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A History and Introduction to Pattaya

The City of Pattaya is located on east coast of Thailand, about 165 kilometers southeast of Bangkok. It has an official population of just over 100,000, although certainly the real population is much larger.   

Its economy is based almost entirely on tourism and serving the large expatriate community which lives there. It is most famous for its wild and crazy nightlife, a reputation which the Thai government is trying – perhaps half heartedly and with somewhat modest success – to change.

It has experienced rapid growth in recent years, and is presently being relentless developed by apartment and condominium builders who are trying – they say – to turn Pattaya into a French Riviera type place.

Pattaya suffers from being located in an heavily industrialized area and the water is often dirty and polluted, although usually not enough to prevent bathers from enjoying the beach. Weather-wise, the city continues to be blessed…except, perhaps, for a few months when it rains heavily.

In terms of its history, Pattaya doesn’t have much of one – at least a history which people know about, anyway!! Though out most of its history, it wasn’t large enough to even be called a town. It was inhabited by small numbers of fisherman, farmers and Buddhist monks.

Its one moment of fame came in 1767 when, following the Burmese destruction of the old capital city of Ayatthaya, the Thai general Phraya Tak (he was to become king) fled to the vicinity. The place then came to be called Thap Phraya, which means army of the Phraya. Latter, the name was changed to Phattaya, a weather related term referring to the beginning of the rainy season.

The real history of Pattaya – its modern history – began in June of 1959, when a few truckloads of American soldiers stopped there, rather by accident it seems and…relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Latter, the area was apparently selected as a suitable place for American soldiers to rest and relax and, in April of 1961, another small group of military personnel arrived there specifically for that purpose.

And, thus, Pattaya began to develop. Where the soldiers went, the girls, shop keepers and the hotel builders and managers soon came! In the 1970’s the large hotels began to appear, starting with the Pattaya Palace, Orchid Lodge (today the Amari), Tropicana, Merlin (today the Hard Rock), Siam Bayshore, Asia, and the Royal Cliff.

Pattaya grew fast. It was a “boomtown.” And as many boomtowns, it grew in a totally unplanned manner, a  conglomeration of hotels, guest houses, restaurants, street stalls, bars – especially the bars -  massage parlors, shops and stores, and taxi stands…all thrown together.

It became a major destination of Thai migration, as large numbers of poor northeasterners moved there to find fame, fortune, husbands, opportunity and so forth. Of course, this wasn’t necessarily bad…it was just what many international travelers liked and enjoyed.

 When the American soldiers stopped coming in large numbers, they were replaced largely by European single male tourists who helped give the city its reputation of being one of the worlds sexiest, fun loving places in the world.   

Beginning in the 1990’s, Thai authorities have made efforts to make Pattaya a more “civilized,” “sane,” and respectable destination. Infrastructures such as roads, water treatment and sewage, have been improved. The power of the transportation “mafia” has been curtailed. Attempts have been made to put bars and pubs into “red light” districts. Bar closing times and bar dress codes have been enforced…at least at times, anyway.

International chains such as McDonalds, Burger King and 7-11 have been encouraged to establish themselves in the area, and guests in Pattaya can now enjoy traditional forms of recreation such as cinema, fine dining, top end shopping, bowling, horseback riding, golf and so forth. The development of high end luxury hotels has been encouraged and at least some barriers have been put in place to prevent construction of more guest houses and small hotels. 

As this has happened, the Tourism Authority has proclaimed to the world that it wants “quality tourists” and family visitors. This effort has had some success. The future will bear witness to the ultimate outcome.

Perhaps the most striking thing about recent Pattaya growth and development, however – besides the fact that motor vehicles seem to be everywhere and it is dangerous to walk anywhere – has been  a building boom in luxury apartments and condominiums. The skyline is rapidly becoming one dominated by high-rises.

 And everywhere one goes in the Pattaya area these days, one is bombarded by various media – including human hawkers riding motorcycles – selling this or that housing opportunity.

There is a humongous exchange and circulation of capital going on in  Pattaya now.  What the ultimate outcome of this development will be remains to be seen.   For those in the speculation game, it might all be a disaster in the making. For those who simply want a place to live, it might be a blessing.

The construction of so much housing in the Pattaya area does, however, point to another development which is also changing it.  It is the influx of large numbers of foreigners, mainly Northern Europeans of retirement age,  who are buying these residences and, often, living in them with Thai ladies they meet after they retire.

These expatriates have changed Pattaya from being simply a vacation destination to being a community… although a community different from most other communities. These foreigners almost never become permanent residents and they have no rights of Thai citizenship.

They never consider themselves “Thai,” and continue to identify strongly with their countries of origin, often flying their national flags outside their residences. Many enjoy the nightlife of the “old” Pattaya. Through their money, they are changing Pattaya, although the direction of the change is not clear.

And, although they enjoy a comfortable life style and appear to be appreciated by the Thai authorities, they are strangers – although comfortable strangers – in a strange land, living on year to year visas.

The  place they will carve out for themselves in Pattaya, or be permitted by the Thais to occupy, will be a major factor in Pattaya’s future history and development. Indeed, it is history in the making.


Bangkok to Pattaya

Pattaya Attractions

How to Get Around In Pattaya

Festivals and Special Events

Muay Thai In Pattaya

Shopping In Pattaya

A History and Introduction to Pattaya

Do’s and Don’t in Pattaya

The Cost of Living in Pattaya

Weather and The Best Times to Visit Pattaya

Sports in Pattaya

Guide to Street Food

Bangkok or Pattaya? Which one is better?

Some Helpful Thai

Other Useful Guide