the lunch buffet at the Hilton, which since opening in January 2011 has developed a loyal expat following because of its good value and good views of the area.
Come evening and most people find the best place to be for a good view of the sunset is anywhere on the beach. But we discovered a new favorite spot, the Pattaya Beer Garden, on the first pier at the start of Walking Street. Get there early to get a table, as they will all be full as sunset nears. Drinks start at just 70 Baht, about $2.25.
If you plan on staying in Pattaya two weeks or more, you may consider doing a Google search for a condo rental, as we did. We found an oceanfront studio condo in Jomtien, a nice and friendly section on the south side of Pattaya, not far from Pattaya Park Tower (known for its observation deck and adventurous thrill rides), Walking Street and Bali Hai Pier, the latter the site of some wonderful and crazy festivals throughout the year. The cost for a two-week rental was approximately $500.
When you book a condo rental ahead of time in Jomtien, you’ll usually get a balcony with a view, a kitchen for cooking, a pool, and the opportunity to meet new friends from all over the world. Renting a condo is perfect for seniors, singles, couples, and families – anyone looking for good value and a good experience in Thailand.
If you go:
Pattaya Tourist Information Center
609 Moo 10, Pratamnak Rd.
Nongprue, Banglamung, Chonburi 20260 Thailand
Pattaya Information Center in Pattaya
The Avenue Pattaya, Second Rd., opposite Soi Yamato
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)