Because it's there and perfect for a quick escape from Bangkok. Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand, a 90-minute drive from the capital, offers good (rather than brilliant) beaches, plus theme parks, glossy shopping malls and street markets galore. The surrounding Chonburi area is a golfer's nirvana with more than a dozen quality courses. But you've heard that Pattaya was – is – a minor Gomorrah-on-Gulf of bars, booze and sex? Not so. Fun City today is far more than its old Apocalypse Now partying reputation. Eight million annual visitors who find plenty of wholesome kicks here can't be wrong.
For the best overview of the town, coast and nearby Gulf islands head to the big Buddha statue atop Phratamnak Hill at the south end of Pattaya Bay. Then continue over to Jomtien, a long beach that's mostly free of the frenetic watercraft and thicket of rental chairs that spoil Pattaya's main shore. Inland you have a choice of family theme parks like Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens, RamaYana Water Park (Thailand's largest) and the 109-metre-high, really big Buddha carved on a cliff-face at Khao Chi Chan. Skip the underwhelming Floating Market.
The Sanctuary of Truth (sanctuaryoftruth.com) is a massive project, a 100-metre-high, teakwood temple embodying Eastern religious mythologies. Under construction (using no nails) for three decades, and now almost finished, it is intricate and truly impressive. Back in town, cruise the length of Beach Road aboard a songtaew or "baht bus", the blue passenger utes that circulate constantly. Hop on and off anywhere. It's the best Pattaya fun that 10 baht (40 cents) can buy.
World-famous Tiffany's Show (tiffany-show.co.th) is a lavish transvestite cabaret with dazzling vamps whose choreography and lip-sync pizzazz take any sense of "drag" out of the occasion. Family friendly, too. After dark take a walk on the mildly wild side down Walking Street, the heart and groin of Pattaya nightlife. Stroll or pull up a pew at one of its open-front bars and contemplate a unique parade of buskers, gawkers, beauties and bawdiness. Indoors, main street clubs and discos like the Ice Cube V20, Stones, Club Insomnia and Lucifer Disko won't offend.
There's no one "Eat Street" but good food pops up all across town. Pattaya Beer Garden (pattayabeergarden.com), perched over the bay near the entrance to Walking Street, offers great views and tasty, economical food. Good music, plenty of beer but no actual garden. High-end Mantra restaurant (mantra-pattaya.com) at the north end of Beach Road is one of the very best, dishing excellent Thai, Western and Japanese cuisine; its Sunday brunch is a local legend. For down-home Thai dishes, try popular J. Daeng restaurant on Second Road, and for romantic dining with an ocean view, the Hilton's 14th-floor Edge restaurant.
You're spoilt for bed choices here with major hotel brands (most offering sea views) including Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Dusit, Marriott, Centara, Accor and Royal Cliff, plus the art deco-themed, boutique Wave hotel. The Amari Ocean comes highly recommended, with Gulf views seemingly halfway to Cambodia along with large pools, vast grounds and the sanely priced Breeze Spa (amari.com/ocean-pattaya). Meanwhile, there are scores of quality, mid-budget hotels stretching from tranquil Wong Amat in the north, through the partylands zone of central Pattaya and far south to beyond Jomtien, not to mention well inland.
TIP Swim at Jomtien or Wong Amat rather than in polluted Pattaya Bay, skip the overcrowded main beach on Koh Larn Island, and beware light-fingered, late-night "trannies" along Beach Road. Don't rent a jetski (scams galore), use a camera in a go-go bar, or ride a taxi without first agreeing the price.
John Borthwick was a guest of the Tourist Authority of Thailand.