Pattaya is known primarily for its sex trade but, though the city initially held little appeal to me, I did grow to learn that it is far more than its reputation and even came to appreciate it, largely thanks to a local friend who ensured I saw a different, more nuanced side of the city. Without her, my first trip to this coastal destination likely would have been a bit of a letdown, but she proved an excellent guide. She actually had worked seven years as a tour guide throughout Central Thailand, so she knew the city well and knew what I would find interesting. She also had her own scooter, and so zipped me from spot to spot, saving me a ton of time and some money in the process.
Pattaya is wildly popular with what’re known as “sexpats”, foreigners who come to Thailand to take advantage of the largely unregulated sex trade. This is a city that purportedly boasts upwards of 4000 prostitutes, the kind of city where your hotel room includes a pack of complimentary condoms (no, I’m not kidding).
Clearly, I wasn’t there for any of the above. I was there strictly to visit my friend who ferried me to interesting spots throughout the city, including to a few great lookout points over the city and its bay. Though this is a resort town, the beach is less than impressive and the bay is absolutely filled with boats. It’s an interesting sight to see so many boast criss-crossing such a small space right off shore, but it doesn’t exactly make bathing in its waters an appealing prospect. Needless to say I didn’t go swimming on this trip.
We also visited a nearby temple complex where my friend, a Buddhist, taught me a few practices, including attempting to throw a coin into the Buddha’s navel (I missed). She initially wanted me to make a wish upon the day of my birth, but she meant the day of the week, which is of import in Buddhism. I had no idea on which day of the week I was born, which flabbergasted her. Luckily, the option to wish upon the year of your birth was available, and I knew I was born the Year of the Horse, so I could partake after all.
I also learned how to say “No, thank you” in Thai, a key skill when walking the city streets and being accosted on a regular basis by women and men offering massages.
I’d have to say, though, that the highlight of the trip was visiting Pattaya’s so called, Walking Street. It is a sight to see, like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street on mescaline. The street is lined with dance clubs, strip clubs and other clubs of less obvious denominations. Women gyrate in windows under a canopy of neon signs. In the street, people simply wander, often looking slightly dazed. Many of these are Russian men, all beefy and with blindingly white skin, hair shorn close to the scalp, and every one of them of indeterminate age—anything from late twenties to late fifties. Russians have made up the bulk of visitors to Pattaya for years—many signs in the city are in Russian—though my friend told me they are being quickly supplanted by the Chinese.
Though we never stopped into any of the restaurants, bars or clubs along the Walking Street, the spectacle was worth experiencing, and made the trip worthwhile. It’s a different side of Thailand, a seedy and rather infamous side of it, but one I’m glad I witnessed.
During my last night there, I awoke in the middle of the night with my stomach clenched like a fist. I spent the rest of the night shuttling back and forth from the bed to the washroom. Let’s just say that fresh seafood tastes great on the way down but can have an unpleasant effect on the way out, if you know what I mean.
Luckily, my friend was there in the morning to save the day once again. She had been through similar distress just a month ago, so my explanation didn’t require unpleasant details or awkward pantomime. She graciously accompanied me to the pharmacist so that I was quickly equipped with inexpensive medicine and directions on how to take them. And, when buying my bus ticket for the two hour ride back to Bangkok, she received assurance from the counter help that the bus did indeed have a washroom, just in case.
So that was my first trip to Pattaya. I wouldn’t exactly have recommended it at the time, though Walking Street truly had been something to behold at least once, but I would return on several occasions and, as mentioned, would grow to appreciated it for what it offered beyond its unfortunate claim to infamy.