Thailand - Visiting Pattaya With Children
What Is Pattaya?
Pattaya, located on the northern part of the Gulf of Thailand 100km from Bangkok, started off as a small fishing village.
In the 1960's, when thousands of United States' servicemen were based in Thailand fighting various campaigns in Southeast Asia to stop the spread of Communism, it became a popular R&R base for foreign soldiers. Even after the bases had disbanded and the Americans had gone home, Pattaya remained (and remains) a popular R&R stop for American servicemen doing military exercises in the region.
I can't remember if I saw it for real or on a TV documentary, but I still have a vivid image in my mind of a Thai prostitute in Pattaya waiting to greet a boat load of American sailors with 'F*ck me USA' written in large letters across her backside (without the asterisk).
The law of supply and demand works as well in Thailand as it does anywhere else. Thousands of foreign servicemen who hadn't been near a woman for months wanted to get very close to women and, with so many poor women in Thailand who put far more value on money than morality, there was no shortage of women willing to prostitute themselves.
Pattaya is ideally placed to receive sailors serving on aircraft carriers docked at Laem Chabang Port and ideally placed to receive foreign tourists arriving in Bangkok. Also, it isn't too far away from the Isaan region where the vast majority of prostitutes working in Pattaya come from.
With so many prostitutes in town to service United States' military personnel word soon got out to the international sex tourist community and it soon became one of the largest sex tourist destinations in the world. It still is.
Thais have a big dilemma in that the Buddhist doctrine they are supposed to followed forbids the drinking and fornication that goes on in Pattaya, yet nothing is valued higher in their value system than money and Pattaya brings in a huge amount of tourist dollars.
The Thai response in recent years has been to work on improving the image of Pattaya by building large family-friendly hotels, but essentially not to do anything about the sex industry as doing so would destroy a valuable source of income. No one wants to kill the golden goose.
Sex for sale in Pattaya
For a long time Pattaya was a seedy sex tourist destination and nothing more. Nowadays, that aspect still exists but there are also some very pleasant family hotels that attract families with young children and foreigners who aren't sex tourists.
The sex tourist aspect won't go away because it isn't in Thai interests for it to go away, but Pattaya these days isn't quite so one-dimensional as it was a few years ago.
I don't think I've ever heard a foreigner pronounce Pattaya correctly. Not just farangs, but also Malaysians and Singaporeans who use the 'pat-TIE-uh' pronunciation, with a lot of stress on the second syllable, so that it rhymes with papaya.
It's hardly surprising. Few foreigners can read Thai and thus they have to rely on the disastrous system of Thai to English transliteration. Apart from the fact that it is impossible to write certain Thai phonemes using the English alphabet, the system of translation often uses the wrong consonants and vowels and doesn't distinguish between long and short vowel sounds. How is a foreigner expected to pronounce Kanchanaburi correctly when the transliteration of this place name, phonetically, is nothing like the Thai pronunciation?
Another problem is the phonetic inconsistency of written English. The words 'but', 'cut', 'gut', 'hut', 'rut' rhyme with each other, but not 'put', which uses the same vowel but has a completely different vowel sound. If we want this same vowel sound with an initial 'p' consonant we have to write 'putt'. How crazy is that? Written Thai is a lot more consistent in this respect.
Let's look at the Thai spelling.
The usual convention with transliteration is to put an unnecessary and confusing 'h' after aspirated consonants. In English 'th' is nothing like 't' and 'ph' is nothing like 'p', otherwise I would be known as Pilip, and this dumb convention causes a lot of confusion.
It results in people (including Lonely Planet podcast presenters) pronouncing places like Thonburi incorrectly and has resulted in many jokes about the pronunciation of Phuket.
Interestingly (to me at least), there are no unnecessary and confusing 'h' characters used in the transliteration of Pattaya, even though it uses aspirated consonants. Not only is the transliteration system useless, but it is also inconsistent. If this spelling followed the usual convention, it would be spelt 'Phatthaya'.
The first syllable consists of an aspirated 'p' initial consonant, a 'u' vowel as in 'putt', not 'put', 'hut' not 'hat' and a 't' final consonant.
We get a 'put' sounds that rhymes with 'but', 'cut', 'gut', 'hut', 'rut', 'putt', but not the English 'put'.
The final consonant of the first syllable is also used for the initial consonant of the second syllable. This happens in some Thai words. Therefore, the initial consonant of the second syllable is an aspirated 't'.
There is no written vowel for the second syllable, which is often the case in Thai, therefore we have to add an implied vowel, a short 'uh' - the same as the 'u' in 'but', 'cut', 'gut', 'hut', 'rut'.
The third syllable has a 'y' initial consonant and a long 'aa' vowel with no final consonant. The result is:
Vowel lengths are very important in Thai; the first two syllables have short vowels and the final syllable has a long vowel.
Tones are also extremely important in Thai, but also somewhat confusing. When I hear Thais say this place name, the three syllables sound like mid tone. I just asked my wife for confirmation and she says mid tone. However, the tone rules say that the three syllables are high-high-mid.
Benjawan Poomsan Becker offers an explanation for this and states, "For poly-syllabic words, in normal speech, the tone of the initial syllable tends to become a mid tone."
Mid tone seems to be fine and the important thing with this word is pronouncing the vowel lengths correctly.
My Experience Of Pattaya
1987: My first trip to Thailand was in 1987 when Thailand was considered a 'frontier' tourist destination. The country is full of tourists these days, but that wasn't the case in 1987. I think that three million tourists visited Thailand that year and most were Asian from places like Malaysia and Singapore. There were very few farangs.
My trip started off in Bangkok and continued in Koh Samui. Samui at that time was just an island in the Gulf of Thailand with lots of coconut trees. There was no mains electricity, no big hotels and no airport.
The friend I travelled with was a bit of a backpacker type and although Samui was supposed to be a backpackers' paradise I got extremely bored after a few days. There was nothing to do and the coconut trees all looked the same. I was desperate to move on and Pattaya seemed like a good place.
I absolutely loved it. Of course, living in the UK I was just ignored by females back home, but in Pattaya all of a sudden I was treated like a highly desirable film star. It was fabulous and I celebrated my 27th birthday in The Anchor Beer Bar that disappeared aeons ago.
I also got involved with a girl who wasn't a prostitute. She was married to an oil worker who visited Thailand every few months, but he had kind of deserted her and she didn't like how he treated her.
Leaving Pattaya broke my heart. It was a huge amount of fun, the girls were great, and it wasn't really that seedy. I didn't want to leave and I knew I would return.
1992: I went back in 1992, but Pattaya had changed beyond recognition. New roads had been constructed and I couldn't find any of the places I remembered from my previous visit. The changes to the physical layout weren't important, but other changes had far more impact.
Pattaya's character had changed. In 1987 there was a genuine sense of fun. In 1992 all the girls looked jaded and their sense of fun had disappeared completely. Being prostitutes, they were still keen to get business but their whole attitude was that it was just about money. A few girls really annoyed me. Also, I kept hearing that many of the girls who used to work there had gone to Phuket.
I didn't stay around long and I too went to Phuket. Phuket in 1992 reminded me how Pattaya had been in 1987. It was fantastic and I really enjoyed it, however, when I returned in 1996 I hated it. The same thing had happened to Phuket between 1992 and 1996 as happened to Pattaya between 1987 and 1992.
1992 - 2016: During these 24 years I vowed never to go back to Pattaya partly based on my experience in 1992 and partly based on everything I ever heard and read about Pattaya. In terms of crime statistics the book 'Corruption & Democracy In Thailand says that Chonburi (the province in which Pattaya is located) is the worst in Thailand.
I read so many stories about problems with the Thai mafia, Russian mafia, and foreign criminals and gangsters who had set up home in Pattaya. Every story about Pattaya on the English language Thai news sites was negative and every story I read strengthened my resolve never to return to Pattaya.
In addition to crime were the never-ending stories about pedophiles and sex tourists in Thailand and almost every incident took place in Pattaya. The very mention of the name of the place disgusted me. During this time I had absolutely nothing good to say about Pattaya even though I had read some reports that it had started to change.
2016: Now with a Thai wife and two young children, my daughter was scheduled to have an operation in Bangkok and needed to have a blood test a few days prior to the operation. It wasn't worth flying home and returning between these two events so we decided to have a break by the sea.
My original plan was to travel to Hua Hin by train, but the weather was intensely hot, it was a four hour plus journey, and it isn't easy travelling with young children. Pattaya was much nearer, could be reached for a reasonable amount of money in a private taxi, and it was much more convenient.
Suddenly I found myself breaking my vow never to return to Pattaya.
It was actually an enjoyable trip. I chose the Amari Garden Hotel in North Pattaya after looking at various hotels on Agoda. I was impressed and it was perfect for us, although it seems that many large hotels in Pattaya these days are also family-friendly.
Most of the sleaze takes place in central Pattaya, but it isn't absent in North Pattaya with several bath and massage businesses and a line of beer bars and prostitutes in Soi 6. However, it is pretty harmless and it isn't going to corrupt anyone.
Bath and sex establishment, Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya is very easy to get to. Most international tourists arrive at Bangkok airport and there are buses, vans and taxis that go straight to Pattaya so that you don't even need to go into the city centre. The bus fare is around Bt120 and the taxi fare around Bt1,300. Taxi fares depend on the type of vehicle and your haggling skills.
Taxis and vans will take you to your destination, whereas buses will go to the bus station and you will then need to find another transport option to get to your hotel.
Be aware that minivans in Thailand are notoriously dangerous. The drivers overload the vans, drive at high speed, and race other vehicles. Sometimes the drivers are high on alcohol or drugs. Minivan crashes occur frequently in Thailand and kill lots of passengers. I experienced a delay on my 2016 trip to Pattaya because of a road accident.
Pickup truck on its side on the Bangkok to Pattaya motorway
From downtown Bangkok there are vans that leave from the Victory Monument area and any meter taxi should be willing to take you. The driver won't use his meter, but will agree a set fare before you leave. This will be between Bt1,300 and Bt1,500. Buses leave from the Ekamai and Mo Chit bus terminals.
Minivan to Pattaya from Victory Monument for just Bt97
It is also possible to travel by train, although I believe there is only one train a day. Rail journeys in Thailand are normally quite slow and relaxed, so this wouldn't be an option if you can't wait to get to Pattaya. It's cheap, but takes almost four hours and when you get to Pattaya you will need to find other transport to get to your hotel.
Near Pattaya is U-Tapao airport, which used to be a military facility only. It now handles civilian flights and there is even a direct flight on Kan Air from Hat Yai, where I live, to Pattaya. There is also a direct flight to Kuala Lumpur and thus U-Tapao can now refer to itself as an 'International' airport.
As is the case all over Thailand, there are pickup trucks with two rows of seats in the back that ply fixed routes around Pattaya. The Thai word for these is sawng-thaew ('two rows' in English) and they are cheap. For some reason, Pattaya expats call this vehicles 'Baht buses' but they aren't buses and the fare isn't a Baht.
Sawng-thaew is the cheapest way to get around, but you need some local knowledge and it helps to be able to speak and read Thai. I saw a number of sawng-thaews, but they were being operated the same way as private taxis and the fixed fares were quite high.
Just like Phuket, dark forces operate in Pattaya and they control things such as local transport operators. It's easy to get around and there are plenty of taxis, but compared to elsewhere in Thailand where you can get around very cheaply, transport options for tourists in Pattaya are quite expensive.
The Amari Garden Hotel
I was able to find lots of large, family-friendly hotels in Pattaya. I wanted to be away from central Pattaya and favoured North Pattaya. Eventually, I opted for the Amari Garden because the price was very reasonable, it looked attractive and it offered the facilities I needed for my family, especially for my children. It was an excellent choice.
There is a large reception area with lots of polite staff. Very few guests actually drive themselves and the large car park was virtually empty. If you have your own transport this is a big bonus. The hotel contains an extensive garden area that is immaculately maintained and very attractive.
Gardens at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
The gardens have tables, chairs, sunbeds and plenty of shady places in which to relax.
Sunbeds at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
There are two large swimming pools, both of which have jacuzzis. One pool is designed more for serious swimmers who want to exercise, while the other has a pool bar and is more suitable for those who just want to relax in the water.
There is no dedicated children's pool, but the pools have shallow areas in which a child can stand. However, there is a danger that if not supervised adequately they could easily get out of their depth.
Swimming pool and pool bar at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
Swimming pool at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
I chose this hotel because it was family-friendly and there are some good facilities for children. In the gardens is a children's activity centre where various activities are available to keep children quiet and occupied for a while. Some activities are free, such as table tennis, but others are charged for and the painting activity in the photo cost Bt100.
Painting activity for children at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
There is also a very good Kids' Club. It is very well equipped and there are full-time staff present to keep an eye on children. This is a great facility for parents with young children who want to relax for an hour or so.
The Kids' Club has a climbing area, an activity area for making toys and drawing, etc, a TV room in which to watch videos, and several computers. There is plenty to keep children occupied and the computer related activities will even keep older children amused.
This facility isn't free and the charge is Bt80 per hour per child.
Kids' Club climbing activity at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
Kids' Club video lounge at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
Kids' Club computer pods at the Amari Garden Hotel, Pattaya
Accommodation: Family-Friendly Hotels
Pattaya is a very popular tourist resort in Thailand because of its international reputation and proximity to Bangkok. Thus, there are a lot of hotels and guest houses, large and small, catering to all budgets. There is so much choice that it can actually be overwhelming. Here are just a few suggestions.
Couples, families and those not interested in the sex industry may want to stay in a more wholesome hotel and these days there are quite a few in Pattaya. The Amari Garden Hotel, where I stayed, is a good example and there are others that have a similar atmosphere and facilities. Many tend to be located in the Naklua area, north of central Pattaya.
- Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort
- Dusit Thani Hotel Pattaya
- Pullman Pattaya Hotel G
- Holiday Inn Pattaya
- Royal Cliff Terrace Hotel
Accommodation: Guest-Friendly Hotels
Single men arriving in Pattaya looking to rent Thai prostitutes will probably want to stay in hotels that do not charge a so-called 'joiner fee'. If a single man checks into a hotel alone in Thailand and then brings a girl (or boy) back to room later, most hotels in the tourist resorts of Phuket and Pattaya charge extra. This charge has become known as a 'joiner fee'. I have mixed views about this policy.
On one hand, it's not fair because the room has already been paid for, but with so many hotels having this policy it can be a difficult charge to avoid unless you deliberately choose a hotel that doesn't add this charge. With its reputation as a centre of sex tourism, Thai hoteliers know why many men visit Thailand and this is just an easy way to squeeze more money out of foreigners.
On the other hand, one of the nice things about staying at the Amari Garden with my wife and children was not being surrounded by sex tourists and prostitutes. You may think, "How do I know?" Well, I've been living in Thailand for a long time and I can easily differentiate a prostitute from a normal Thai girl and I can easily differentiate a sex tourist from an expat/sexpat or regular tourist.
Some say it is a good security measure because your guest has to register and if he/she robs you later (yes, it happens) the police will at least have some information. Then again, it would be possible to register a guest for security purposes without making an additional charge.
To deter male guests from bringing prostitutes back to their rooms, the joiner fees can be very high at certain hotels. At the Amari Garden I believe it is around Bt1,000.
Some hotels in Pattaya that do not charge a joiner fee are:
- Siam Bayview Hotel
- Mercure Pattaya
- Dusit D2 Baraquda Pattaya Hotel
- LK Royal Suite Hotel
- LK The Empress
In addition to these suggestions there are a lot more hotels available. Good on-line travel agencies offer a lot of choices and they can also offer big savings. The Amari Garden publishes its walk-in rates on the front desk and when I booked through Agoda I paid less than half of the published walk-in rate. Clicking on the links below will present you with a large amount of hotel choices in Pattaya.
Pattaya is very cosmopolitan and you will hear accents and languages from all over the world. In recent years it has been very popular with Russians, but after the collapse of the Russian economy the Rouble-Baht exchange rate halved between June 2014 and February 2015. This resulted in a lot fewer Russian tourists, but there are still signs in Russian everywhere.
Russian sign in Pattaya
The Amari Garden is very popular with tourists from Russia and India. The restaurant offers an Indian curry night once a week and there is Indian food available at the breakfast buffet.
Pattaya is popular with Europeans, Australians, North Americans and also attracts Thais living in Bangkok who want to escape from the noise, congestion and pollution for a weekend to breathe some sea air.
I also noticed large groups of Chinese. With the Chinese economy doing well a lot more Chinese are travelling abroad these days and Thailand is one of their favourite destinations.
Things To Do
Pattaya's development has taken place very recently. In the 1960's it was just a fishing village and even when I first visited in 1987 there was very little there. For this reason, there is nothing of any historical or cultural interest.
Tourists who are interested in culture and history go to other places in Thailand, such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ayuthaya and Sukothai. Most tourists who visit Pattaya have very different interests.
There are some islands off the coast of Pattaya that can be visited by boat. I saw several large tour groups of Chinese who had just returned from a trip to one of the islands - Koh Larn, I think.
The other attractions are all man-made and come in various degrees of tackiness. There is actually a Ripley's Believe It Or Not, the kind of place you would expect to find in Las Vegas or Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but not in tropical, exotic Thailand.
There are lots of places to shop, as is the case in all Thai tourist resorts, and additionally in Pattaya you can observe (or participate in) the seedy nightlife.
The famous Tiffany ladyboy cabaret in Pattaya
Whereas Ripley's Believe It Or Not would definitely not appeal to me, some of the other man-made look quite attractive. Nong Nooch Botanical Gardens and the teak Sanctuary Of Truth temple look quite good.
There is also a floating markets, but floating markets have to be the biggest cliche in Thailand. Around where I live, several 'traditional' floating markets have been opened in the last few years. None of them are traditional and their only purpose is to keep tourists entertained.
If you are not aware of this already, the Thais have a rather nice policy where they charge foreign tourists a LOT more than Thais to get into tourist attractions, parks, museums, etc.
This practice of dual pricing is hidden from most tourists because all the Thai pricing information is written in Thai using Thai numerals. Some attractions are actually free for Thais, but foreigners have to pay quite a lot.
I speak Thai, read Thai, live in Thailand, have a Thai driving licence and most of the time I get to pay the Thai price. Unfortunately, this won't apply to most tourists and if you want to visit a tourist attraction you have no alternative other than to pay the special foreigner price.
Generally, I am not a fan of areas of Thailand that attract a lot of foreigners. For me, this defeats the purpose of living in Thailand and additionally there is more crime and rip-offs in areas that have a lot of farangs.
However, the longer I live in Thailand the more I miss good Western food and where I live there is very little good Western food. The biggest treat for me when visiting places like Pattaya and Phuket is being able to get all kinds of good foreign food.
With so many Australians there are great meat pies, which are an Australian tradition, and because of the number of German expats there are even shops that are dedicated to making proper sausages.
Where I live there is a good German restaurant run by a German guy, but I can't get a really excellent pizza, or those meat pies, or Indian food, or Middle Eastern food, such as kebabs or shawarma sandwiches, etc etc. In Pattaya you can get everything.
After my 1992 visit I vowed personally never to return to Pattaya and I certainly wouldn't have recommended it as a destination for families.
However, in 2016 a particular set of circumstances arose in which the only logical place for me to go was Pattaya. I went with my young family, I was surprised, I was impressed with the hotel, and overall I had a good time. I would now be happy to go back.
Even in north Pattaya, which is a lot less sleazy than south Pattaya, there is lots of evidence of the sex industry, but it isn't a problem. If you go to one of those areas with children you will probably find that the girls will make a big fuss of the children.
Large, new hotels have been built which are perfect for families and many have great facilities for children. I was quite shocked to see the walk-in rates displayed at the hotel I stayed at because the price I paid on-line was a LOT cheaper.
If you just turn up and pay on arrival it could be quite expensive, but if you book on-line beforehand there are some real bargains to be had.
Pattaya's close proximity to Bangkok makes it very convenient to visit if you are in the capital and there are lots of transport options. The fares are cheap. There are vans for less than Bt100 and even if you charter a private taxi the fare will be less than Bt1,500.
With so many tourists in Pattaya you will find that English is widely spoken (even though most tourists these days seem to be from Russia and China), therefore communicating isn't a problem if you don't speak Thai.
Thai food, of course is available, but Pattaya has a very cosmpolitan feel and there are restaurants offering cuisine from around the globe.
Probably the only people it will disappoint are beach lovers. The beaches in Pattaya are nothing like the glorious Thai beaches you see photos of in travel brochures. If you want to enjoy those kinds of beach you will need to travel further south down the peninsula.
But apart from that, Pattaya these days has quite a lot to offer.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
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