Pattaya proponents like to boast that their city has finally emerged as a legitimate upscale beach destination. This is partly true: recent years have seen the opening of chic restaurants and more family-friendly attractions. Still, Pattaya remains a city as divided as ever between sand and sex—and the emphasis still falls clearly on the latter. If you can't handle encountering live sex shows and smut shops at every turn, then avoid Pattaya. Commercial sex is not just a reality here: it is the lifeblood of the city.
Pattaya was not always like this. Until the end of the 1950s it was a fishing village sitting on an unspoiled natural harbor. Even after it was discovered by affluent Bangkok residents, it remained rather small and tranquil. Then came the Vietnam War, with thousands of American soldiers stationed at nearby air and naval bases. They piled into Pattaya, and the resort grew with the unrestrained fervor of any boomtown. But the boom eventually went bust. Pattaya was nearly abandoned, but its proximity to Bangkok and the beauty of the natural harbor ensured that it didn't crumble completely.
In the late 1990s, after much talk and government planning, Pattaya started regaining popularity. Two expressways were finished, making the trip from Bangkok even easier. Now that Bangkok's international airport is located on the southeast side of the capital, it is even more convenient to visit Pattaya.