Pattaya's proponents 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're averse to encountering live sex shows and smut shops at every turn, 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 with an unspoiled natural harbor. Even after affluent Bangkok residents discovered the area, it remained 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.
Curving Beach Road, with palm trees on the beach side and modern resort hotels on the other, traces the arc of Pattaya Bay in the heart of the city. Bars, clubs, and open-air cafés proliferate on the pedestrian streets by the old pier. South of here lies Jomtien, an agreeable, if somewhat overdeveloped, beach. The bay's northern part is Pattaya's quietest, most easygoing section. Pattaya's big water-sports industry caters to jet-skiers, paragliders, and even water-skiers.