Once a small fishing village, Pattaya burgeoned into a seaside destination after it became an R&R outpost for American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Situated on the azure east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, the beach resort is best known for water sports, golf courses, nightclubs on Walking Street, and shiny new condominiums aimed at expats and retirees on Jomtien Beach. But Pattaya may yet rise like the phoenix from its longstanding reputation for go-go girls. The Thai beach town, peppered with signboards in Russian and ageing tourists holding hands with impossibly young women, is turning its gaze to families on holiday. Its newest attractions include the world’s first Cartoon Network-themed water park and the Thai Thani arts and culture village, which come on the heels of kid-friendly activities such as a sheep farm and a rock park. We give you a peek into the newer side of Pattaya.
For water rides and toon mascots.
Hip-hop tunes flow over white cabanas fluttering beside an aqua playground bursting with slides, fountains and icons of The Powerpuff Girls. Rafts slide eerily close to the tip of the Jake Jump. Shrieking adults finally surrender to the waves bucking at 56kph in the Surfarena. And at the far end, the Omnitrix Goop Loop is a 12-metre, gut-wrenching maze of pipes that shoot out its willing victims in a 360-degree loop, with a g-force acceleration from zero to 2.5gs in under two seconds.
With larger-than-life mascots and murals of toon heroes from Johnny Bravo to Ben 10, Cartoon Network Amazone is an easy hit with the kids, and the rides will be popular for all ages. It’s not all hectic. Couples canoodle on tubes floating in quiet stretches of the 335m-long Riptide Rapids; others laze on deck chairs and bob in the Mega Wave pool. Pose with the large cuddly mascots, who are always up for a big warm hug. The theme park is bound to be especially popular during Songkran, the Thai New Year whose celebrations today include water parties.
Daily, 10am-6pm. Entry 1,590 baht (₹2,987) for adults, 1,190 baht (₹2,236) for children. See cartoonnetworkamazone.com/en/.
For a glimpse of Thailand’s cultural heritage.
Pattaya’s brand-new cultural hub is just bursting with opportunities for holiday photos. It took two years to research and construct this window into Thailand’s rich past. As you enter, a masked Khon dancer bows in greeting, traditional Thai umbrellas are handed out, and an old-school bicycle vendor rides by. Life-size architectural examples of traditional dwellings peek out from leafy lanes. Exquisite, handmade wood carvings and art works are on display at the gallery, and there are foods from the four regions of Thailand at the Kad Moua market. You can watch shadow puppetry or ask the friendly staff to show you how to work a cloth puppet. Lessons in Thai cooking, umbrella-painting and dancing are also on the menu. Drop by for the Northern-style dinner and a traditional dance show at the Khum Khan Tok restaurant.
Thursday-Tuesday, 10am-8pm. Theatre show, 10.30-11am, 2-2.30pm. Outdoor performances and activities, 10.30am-12pm; 1.30-3.30pm. Cultural procession, 4-4.30pm. Entry is 250 baht (₹470); dinner show from 6.30-7.30p.m. is for 750 baht (₹1,409). See www.thaiartsandculture.com.
“There are two things that are very popular in Pattaya: massage and pharmacy,” our guide quipped as we drove in from Bangkok. “Why they are located side by side, I don’t know – maybe too much massage is a bad thing!” Choose your spa carefully as not all outlets have trained therapists. Healthland is one of the recommended spas in Pattaya.
Soak in some quiet at the exquisitely carved The Sanctuary of Truth. This privately-funded cathedral is a playground of South Asian deities. Nearly every square inch of the 105m-high, 100m-wide structure bursts with intricate wood carvings of celestial beings from the Hindu and Buddhist universe, using Indian, Thai, Cambodian, and Chinese iconography.
Open daily from 8.a.m.-6p.m. Entry is 500 baht (₹940). Read more about it here.
Also stop by Khao Chee Chan, a limestone cliff with a laser-cut outline of the Buddha, inlaid with gold. This work marked the 50th year of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne. Our guide said that it was part of the effort to protect Thailand’s limestone cliffs from mining.
Entry is free; open daily from 8a.m.-6p.m.
Other options include the Million-Year-Stone Park and Crocodile Farm with rock gardens and animal shows open daily from 8.30a.m.-6p.m., the Pattaya Floating Market open daily from 9a.m.-9p.m., the Bottle Art Museum open daily from 9a.m.-6p.m, and Pattaya Sheep Farm in Banglamun, open daily from 9a.m.-7p.m foran entry fee of 50 baht (₹94). Our tour was guided by Absolutely Fantastic Holidays, one of several agencies with services in Pattaya.
The brave can take a walk on the wild side with street treats like fried scorpion, but there’s plenty of opportunities to graze. We enjoyed dining at Suttangrak restaurant in Jomtien. Try the deep-fried garoupa with spicy-sweet-sour sauce, fried cabbage in fish sauce, fish cakes, and curried crabmeat. Suttangrak means “The end of Lover’s Lane” in Thai, and diners receive romantic fortunes when they leave. Mine read, “This SMS is for you to say I’ll always be waiting for your love.”
We stayed at the nautically-themed A-One Pattaya Beach Resort, but Pattaya has plenty of options from luxury hotel Holiday Inn Pattaya to the budget Sabai Lodge. Hotels in Naklua or Jomtien will be in quieter surroundings than centrally located stays.
Pattaya is situated approximately 150km southeast of Bangkok. Peak season is from December to February. The off-season falls during the rains between July and October. From Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, take a free shuttle bus to the Transport Centre from where you can catch an air-conditioned bus that leaves every two hours. Alternately, rent a metered taxi for the nearly two-hour drive to Pattaya. See here for detailed information on transport from Bangkok. For short distances, songthaews are a cheap way to get around; negotiate a price for your group in case you don’t want the pick-up truck to keep halting for sundry passengers. Motorbikes and scooters are also available for hire.