Exploring Thailand’s East Coast

pattaya_shutterstock_401075296 by Roy Cavanagh* www.thaizer.com

There are umpteen reasons why Thailand’s East Coast has established itself as a favourite destination for many repeat visitors to Thailand. Easy to reach from Bangkok, the area is home to an excellent range of hotels, bustling nightlife and a choice of beaches. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand, local authorities have worked hard in recent years to change some of the more negative stereotypes associated with Pattaya and make it a family-friendly destination. The neon lights and bars are still a part of city life, but there is more to this region than nightlife. In recent years, it has established itself as a destination for couples and families looking for an affordable beach break and wishing to explore more of Thailand’s east coast.

Where to stay in Pattaya
The best known beaches are the main Pattaya Beach in the centre of the city and Jomtien Beach further south. Both beaches are functional rather than beautiful and Pattaya Beach in particular can get crowded and isn’t the best for swimming. The long stretch of Jomtien Beach is a traditional favourite for Thai families and provides a quieter setting more suitable for children compared to Pattaya Beach. More scenic stretches of sand can be found at Wong Amat Beach and Dongtan Beach, but for the most picturesque beaches in Pattaya take a short boat ride across to Ko Larn (Coral Island).

North Pattaya
The north end of Pattaya Beach towards the Dolphin Roundabout is an excellent location and this is where you will find the Dusit Thani and Amari Ocean hotels. From here it’s easy to catch a songthaew to Central Festival shopping mall and Walking Street in one direction or Naklua and North Pattaya in the other. You are also within comfortable walking distance of the shopping mall that locals refer to as ‘Big C’.

Suggested hotels:

Amari Ocean

Dusit Thani

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Siam at Siam Design

Cape Dara

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Central Pattaya
Staying in Central Pattaya will give you convenient access to shopping malls, a choice of international restaurants and nightlife.

Suggested hotels:

AVANI Pattaya Resort & Spa

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Siam Bayshore

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The Bayview Pattaya

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Wave Hotel

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South Pattaya & Jomtien
South Pattaya and the Jomtien Beach area is generally quieter than other parts of the city making it a popular choice for families and Thai tourists. There is still nightlife here, but it’s more laid-back and less obvious compared to Walking Street and parts of central Pattaya.

Suggested hotels:

Movenpick Siam Hotel

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Rabbit Resort Hotel

Royal Cliff

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The Monttra

What to see and do in Pattaya
Pattaya has plenty of activities to keep families occupied during their holiday. If you enjoy water parks you’re going to love Pattaya which now has three different ones to choose from. Opened in October 2014, the Cartoon Network Amazone Waterpark has quickly proved to be one of Pattaya’s most popular tourist attractions. Newer still, Ramayana Waterpark opened in May 2016 giving families even more chances to enjoy splashing about in the sun. There is also the well-established Pattaya Park at Jomtien which remains popular with locals and tourists although it does now look dated when compared to the sparkling modern waterparks recently opened.

Small children and big children alike may enjoy the cuteness overload at the Teddy Bear Museum. The illusion art museum, Art in Paradise, provides yet more selfie-inducing family moments and is a fun way to escape a rain shower or avoid the afternoon heat. Heading out of town, Mimosa and the Pattaya Sheep Farm make for popular family outings. If you’re family likes the idea  of an adrenaline-filled afternoon, check out the exciting Flight of the Gibbon zipline operation a short drive away from Pattaya.

On the road out to Jomtien, take a trip to the Big Buddha (Wat Phra Yai) and the adjacent viewpoint at Khao Phra Bat for expansive views over Pattaya Bay. Heading in the other direction towards Naklua you can find arguably the most impressive tourist attraction in Pattaya, the Sanctuary of Truth. The imposing wooden structure is a labour of love by the creator who has dedicated years of work to creating this temple-like structure overlooking the Gulf Of Thailand. Work is ongoing so visitors can observe the artisans painstakingly using traditional woodworking techniques. By way of complete contrast to the Sanctuary of Truth, the elaborate and kitsch cabaret shows at Alcazar and Tiffany’s are popular with tourists from around the world.

Situated just outside of town, award-winning Nong Nooch Garden makes for an excellent day trip for visitors of all ages. Nearby, you will also find the splendid Buddha image that has skilfully been laser-etched into the side of a cliff at Khao Chi Chan.

A number of championship standard golf courses can be found within easy reach of Pattaya. Test your skills on some of the best courses in the region which have hosted events from the Asian Tour.

Food and drink
Pattaya is a cosmopolitan resort and that’s reflected with the diverse range of restaurants serving Thai, Indian, Chinese and Western food. Whether you’ve got a yearning for som tam, sauerkraut or sausage and mash, you’ll find it in Pattaya. Food courts serving good value Thai food can be found at all of the main shopping malls where you’ll also see all the well-known international fast-food joints.

For dining with an added touch of elegance, Mantra gets consistently good reviews. At the other end of the scale if you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful, Kiss restaurant close to the Dolphin Roundabout in north Pattaya serves value for money Thai food and is popular with long-term residents. Close to the main entrance to Walking Street are a cluster of seafood restaurants although service here can be variable. For a quirky dining experience that supports a good cause, pay a visit to Cabbages and Condoms restaurant in south Pattaya.

Walking Street is the best known of the entertainment areas in Pattaya and can be a fascinating place to pull up a chair, order a cold drink and watch the world go by. At the other end of Beach Road, Gulliver’s serves up food and drinks in a welcoming atmosphere and is a great place for sports fans with plenty of screens showing sporting action from around the world. Elsewhere in Pattaya you’ll see clusters of open-sided bars all around. Some of the most raucous bars can be found in Soi 6, 7 and 8. You have to have an open-mind if you are visiting some of the nightlife areas in Pattaya and people-watching is all part of the entertainment.

Travel and local tips
Make use of the songthaews (often referred to as Baht buses by expats). They operate as shared taxis with prices starting from 10 Baht per person for short trips within Pattaya. You can also take a songthaew for private hire by negotiating a rate with the driver. Cost will depend on distance and your negotiating skills. Motorbike taxis, or ‘motosai’ as you’ll hear them referred to, can be found all over Pattaya and Jomtien. Prices start from around 40 Baht for short journeys. Under Thai law, motorbike riders and passengers are required to wear a helmet which the driver should provide you with.

Many Pattaya hotels can provide an airport transfer service to or from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi. Journey time is usually under two hours. If you take a taxi from the official rank at Suvarnabhumi the taxi will charge a fixed rate rather than a meter rate because the journey is outside of Bangkok. Expect to pay in the region of 1,500 Baht from Bangkok airport to Pattaya. Bell Travel run a convenient bus service which includes drop-off at your hotel in Pattaya. A return service from Pattaya to Bangkok airport is run by the same company. There are also regular buses that run between Pattaya Bus terminals (in north Pattaya and Jomtien) and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport.

Pattaya is served by an airport at U-Tapao to the south-east of the city. At the time of writing, Bangkok Airways operate flights between U-Tapao and Phuket and Ko Samui. Air Asia run direct services between U-Tapao and a number of locations including Chiang Mai, Hat Yai and Udon Thani. Kan Airlines also operate direct services between Chiang Mai and U-Tapao.


Best time to visit Pattaya
Pattaya is a year-round destination with enough to see and do to keep visitors occupied whatever time of year you visit. The cool season coincides with the tourist high season and runs from November-February. March through to May sees the temperatures gradually rise as Pattaya and the east coast enter the hot season which in turn gives way to the rainy season from June-October. The months from July-September statistically see the most rain although when the rain comes it’s often in the form of short, sharp, tropical downpours.

Held in March, the Pattaya International Music Festival draws big crowds and world-class acts. In April, notable events to look out for in Pattaya are Songkran and the Wan Lai Festival. Although Songkran is celebrated nationwide from April 13-15, the water-throwing extends beyond these dates in Pattaya. This is because Chonburi province also celebrates the Wan Lai Festival. Just up the coast from Pattaya, the Thai resort of Bang Saen hosts a sand-sculpture competition during the Wan Lai Festival in addition to cultural activities and party events. In October, Chonburi city is the location for the Buffalo Racing Festival a tradition which dates back over a century to mark Awk Phansa, the end of Buddhist Lent. New Year’s Eve is also celebrated in style as part of the Pattaya Countdown event with spectacular firework displays over Pattaya Bay.


Beyond Pattaya: exploring Thailand’s east coast
If you are staying in Pattaya, try to make time to explore some of the rest of Thailand’s east coast. To the north, diminutive Ko Si Chang is one of Thailand’s smaller islands and was a favourite with King Rama V who built a seaside palace there. That palace was subsequently moved to Bangkok and renamed as Vimanmek Teakwood Mansion.

Further along the coast east of Pattaya, the attractive island of Ko Samet offers some lovely white sand beaches and a relaxing atmosphere. Ko Samet is often quiet in the week, but can get busy on weekends and public holidays with city-dwellers from Bangkok heading to the beach. Continue heading east from Rayong and Ban Phe and try to spend at least a night in charming Chantaburi. The city is home to one of the most striking churches in Thailand, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The adjacent Chantaboon waterfront area is a delightful place to wander and enjoy the historic buildings and way of life that has been preserved there.

To enjoy some of the most beautiful islands in Thailand, head out to Trat province close to the Cambodian border. The Ko Chang archipelago is home to some gorgeous islands including Ko Chang, Ko Mak and Ko Kut (also spelt Ko Kood).

If you’re planning a trip to Pattaya or its nearby east coast, or have been already, we’d love to hear all about it, so don’t forget to share all your pictures and travel stories with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

*Roy Cavanagh lives and works in Thailand. Click www.thaizer.com  for more helpful guides on Thailand or follow him on Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter