Thailand's sin city has carried this reputation ever since that fateful day in April 1961 when the first 100 war-weary Americans arrived for some well-deserved R&R at this stunning and sprawling bay. That invoked a rapid-fire change from sleepy fishing village to fishy sleeping village. To this day, the US Navy uses Pattaya as a R&R port, the arrival of aircraft carriers marked by fleets of girls swimming out to the horizon to meet the boats. Jing jing!
Little known fact #628: the name Phatthaya actually means the wind which blows from southwest to northwest at the beginning of rainy season. That in turn comes from Phraya Tak (not to be confused with Friar Tuck) who captured Pattaya in 1767.
Walking Street -- at the north end of the bay -- is a looooooong stretch of nothing but clubs, bars, pubs, restaurants. Notably, a lot of rowdy Russian-run establishments. It is called Walking Street because to call it $#&ing Street would be just too sleazy ... even for Pattaya. It has made local neon sign makers some of the wealthiest people in Thailand. Walking Street is a daily carnival of decadence and debauchery (I mean that in a good way) where lady boys and bar girls hustle the passers by, and shameless spruikers for strip clubs hold up 'menus' that would make medical students blush, and even make a seasoned gynecologist raise an, er, eyebrow.
But there is something in the human spirit that makes this compulsive viewing. Like a reality TV show. It is real - duh! Which is now why busloads of otherwise innocent tourists are drawn to the place to have a walk and a wander (or perhaps that should be 'wonder'). And with that it just becomes a commodity. Like Patpong. Like the Reeperbahn. A tourist attraction.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the gentrification of Pattaya. If that's the case I'd hate to have seen it before (no, actually I would've LOVED to have seen it before, who am I kidding?)
Pattaya is a schizophrenic city. The southern end, and generally the area of Jomtien, is where the big new investment is going into, capitalising on the the 5 million-odd tourists (some of them very odd!) who venture the 145 km 2-hour drive (or flight) from Bangkok to Pattaya each year. Pleasant promenades, beautiful beaches, tasteful family-friendly resorts. Gee, there are places I'd be more than happy to bring my mother to. A flash new Central Mall has just opened, replete with Japanese restaurants, electronics stores, usual middle-class mall fare. Then there are the new wave of hotels: the Hard Rock Hotel, the Dusit Thani D2, the amazing Centara Grand Mirage is now open (see next blog about this), and the Hilton Pattaya is slated to open any day now. Not to mention Ocean One Tower, which, at 367 metres is slated to be the tallest residental tower in Thailand, if not the world. Setting a new tone, a high water mark.
Amazingly in my 23 years of travelling to Thailand I'd never set foot in Pattaya. So I arrived with a trolley-load of mental preconceptions and baggage about Pattaya; mostly beaten-up Samsonite suitcases and backpacks admittedly. I left with new baggage, mostly fake Louis Vuitton -- oh, and some vivid mental snapshots from that show in the upstairs bar. How does she do that???