Thailand has a saying “good guys go to heaven, bad guys go to Pattaya.” So of course naturally, it was on my to do list during my travels in the Kingdom.
To understand Pattaya as with most things, you need to start with the history books. It may seem hard to believe but up until the 1960’s Pattaya was just a sleepy fishing village and over an 8hour dirt road drive from the Bangkok capital.
In 1954 when the Vietnamese military defeated the French in the first Indochina War, effectively splitting the country in two between the communist North and the democratic South. These escalations saw a negotiated deal between the US and Thailand for a strategic Air Force base in Sattaship named U-Tapao, only a 30 minute drive from the once unspoiled Pattaya beaches.
As the war escalated so to did the number of GI’s stationed at U-Tapao and South East Asia more generally. All of these men needed a place for R&R and soon Pattaya’s bamboo hut bars became fall of young, cashed up GI’s, looking for a week of good times. Over the next 50 years Pattaya experienced a slow yet unstoppable increase to be know today as the sex capital the world.
The first stop for any new and curious foreigner is the aptly named ‘Walking Street’, which is best described as 500meters of degeneracy. A street where neon lights cover the rafters with bar names such as Sugar Babes and Hot Tuna instantly set the mood. Draw you eyes away from the shining lights and you’ll find a parade of young, scantly clad girls grabbing at your hand as you pass by. Some of whom are placed in sandwich boards advertising happy hours and ping pong shows, written in a list of languages for all to understand. The internationalism of Pattaya’s sex scene is too something to behold, with a large amount Russian, Indian and Arab bars making a large portion of the street.
However, after a quick detour of the main drag and an exploration into Pattaya’s many other Soi’s (Thai for streets) the scene very quickly changes. Most are empty, with a very depressing site of a dozen women sitting on bars stools playing with their smart phones with only one or two customers to ‘entertain’.
Speaking to a few in the know locals, most say ‘Waling Street’ is all for show these days. With many tourists just there for a ‘selfie’ and are in bed by 10pm to keep to their hectic tour guided schedules. The reason I’m told is the huge demographic change that has occurred in Thailand over the past 10 years. Official statistics show mainland Chinese tourists have increased from around 1million in 2006 to 10million in 2017.
This is also amplified by the banned yet widely conducted practice of ‘zero dollar’ tourism packages. Where a tour operator will organise a one time upfront payment with the promise of no spending dollars required, usually over a 5-7 day trip. Naturally creating a environment where all meals are eaten at the hotel, no drinks are offered and a schedule that is based around being herded through key tourist attractions with nothing but photo as the experience.
With a reduction in the heavy bar spending tourists of the ‘big four’ known as the UK, America, Australia and Europe. Going to the much up and coming countries of Cambodia and Vietnam, many bars have felt the pinch.
Just as the once sleepy fishing village changed forever when the first American GI’s steeped off their military trucks 50 years ago. It appears Pattaya will have too change again, however, in another 50 years its “good guys go to heaven, bad guys go to Pattaya” adage may be said in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Next Stop: Chiang Mai