Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pattaya, Thailand's (in)famous party capital

Thailand is often referred to as Asia's sex capital, and the city of Pattaya southeast of Bangkok is its undisputed center with a rambunctious night life of clubs, bars, tattoo parlors and massage spas. Pattaya got its start as a bawdy destination during the Vietnam war when U.S. military personnel went there on leave and found refuge in the arms of willing Thai ladies.

Due to that reputation, Pattaya is trying to re-design its image and also be a family destination (without giving up its gold mine of sex), offering alternatives to the steamy side, such as family hotels, malls, floating market, zoological parks and eco tours to nearby mountains and waterfalls. As a result, the two populations come together in an interesting mix of the tame and the lascivious.

The accompanying photos were taken from a visit to Pattaya's "Walking Street", a half kilometer pedestrians-only carnival of bars, night clubs, dozens of discos with live entertainment, "girlie" clubs, seafood restaurants, Thai kick boxing matches and pubs with live rock bands. In addition, street performers enliven the atmosphere as streams of visitors, both Thai and foreign, move through the congested street. 

All photos © John Stiles. It is illegal to use any of the images without permission.

Tourists look over souvenirs as a merchant checks her wares.

Muay Thai (kickboxing) matches are ongoing and draw quite a crowd.

Street artists, such as this "human statue" delight passersby.

If one has the urge, or has too much to drink, tattoo shops offer their services along the walking street.
Flower vendor (always roses) in front of a restaurant with the unofficial motto of Pattaya prominently displayed.

A woman smokes a "sheesha" pipe at a bar
Many discos, like this one with performers and music from Thailand's northeast (Isan) open early in the evening and close in the early morning hours (4 am).

This 12 year old contortionist performs with a little balancing help from her father.
Sea food restaurants are in abundance along the walking street with tables on decks over the gulf.

Tourists gather round a vendor with cute mechanical dancing animals.

Many live bands perform at various establishments all night long.
A young boy meets a rather strange looking character on the street.

It's hard to imagine an ice cream vendor as being entertaining, but the Turkish ones are. You have to see it: it can't be described.
An iconic Pattaya scene outside a night club as the club's dancers take a break and provide enticement for passing tourists.

Many disabled persons can be found with baskets or cups eyes silently pleading for a few coins from passersby.

Some bars are open air with a few table top dancers

Patrons and workers are shuttled to and from Walking Street to hotels and nearby shops on other streets by motorcycle taxi.

Pattaya's Walking Street is not for everyone: it is loud and high energy, but it is always full of revelers and the curious. Guided tours include it as part of their itinerary. Whatever one's inclination, Walking Street is worth at least one visit.