Penniless in 'the sleaziest place on earth'

Steve McKenna is lured by sun and sand to a seaside oasis only to find a paradise lost.

The lure of the beach can be particularly strong when you've spent the past four days inhaling car fumes and being pestered by every tuk-tuk driver under Bangkok's steaming hot sun. So when I discover there's a popular seaside resort just two hours south of the Thai capital, I pack my bags and begin to envisage a tropical paradise full of hammocks and pina coladas.

Pattaya, says the brochure I'm reading, has "luxury hotels, beautiful beaches, friendly people, excellent shopping, reasonable prices and loads of tourist attractions".

The same spiel also reveals that although the town once had a reputation for prostitution, it has now transformed itself into a family resort and attracts about 5 million visitors every year. Unfortunately, from the moment I step on to the town's main strip, I know this place isn't for me.

There is a beach but it's not particularly pretty and the seaside promenade of this old fishing town is full of Thai girls walking hand-in-hand with grotesquely overweight foreign men old enough to be their grandfathers.

My heart sinks further when I go to my hotel.

Although it's a neat little number just off the main strip, when it comes to paying for my room I discover that my Visa card is missing.

Initially I feel I was probably pick-pocketed on the bus.

Then it dawns on me that I must have left it in an ATM in Bangkok.


I had been in a rush that morning and unlike Australia, Thai machines cough up the cash and receipt – then they give you back your card.

Having just $10 to my name, I start to panic. So I ring my mum. She promises to sort something out for me, somehow.

To take my mind off things, I go for a walk but within five minutes it's clear that I'm stuck in possibly the sleaziest place on earth.

Neon lights advertising girls, sex and more girls flash incessantly.

Petite girls in mock school uniforms are holding up boards promoting "two for one cocktails" and "free sex shows".

A Muay Thai boxing match is taking place in one of the scores of noisy go-go bars that litter the main precinct. The two combatants are kicking and punching each other in the head, while topless dancers cavort on nearby poles. Below the stage, beer-bellied men – mostly from the US and Europe – are yelling excitedly while sinking cheap Beer Chang and draping their arms around the slight shoulders of their young "girlfriends".

After an hour observing Pattaya's "entertainment", I trudge back to my hotel room.

A few hours later, I'm awoken by a bleeping text message.

It's from my saviour. "I've wired some cash out to you – be good," Mum says.

At dawn, I head to the exchange office, show my passport and almost bite the poor woman's hand off as she gives me the notes.

I hail a taxi to the bus stop and ride back to Bangkok, breathing a monumental sigh of relief.

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