Pattaya’s faded beauty is now difficult to discern. The onceidyllic beaches attracted visitors as early as the 1950s and later became a destination for US troops on R&R during the Vietnam War. Now dubbed “Patpong by the Sea” (see p120), the town has become one of Thailand’s infamous red-light districts, with a menagerie of go-go bars and glitzy transvestite shows. Despite its seedy image, Pattaya still attracts many families, who come for the good, cheap accommodations, extensive beaches (though the sea is often polluted), excellent restaurants, and the best water sports facilities in Thailand.
Pattaya consists of three bays. At its center is the 2-mile (3-km) long Pattaya beach. Pattaya Beach Road is packed with fastfood restaurants and souvenir shops. Walking Street, or “the strip,” is where the sex industry plies its trade. North Pattaya Road, on the other hand, is more sedate, with open-air drinking spots called bar beers.
Many tourists prefer the more family-oriented 9-mile (14-km) long Jomtien beach, around the southern headland of Pattaya. This is also the best place for water sports, as the sea here is cleaner. Scores of companies offer water- and jet-skiing, windsurfing, sailing, parasailing, game-fishing, and scuba diving. Other activities include golf, target shooting, horseback riding, and tennis.
Quieter Naklua bay, to the north of Pattaya beach, has a fishing village that, despite tourism, has kept its charm. The 2006 opening of Suvarnabhumi Airport, between Bangkok and Pattaya, sparked a building boom that led to the construction of several of Thailand’s tallest skyscrapers