‘You want girls? Jet-ski? A gun? Lovely jubbly!’ said the thousandth street seller, blocking our way with his Del Boy impersonation and a catalogue of debauchery even James Bond would be proud of. Flustered, I dragged my boyfriend past, desperate to escape the seedy chaos of the city and return to the relative safety of our hotel. This certainly wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I planned a romantic getaway to a Thai paradise. But then, as I soon found out, Pattaya is no ordinary holiday destination.
When my boyfriend and I decided to go on our first holiday together last summer, I wanted somewhere memorable. Our budget was tight, but after much internet searching, I found a cheap deal to Pattaya – a ‘beach resort’ on the east coast of Thailand. After looking at reviews of the hotel online, it all seemed fine, so I showed my boyfriend and we went ahead and booked it, feeling excited. Little did I know, I had just convinced my own boyfriend to book a holiday to the sex capital of Thailand, where 99% of the tourists are single men looking for their idea of ‘fun’.
The first clue as to what was in store came when I told my friend Ling – ‘Pattaya? Oh honey, no!’ She explained that she had also been to the city with her boyfriend when they travelled around Thailand. They lasted just 2 days; our hotel was booked for 2 weeks. Unnerved, I tried to reassure myself – how bad could it be?
Well, as it turned out, pretty bad. As soon as we arrived, we realised that for the website to call Pattaya a ‘beach resort’, let alone ‘family friendly’, was more than a little misleading. The city has been built on the beach, in a hurry. The main road is only 5 metres from the sea, which is so polluted you can’t really swim in it. The resort is made up of hotels, ‘go-go’ bars and strip clubs. As far as I could see, the only people who would come on holiday here and be happy are sex tourists.
As there didn’t seem much else to do, we ended up going to Walking Street – where the craziness culminates – on the first night. This is a street that has to be seen to be believed. You could buy a monkey; a Samurai sword; a blow job, all within the first few steps. In some respects it was fascinating; in others completely overwhelming and even vulgar.
This isn’t about being prudish. It’s not the sex that bothered me about Pattaya, it’s how in-your-face it is. Sex is everywhere; on the beach, in every bar and restaurant, there’s no escaping it. Even as a couple, you’re hounded constantly. Lady-boys grope you while their friends grab your wallet; guys offer you menus of sex acts and prices; girls try to pull you into bars and make you feel guilty if you ignore them (it is, after all, not their fault there’s such a demand for this type of thing that they see it as their best career option). Overall, it is the most stressful place you are ever likely to go on holiday.
Despite all this, we did end up having a good time. The hotel was nice (there was a bar in the pool, you can’t go wrong) and we did lots of day trips: Bangkok, elephant riding, an island. Most importantly, we were able to see the funny side. My particular highlight was the infamous ‘ping-pong’ show we were talked into watching, where my boyfriend was given a balloon and told to hold it up. He looked confused, but I saw what was coming and forced his arm up, just as a dart came flying out of the abyss, popping the balloon. Now that’s some skill.
Overall, visiting Pattaya was an unforgettable, eye-opening experience, and has certainly challenged my preconceptions about what is socially, sexually acceptable. But I won’t be going back. And if you’re a girl, a couple, or anybody else looking for a remotely relaxing holiday, my advice would be to avoid Pattaya. Like the (sexually transmitted) plague.