Looking for a more coastal taste of Thailand without the barflies and Go-Gos? Well, your destination may be closer than you thought. Just a two-hour ride from Bangkok will have you on holiday in one of the countries most controversial vacation locations.
The truth is, Pattaya has long been know as a prime R&R destination. During the Vietnam War, the United States had a number of army bases in Thailand. When the soldiers went on leave, they quickly found their way to Pattaya, forcing it to develop from a small fishing community into a bustling beach town with hookers and booze on tap.
While Pattaya is still thought of by most as more of a place to enjoy copious amounts of alcohol while propping up a barstool and ogling a cattle-market of scantily-clad single-mothers from the poorest regions of rural Thailand, this city hangout has gone through a renaissance of late in a bid to attract a “better clientele”.
With huge foreign investment, and a helping hand (ahem) from the TAT, Pattaya has been seeing a much needed reprieve. That said, if you stepped out of your taxi from the airport straight onto Beach Road, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there's nothing to do there except engage in a bit of “how's your father”.
For those looking for a bit of substance out of their trip rather than the commonplace Chang beer, Go-Go bars and naughty massages, you'd do well to start here.
I've assembled 21 great sights for you to explore that don’t include holding down a bar stool or a carnal encounter.
1. Art in Paradise – Pattaya
In north Pattaya, you’ll find an art experience like no other – the art of illusion. This museum presents Anamorphosis art. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the museum interactively by touching and taking photos with 3d illusion paintings. This stop is great for all ages, especially kids. Make sure you keep your selfie stick handy!
2. Khao Kheow Open Zoo
Out of the places to see animals in Pattaya on this list, Khao Kheow is arguably the most ethical because the zoo is the only one of it’s kind in Thailand where the over 8,000 animals are free to roam the grounds of the Wildlife Reserve.
Khao Kheow has received international recognition for its set-up, and is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. You can choose to walk or drive through the observation areas to check out the animals up close, but if you don’t have a car or feel like a hike, take their tram service instead, which is also offered for a night safari.
3. Underwater World – Pattaya
You can leave your water wings behind for this one. You’ll be staying dry as you walk though a 100 meter long, acrylic tunnel viewing over 500 different types of fish and other sea animals in a natural environment.
You can relax while feeding the beautiful Koi fish, or if you’re down for an adrenalin rush, you can take a dip with some sharks and rays. While perhaps in a way this is educational for kids, it's kinda disturbing to see animals like this out of their natural environment.
4. The Sanctuary of Truth (Prasat Satchatham)
This sprawling temple, constructed in an ancient style using entirely wood, is covered with elaborate carvings throughout the entire structure. Its spire reaches about 105 meters high. With it’s beautiful location right by the sea, this holy place is said to reflect the importance of religion in our world. This award winning attraction is sure to have you in awe.
5. Baan Sukhawadee (Eden House)
If decadence is what you seek, Baan Sukhawadee or Eden House mansion will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. This huge beach house was built in the year 2000 with a Romanesque style architecture. Both European and Asian sculptures adorn the mansion’s interior and garden.
6. The Monkey Training Center
The Monkey Training Centre shows just how smart our primate cousins are. You’ll see them pluck coconuts from the tree, as well as some other monkeying around that will surely bring a smile to your face.
Though, like the aquarium, the reality probably isn't a happy one. It takes a lot of man-handling to train monkeys to do these things, and in some cases mistreatment. I'd sooner see them free in a national reserve park, or better, completely free in the wild.
7. Ripley’s ‘Believe it or Not' Museum
The world famous Ripley’s Museums never disappoints when you’re looking for the weird and wondrous. Pattaya has a collection of more than 300 mystical, exotic and unusual items from all over the world, including optical illusions, primitive torture devices, masks made from human skin, humans with 4 eyes, horses with 3 legs, a replica of the Titanic made from a million matchsticks and way more.
If you have a weak stomach, it may be best to go before you eat lunch.
8. The Bottle Art Museum
Peter Bedelais has some very skilled hands. He has brought Thailand it’s first exhibition of Art in the Bottle, or in this case, many bottles.
There are more than 300 pieces of miniature art constructed in bottles at the exhibit. You’ll find tiny replica of tourist attractions as well as Buddha images, Thai houses, windmills and Chinese palaces. You may just feel the need to take one home with you if you have some cash at hand.
9. Phratamnak Hill, or Khao Pattaya
The top of Phratumnak Hill is one of the best vantages for checking out the crescent bay of Pattaya. The most popular times to take in the view are during sunset and at night when the city is lit up.
Go before night fall and you’ll be able to check out a few monuments of some famous Thai figures, as well as an image of Buddha in Subduing Mara gesture. As you can see from the picture below, this is a popular selfie spot.
10. Bali Hai Pier
How about some live aquatic action, as opposed to the somewhat fake aquarium? At the new Bali Hai pier, check out life below the surface on the “Yellow Submarine”, which is an underwater sightseeing a tour company.
If you fancy it, you could hop a speedboat to nearby Koh Larn, or perhaps the lethargic ferry is more your speed…
11. Ang Sila Oyster Farm
Ready to get down and dirty? Learn how the farmers breed and nurture oysters and mussels. Take a stroll down a ten-kilometer walking bridge straight out into the sea and check out how they raise these mucky mollusk as they are hung under bamboo scaffolds.
12. Pattaya Elephant Village
For those wanting to snap the proverbial tourist selfie with a pachyderm, this sanctuary provides a more ethical option than the elephants you'll encounter in the tourist hotspots of Bangkok. Pattaya elephant village is home to former working elephants, but these big guys do still perform, including a parade and war re-enactment.
The elephant trainers, “mahouts,” will show you how they teach these gentle giants; though they probably will not show you the initial “breaking the spirit” torture they endure as young elephants that makes them passive enough to enslave.
Of course, if you need a lift, there is an elephant trek through a small jungle in the village. If not, you can just watch them take a bath.
13. Nong Nooch Garden
If you are a fan of Asian gardening, then this park is exactly your vibe. Tropical plants from all over the world line every path, and you’ll also find the largest variety of orchids in Thailand. From flowers to fruit, this park has it all, as well as a unique skywalk from which you can see the gardens from an arial view.
If you want wildlife, there's a mini zoo you can visit on-site. Stick around to see the Thai cultural performances on offer too.
14. Siriphon Orchid Farm
If you haven’t gotten your fill of Pattaya’s natural beauty, Siriphon Orchid Farm will take you over the top. As you can imagine, this farm has a massive variety of nature's artistic blooms. So bring your wallet because they are also for sale. Also remember that Thai women love orchids, so if you have a date, this isn't a bad call!
15. Three Kingdom Theme Park (Sam Kok)
Need some tips on Feng Shui? This park was constructed based on the Chinese philosophical system of harmonising everyone with their surrounding environment. It boasts some very distinctive Chinese-Thai architecture and landscaping, where you'll learn the epic story of Sam Kok on the wooden patio and delicately painted veranda displays.
One of the park’s goals aims to help people understand and appreciate Buddhism, as well as both Thai and Chinese culture and philosophy.
16. Thai Alangkarn Theatre
With a Las Vegas show style and flare, this complex has every intent on entertaining you. The hexagonal staged theatre, cultural rostrum and a restaurant of 1,000 seats will dazzle and dine you, but not 69 you: you'll need to catch a Tuk-Tuk back to walking street for that!
Equipped with a state-of-art sound system, pyrotechnics, multi-dimensional coloured laser system and lavish traditional Thai style decor, the performances include 9 sets of imaginary historical performances set in different time periods. Thai boxing and sword fighting are also part of the show.
17. The Million-Year Stone Park and Crocodile Farm
I have to be honest, I'm not a fan of these Tiger zoos/temples and crocodile farms, and would prefer these animals to be in the wild where they belong. But to give a comprehensive and varied overview of attractions in Pattaya, it is necessary to include them.
The Million-Year Stone Park and Crocodile Farm consists of a rock and rare plant garden, a one million year old petrified wood exhibit, 200-year-old plants and a zoo featuring some seriously wild animals, including saltwater and freshwater crocodiles. The picture below says it all really…
18. Sri Racha Tiger Zoo
Home to over 400 Royal Bengal Tigers, the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo was established to conserve and breed wildlife such as the Bengal Tiger, giving visitors the opportunity to feed a tiger cub. The zoo also has it’s own crocodile farm and a plethora of animal shows featuring super smart pigs, elephants, crocodiles and a very interesting/disturbing demonstration of the cohabitation of tiger, pig and dog.
19. The 133-year-old Ang Sila Market
Founded in 1876, this market has been a shopping centre for longer than most of us have been alive. Interestingly, for generations this market has operated in nearly the same way since its inception.
You’ll find yourself wondering archaic, two story wooden houses, finding an array of foods from land and sea, delightful desserts, signature Ang Sila woven textile, stone mortars, and all the souvenirs you can carry back to your hotel.
20. Pattaya Floating Market
No Pattaya trip is complete without a visit to this increasingly popular gathering of venders. Picture this: Thai style houses built with different regional architectures, constructed in the middle of a large pond.
This pond has canals and wooden bridges that allow you to walk from shop to shop and check out the wares from the various regions of Thailand.
Don’t feel like walking it? How about boating it? For a usually negotiable price, you can get a boat service where you sit down, cruise along and experience traditional Thai “floating” life. Come hungry. The food sellers are everywhere and they don’t break the bank.
Try out the adventure sling where you can hang yourself across one of the waterways. There’s also a wood carving museum, traditional Thai dances and a sea boxing show.
21. Water Park and Fun Park, Pattaya Park Beach Resort
You guessed it; giant water slides, a whirlpool by a private beach, and tons of fun in the sun for kids and adults alike. Check out some of these ride names: Tower Shot, Slalom Roller Coaster, Family Swinger (no dirty jokes in the comments section please!), Demolition Derby, Samba Tower. Morning until night, you’ll find adventure here. Who doesn't like a water park?
It's no secret that Pattaya has a sordid side, but don't let this put you off a place that has plenty more to offer than a financial fumble.
Pattaya is full of warm and welcoming locals and has a ton of stuff to do outside of the main strip. Indeed, outside of this list of 21, there's also Thepprasit Market, The Market Pattaya, Mini Siam, Bangsaen Walking Street, Ang Sila Stone Mortar Market, and the Tuxedo Magic Theatre
Whatever you decide to do, as always, be smart and be safe. Have fun out there.