Looking at the over growth of tourist friendly Go-Go bars and the openness with which the sex industry operates in the city, it is hard to imagine that Pattaya was once a sleepy little fishing town. The beach, which is crowded with hawkers and old men with petite Thai girls half their age, once used to be busy with the hard working fishermen community.
During the Vietnam War, Pattaya acted as a “Rest and Recreation” stop for American soldiers. I’m guessing that was when the Americans got the first taste of Thai hospitality and the word spread. When I visited the city back in 2011, the soldiers were long gone but the city of Pattaya continued to be a “Rest and Recreation” stop for many. Take a walk along the beach side road in the evening, and you will be greeted by Thai girls waiting by the sidewalk, asking if you are interested in their company.
Not just the Beach Road, this happens everywhere. I remember during the 2011 trip, when I was checking into a decent family guest house, the nonchalant way in which the receptionist, a lady in her 50s, said
“Breakfast is served at 8 am. Laundry is 100 Bahts per kilogram. Wifi is 30 Bahts an hour and if you want a girl or want to book tours, you can contact the travel desk.”
I guess what they say is true. You will either love Pattaya or hate it.
From the backseat of a moto taxi on a sunny morning, things look pretty normal. People are driving off to work. The sidewalks are being swept clean and the shutters of the roadside shops are being rolled up. There are not many foreigners around, and the ones that are, judging from their red eyes and unkempt look, do not look like they want to be there. But, I guess that’s what staying in a party town for too long can do to you.
The bike screeches to a stop in front of my hostel, Asia Backpackers. It advertises to be a hostel and a bar. If you ask me, it is more of the latter than the former. The dorm beds are creaky and there is only one toilet catering to the 16 occupants. But on the bright side, the Wifi works like a dream. I log in to my Facebook account and type in a status message..
“Everyone deserves a second chance. Pattaya, here is yours!”
.. and quickly realise how douchey that sounds, and delete it hoping no one read it in the three seconds that it was live.
After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I head out to grab some food. It is 11.30 am and walking through the side alleys, I quickly realise that not many of the restaurants here open up that early.
By afternoon things get a little more interesting as some of the beachside pubs open up, and the pool tables get busy with people showing off their skills. After having a bowl of spicy chicken noodles, I decide to take a walk along the Beach Road and the Walking Street.
The saddest thing about Pattaya beach is that there is hardly any beach left. Beachside reclining chairs with their big overhead umbrellas and the pesky hawkers make it almost impossible to take a peaceful walk on the sand. Water scooters and banana boats crowd the shore and it is hard to look at the sea without having a speeding boat jetting across with some tourist in the back going, “Wooohoooo!” in excitement. If you do manage to find a quiet spot to sit and gaze out at the sea, it is just a matter of time before you are approached by some Thai lady offering you her services. There is a reason that spot was quiet.
Walking Street in day light is a complete wreck. During the mornings and afternoons, it would feel like the Walking Street itself is having a terrible hangover. It is like a tired middle aged man, passed out in his bed, drooling on his pillow, with red eyes and dark circles.
“C’mon, get up.. its almost evening. Take your pills, we have to party again tonight.”
Old men with arm length tattoos sitting on the round bar stools, smoking ..something.. while bartenders and waiters clean up the tables and counters. The neon lights that bring the place alive in the evenings, when turned off, look like they haven’t been cleaned since the 1980s. The pavements are dotted with empty beer bottles.
I walk out of the Walking Street and grab a seat in a decent looking bar overlooking the sea. I see people of different ages, and families of different sizes walk along the Beach Road. Thai Government has been trying to promote Pattaya as a family friendly destination. There is a crocodile farm and a tiger zoo nearby. There is the Ripley’s museum and the popular Millennium Stone Park. For sports lovers, there is the Fairtex Stadium which hosts great Muay Thai bouts on weekends. There is also the famed lady boy cabaret shows of Alcazar and Tiffany. There are some decent malls around and the streets are lined up with souvenir shops. It is no surprise that over 7 million people visited Pattaya this year.
But to me, all these attractions seem like a clever ploy to distract the visitors from the dark side of the city. Every year, hundreds of underage girls from the Thai countryside come to work here. They are promised jobs by the agents and soon get sucked into this horrible industry. Some return back home, while others get used to it and make a living out of it.
Ofcourse, as a foreigner it shouldn’t bother me. But for some reason it does. It always does.
Tired of the humid weather, I walk back to my hostel for another shower, passing beachside bars playing loud music and crowded with foreigners. Things are getting warmed up for another wild night.
I find my next bed neighbour, spread out on his bed in his underwear, fiddling with his phone. The sound of someone snoring is echoing through the room. The air in the room is stuffy and stale. I whisper “Hello” to my neighbour as I rummaged through my bag for a clean t-shirt. His name was Zaki, from Morocco, and has been in Pattaya for 5 days now. Understandably, he looked tired. I ask him why he hasn’t turned on the air conditioner, to which he replies, in his thick accent
“Air conditioner only works at night. They pull off the plug during the day to save electricity.”
Guess the hostel turns into a sweaty, stinking sauna by day. Perfect. They should advertise that shit.
I spend the afternoon downstairs watching some Thai TV show with the hostel staff. I couldn’t understand what exactly was happening but I didn’t have anything better to do. I realise that there are very few times during my trips that I lose the urge to explore. This was one of those days. Everyone suddenly burst out laughing. Turns out, it’s a comedy show.
That evening, one of the staff told me about this bar which had excellent live music and drew me a map on the back of a massage therapy pamphlet. She promised me that it is a clean bar.
So after a nice seafood dinner, I walked back to the Beach Road in search of the bar, and as it turns out she was right. The bar was pretty nice. Music was decent. Beer was cold.
The street outside however, as seen through the cloud of smoke coming from the chain smoking gentlemen sitting at the next table, seemed crazy as ever. Hidden behind the family friendly attractions like snake charmers and fake Muay Thai fights, were the pimps and the lovely ladies of the Go-Go bars trying to lure people into their establishments. And this wasn’t restricted to the Walking Street however. It was everywhere.
That night, as the in-house band started playing the heavenly strings of Hotel California and the waitress winked at me while serving me another cold one, I decided to leave Pattaya the next day. I’ve had enough of this place, and it hasn’t even been 24 hours since I got here.
I asked myself why this city bothered me so much. Why was it that everyone seem to be having fun and I wasn’t? Maybe it is the constant noise or the crazy lights. Or maybe it were the fake smiles and plastic attractions. I still don’t know.
All I do know is I’ll never be happy in a place like Pattaya. It’s just not made for me.
Early next morning, I left the city, hoping to never return again.