Pattaya, 147km south-east of Bangkok, is Thailand’s busiest beach resort with over 12,000 rooms available in hotels, bungalows and guesthouses spread along Hat Pattaya and adjoining Hat Naklua and Hat Jomtien. Pattaya is the most active of the three, a crowded crescent of sand where jet skis and powerboats slice the surf and parasail’s billow over the palms all day long. Sunburned visitors jam the beachfront road in rented jeeps and motorbikes.

According to recent Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) statistics, an average one-third of foreign tourists in Thailand visit Pattaya; in a typical November to March season Pattaya receives around a million visitors. Most of them are package tourists form Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Depending on their tastes, some visitors may find Pattaya lacking in culture, since much of the place seems designed to attract tourists interested in a prefabricated, western-style beach vacation with almost no ‘Thai’ ingredients. Hat Pattaya is also not that great (although it must have been at one time) and the town’s biggest businesses – water sports – have driven prices for food and accommodation beyond Bangkok levels, compared with many other Thai resort areas.

Still, it continues to attract a loyal following of Bangkok oil company expats, conventioneers and package tourists. Local authorities and travel suppliers have been trying to upgrade Pattaya’s image and clean the place up. Consequently the South Pattaya sex scene has diminished and families are returning.

Pattaya is acclaimed for its seafood, though it’s generally overpriced by national (but not international) standards. Pattaya’s lingering notoriety for sex tourism revolves around a collection of discos, outdoor bars and transvestite cabarets comprising its red-light district at the south end of the beach. That part of South Pattaya known as ‘the village’ attracts a large number of ka-toeys (Thai trnsvestities), who pose as hookers and ply their trade among the droves of sex tourists, as well as a prominent gay scene.

The one thing the Pattaya area has going for it is diving centers. There are over a dozen nice islands off Pattaya’s shore, although they can be expensive (compared with the rest of Thailand) to reach. If you’re a snorkeling or scuba enthusiast, equipment can be booked at any of the several diving shops/schools at Hat Pattaya. Ko Laan, the most popular of the offshore islands, even has places to stay.

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