Pattaya, situated about 62 miles (100km) south of Bangkok, was once just a quiet coastal fishing town. Today it teems with holidaymakers, both local and foreign, and is packed with hotels, shops, restaurants and bars. The tourism boom came with the Vietnam War, when Pattaya was chosen as a popular venue for American GIs to enjoy some 'R&R'. The town has developed something of a reputation for sex tourism, an image it is trying to shake off, although most of the night-time entertainment is centred around spicy cabarets, massage parlours, go-go bars, and beer-bars with girls for hire. The town, however, has a multitude of other attractions on offer, from its rather crowded and well-used beaches to some first-class restaurants, hundreds of recreational activities, bazaar-type markets, and excursions to nearby more peaceful spots and offshore islands.
Holidaymakers will find that shopping in Pattaya is fun and interesting, and that there are many bargains to be had, as is the case in most major centres in Thailand. The main shopping area is in the south around the large seaside hotels. Congregated here is a selection of jewellery stores, tailors, boutiques selling silk and cotton goods, and handcraft shops. The largest shopping complex is on North Pattaya Road, designed like a traditional night market and home to a bazaar, handcraft centre, and several bars and restaurants to complement the shops.
Whether their tastes run to English fry-ups or enchiladas, holidaymakers will find it in Pattaya, where a range of eateries from street vendors to top-notch gourmet restaurants cover an international gamut of cuisines. Not only is the choice vast, but the budget range is too. For a pittance it is possible to dine on chicken fried rice or noodles from a streetside stall or, for a few hundred baht, visitors can go really upscale and dine in air-conditioned luxury at an elegant hotel restaurant, like the The Peak on the top floor of the Dusit Resort Pattaya. An unusual but fun spot is Cabbages and Condoms, a colourful restaurant serving vegetables grown from its own garden. Those intent on sticking to local cuisine will find plenty of mouth-watering Thai options everywhere they look; the fresh seafood is particularly good and is often available straight from a seawater tank.
Holidaymakers will note that much of Pattaya's nightlife revolves around the notorious local sex-oriented industry, particularly along famed Walking Street in the party zone between Soi 14 and Soi 16 in south Pattaya. This area is closed to traffic at night, and buzzes with dozens of beer-bars, go-go clubs, discos, Thai boxing matches and massage parlours, lit with brilliant neon. Around the beach road the scene is almost as hectic. Extravagant and flamboyant cabarets and drag shows are extremely popular all over the city. Gay-only bars are centred on an area known as Boyz Town. Those looking for some more traditional evening entertainment can kick up their heels at an Irish pub, such as Kilkenny's, or soak up some jazz at the Hopf Brew House on Beach Road.
Like any popular seaside holiday resort, Pattaya has plenty of activities to amuse and amaze, both in and out of the water. Among the most popular pursuits are bungy-jumping, paragliding, jet-skiing, golf, cycling, fishing and elephant rides. Visitors can also whizz round the track at the Pattaya Kart Speedway or try their hand at one of many indoor bowling alleys. Holidaymakers who enjoy soaking up local culture can sign up for yoga, tai chi or Thai boxing courses, take a Thai language or cookery course, or indulge in some relaxing spa treatments, massages or meditation groups.
Pattaya is also a popular place for scuba diving in Thailand. The area is sheltered from the monsoons that decrease visibility in other areas, meaning diving is a year-round activity in Pattaya. There are several sites for wreck diving, considered the highlight of diving in Pattaya, but there are many other excellent dive sites, including the popular Koh Man Winchai. Divers in Pattaya are likely to encounter a variety of marine life, including octopus, clownfish, stingrays, eels and tawny nurse sharks.
Pattaya is not the ideal destination for families, as it has a reputation for sex tourism and many older male travellers come here searching for prostitutes and go-go girls.