Pattaya: A sidetrip to Thailand’s sex capital

We arrived in Phuket Town tired and happy to lay down our bags. Our room would be a couple modest bunk beds, a wall fan and a giant standalone fan sitting by the window. Cheap, comfortable, one night. Meh.

A nice feature to the place was the fact it was atop a good Irish pub called O’Malley’s with great draft Tiger beer on tap. After settling in, we came down to enjoy said beer and chat with a pleasant couple from England, Jo and Mike methinks.

They told us they had been to the beach in Patong and were pretty disgusted with the sex industry revealing itself there – something our guidebook noted one had to be wary of.

Not wanting to top stories, but rather commiserate, we started to talk about our recent trip to Pattaya. At this point the bartender inserted himself in our conversation. “You wanna know what Pattaya is like?” he said to the couple in a thick Irish accent. “Take Patong and times it by a million.”

Through my travels in Thailand I had been reading Alex Garland’s famous backpacker novel “The Beach.” The only mention of Pattaya was to say it “was a hellhole.”

And, well, although I wouldn’t go so far, it is a pretty miserable place. Unless, of course, your forte is sex tourism, then it may be the highlight of your trip. Otherwise, it’s pretty dirty.

Now that’s not to say there aren’t nice things about Pattaya. It actually is a pretty good base for some decent day trips – to some nearby islands, a tiger zoo, a really cool looking ziplining outdoor adventure somethingorother. It also has a beach and a pretty temple a little further down. Unfortunately, my stomach wasn’t feeling so great, so we didn’t enjoy any of these.

Instead, we hung close to the downtown watching the sights – mainly old white men walking around with much younger Thai girls – and sounds – girls propositioning for such services. There’s also a pretty wild bar scene that seemed only amplified for Halloween.

Definitely not a family destination. And yet we saw parents with kids walking right down “Walking Street,” the heart or, perhaps, the libido of Pattaya.

It must be said that we did have some fun and enjoyed more than a few laughs over this ridiculous place. However, I certainly didn’t appreciate the disgusting men ogling my modestly dressed wife.

But why would I take her here in the first place?

Well, we were following the headlines about Bangkok from Cambodia and the situation looked grim. Floodwaters rising, relief efforts, sandbagging – it didn’t seem like a worthwhile tourist destination, nor did we want to travel through a city that it seemed everyone wanted to get out of.

Yet, the problem with Bangkok is that if you want to drive to the south of Thailand, you pretty much have to go through it (there are also many fascinating places in Northern Thailand, but we needed to go south to make onward travel easier and it was time we found a beach). We looked at a lot of options from Siem Reap, Cambodia, ruling out most based on cost and complications.

Eventually, I discovered a really cheap flight from Pattaya to Phuket. And so we took a six, seven, eight-hour (I really don’t know) extremely cramped minibus from the Cambodian border to Pattaya, where we were dropped off at a random street off our map. The driver shrugged his shoulders and left. One hour hike later, we were set in a dreadfully dull fan room with windows looking out to the hallway.

Three days later, a quick flight dropped us off in Phuket. We decided to head to Phuket Town for the night to get our bearings and determine where to go next. One thing we quickly agreed on was that after Pattaya we didn’t want to go to Patong.

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