Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Short and Dubious History of Pattaya

What’s in a name? Guest blogger John Borthwick takes a light-hearted look at Pattaya’s possible origins.

On 29th June 1959, or 29 April 1961, four — or five — US Army trucks rolled into a snoozy fishing village on the Gulf of Thailand, east of Bangkok. The village was Pad Tha Ya, aka Pattaya.

The trucks disgorged a cargo of GI's on leave from fighting in Vietnam. Or perhaps 100 marines from an upcountry base at Nakhon Ratchasima. Or American sailors from nearby Sattahip naval port. Or possibly US fliers from the also nearby U-Tapao airfield. Choose the internet-published creation myth that suits you. Like most assertions made about, or in, Pattaya, the truth is mutable.

On arrival in Pattaya for R&R – rest and recreation – the grunts, Green Berets, swabbies or top guns, rented houses along the palmy southern end of Pattaya Beach. Having stayed for a week or so they returned to kill or be killed in ‘Nam. Soon they were replaced by more of their kind arriving in Pattaya. R&R became synonymous with I&I – intercourse and intoxication — and Pattaya’s locals never again had to worry much about the price of fish.

Alternatively, Pattaya’s name might derive from the arrival there of Phraya Tak (later King Taksin) in 1767. The place became known as Thap Phraya, meaning the Army of the Phraya. This morphed to Phatthaya, or Pad Tha Ya. Which can also mean (or so we are told) “the wind blowing from the southwest to the northeast at the beginning of the rainy season.”

Any way the wind blows (which doesn’t really matter, as Freddy Mercury noted), Pattaya today hosts over six million visitors a year. Regardless of its origins, Pattaya — aka Sodom-by-Sea or the Gomorrah-of-Tomorrah — now spells “Nightlife”. In fact the town doesn’t really get going until early evening when hundreds of beer bars thronged by chirpy hostesses start to pump up the volume. For a walk on the mildly wild side, stroll down the famous, neon-blazing Walking Street, the heart and groin of Pattaya after dark. Many visitors just pull up a pew and a beer at one of the street-front bars, there to contemplate the nocturnal human zoo in all its beauty and bawdiness.

As Thailand’s largest resort town, Pattaya reportedly produces annual tourist revenues of around US$1.5 billion and has 35,000 (and growing) hotel rooms. Time magazine described it as “arguably the birthplace of mass tourism in modern Asia and still its undisputed capital.” Not a bad growth spurt for a little-known village that welcomed its first foreign visitors just over 51 years ago. Or was that 53?

(pics John Borthwick, 2012)


  1. Pattaya has come along way in such a short time. Five star dinning, theater's,cinema's and world class hotels popping up every other week. It just leads me to think when the bubble will burst. After all, there seems very little point investing all that money on nice hotels when there's hardly a descent piece of pavement longer than 5 yards to walk along.nd don't get me started on Pattaya Beach!

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