Is Pattaya Really That Sleazy?

I’m still not entirely sure what made us decide to visit Pattaya.  I think it had something to do with the unspoken dare present when people claim that something is “the biggest” or “the most” of anything. Since coming to Thailand, we’ve been repeatedly told that Pattaya is the unofficial sex tourism capital of the world. Yes, the world. I was driven by a twisted sense of curiosity to find out what kind of a town this made Pattaya, if there really were that many prostitutes, and if Pattaya really was that sleazy.

With loud club music filling streets lined with grimy bars and guesthouses, the areas around Pattaya Beach reminded me a little of Khao San Road in Bangkok.  But instead of the wide-eyed and intoxicated backpackers of Khao San, Pattaya was overflowing with men over 50 skulking around the streets wearing Hawaiian shirts, and eyeing up every girl that passed.

Soi LK Metro, Pattaya

I like to think that I can usually find my orientation relatively quickly in a new city, but Pattaya was a literal maze in which I couldn’t tell one massage parlor or go-go bar from the next.  It all blurred together and we found ourselves getting lost in the shuffle.  Instead of Thai food, the street stalls sold Cornish pasties and sour cabbage. Other stall owners rushed around selling skintight dresses and bedazzled shoes, as though an emergency requiring these items could occur at any moment.

The culture of prostitution in Pattaya is the source of many jokes in Thailand, and I could understand why from the moment we arrived.  It was easy to see the dark humor in the excessiveness of it all: The blatant, neon signage for sex services, the giggling girls wearing revealing outfits, and the crowds of stereotypically gruff and lecherous-looking patrons.

Part of me didn’t want to spoil the party by reflecting on the moral implications of this oversexed city, but they were difficult to ignore.  I would never presume that I understand the lives of sex workers in Pattaya, but from the little I do know, most come from poor, rural areas of Thailand, hoping to support themselves and their families. I can’t imagine it’s an ideal life.

Soi LK Metro, Pattaya, Thailand

Similarly, I can’t really know the motivations of the thousands of foreigners who regularly flock to Pattaya, but I couldn’t help but feel a strange sympathy for them too. During our 2 days in Pattaya, Brent and I were ludicrously overcharged for drinks, transport, and even for a spot on the beach. It’s safe to say that sex businesses in Pattaya are making a substantial profit from naïve, lonely old men.

Pattaya has recently been trying to clean up its reputation, yet the whole city seemed almost devoid of real Thai culture. The Westerners come for the warm weather and easy access to sex, but afterwards they seem to expect to be able to retire to an air-conditioned room, watch the Australia Network and eat a Shepard’s Pie.  And Pattaya provides.

Jomtien Beach, Pattaya

To be honest, there’s really nothing all that pretty about Pattaya. It does have two beaches: Pattaya and Jomtien. We spent the day at Jomtien, which was supposed to be the nicer of the two. It wasn’t unpleasant (because really how bad can a sunny day at the beach be?), but Jomtien Beach reminded me more of the  “beaches” we have back home in Ontario. The scenery was boring, and the sand was course and dull. It didn’t come even close to measuring up to the average Thai beach.

Jomtien Beach, Pattaya

The sex workers hanging around the entrances to massage parlors and bars called out to the other men who passed by, but they didn’t try to lure Brent in because they recognized that we were together.  Then, at one point, Brent and I were walking down the middle of a road, and saw a car approaching from behind us. We crossed to opposite sides of the street to let the car pass, and for less than 10 seconds, Brent was alone and out of my sight. When the car cleared the road, I looked across the street and saw in the instant that we had been separated, 2 massage parlor girls had latched their arms onto Brent and were cooing in his ear.  So, if you’re still trying to get a sense of how many sex workers there are in Pattaya, that story pretty much sums it up. Yes, it really is that sleazy.


Have you ever visited Pattaya or another place where sex tourism is prominent? What did you think?


Edit: I strive to promote an open dialogue on this blog, and I encourage constructive criticism and well-argued counterpoints, but any comments perceived as intentionally derogatory or malicious  have been and will continue to be deleted. It’s fine if you disagree with me, but let’s keep it clean.

About Jessica

Jessica Dawdy is a Canadian freelance writer who is slowly working her way around the world. She has lived in seven different countries across Europe and Asia, feeding her ever-expanding appetite for food, culture and languages.

57 Responses to Is Pattaya Really That Sleazy?

  1. thatbackpacker January 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    I had heard it was pretty bad, but geeez! Now you have me convinced it has nothing going for it after comparing it to Ontario beaches!
    My recent post The Ultimate Train Challenge: Lisbon to Saigon

  2. @WanderTooth January 24, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Ick! I've been to Thailand a few times, and have always avoided Pattaya for this reason – it's reputation precedes it. We were in Amsterdam over the holidays, which obviously has a pretty substantial red light district as well. I think you summed it up nicely: it can't be an ideal life.

  3. Vanessa January 25, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    My school here in Korea sponsored a tour-guided trip (half-paid) to Pattaya for all the teachers last spring… Now I'm definitely glad I didn't go! Nothing like being dragged on a tour of the red-light district (and shows) with all your co-workers… and husband. Awkward!! haha. Thanks for making me feel better for not going! 😀
    My recent post Happy 2013 in Mokpo: or How We Crawled Up An Icy Mountain

  4. waysofwanderers January 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Yeah, the red light district in Amsterdam was kind of a shocker for me too. I couldn't believe that all the women were lined up in those weird glass cubicle-looking rooms. Somehow I had always imagined it would be more subtle – how wrong I was!

  5. John January 27, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    I would imagine rural Thailand would be quite conservative, so its interesting that a lot of these "workers" are from there.

  6. Julika January 28, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Great post, Jess! I totally understand your curiosity and why you would want see a city with a reputation like that, but after reading this I really don't feel like I need to see it for myself. Your description made me super uncomfortable already!

  7. Agness January 30, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    I thought Bangkok is a sex city. It's all about party and ping-pong shows :). I've heard of Pattaya as well, but I guess it's up to you where you wanna go and what you wanna see. As long as you avoid touristy spots and enjoy the beaches or temples you will be fine. Lovely post 🙂

  8. Angela January 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Eew, I was sort of considering going to Pattaya, just so see for myself. But maybe I'll just skip it.
    I was in Phnom Penh not too long ago and seeing all the old men with the young Cambodian girls and all the sex bars really got to me.
    My recent post How To Avoid Sunburn On a Motorbike Tour in Vietnam

  9. Hannah@GettingStampe February 4, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    Glad I read this! We were in Bangkok in March and also Phuket and stayed in Patong. We loved Bangkok, but will not return to Patong ever again. We are going to Thailand on our RTW trip and will be there in December 2013 for Christmas, and my parents are joining us for 3 weeks. We are starting off in BKK for 3 nights and then heading off to some islands, they love the beaches, and aren't 100% sure which Thai beaches to bring them to. Crossing off Pattaya, thanks for the heads up! Any suggestions? We have a week was thinking for Phi Phi for 3-4 nights and then we have another 3-4 nights open before we head to Cambodia with them. Thanks for any tips!
    My recent post Taking Sparting Risks

  10. bill March 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Sorry to read all these negative comments guys.I took a post divorce holiday in pattaya six months ago and have stayed since. Many of the men here arrived under similar circumstances and like me most meet and settle with one girl. Sleasy maybe but always vibrant and truly exciting, great eating places, suitable for every taste and culture. As for the girls who do work the bars, this is very much a survival strategy.
    There is no financial parachute for them, if they dont earn they starve and so do their kids back in the village, most of their earnings pays for food and schooling for their kids and siblings

  11. BlogDaz March 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Hi Jessica, Bill already mentioned that there is more to Pattaya than the sex industry, there is a very large ex-pat community living in Pattaya. Mostly living a normal life, married with children, for the majority of ex-pats it wouldn't make a difference if there was no sex scene in Pattaya. Apart from the sex scene, the lures for westerners are, good shopping, good choice of food, many of the Thais working in Pattaya have a good grasp of English.
    I can understand your reaction, but Pattaya is not an exception, just about every tourist destination in Thailand caters for sex tourists, in fact it's not only tourist destinations, karaoke bars and massage parlous, even in the most remote villages of Thailand offer sex services.
    Bar Girls are often misunderstood, it's easy to assume they forgot their morals, they all have their own reasons for working in the sex trade, for some it's strictly business, a pension plan, or husband hunting.
    My recent post Bored in Buriram

  12. Americanthai March 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    I’d say 99% places in the world guys hit on girls. the reason I like Pattaya and I keep coming back it’s nice being treated like “brad Pitt” with “lebron James” status because I’m a foreigner with some cash.. I like 5-10 dollar massages thai, oil, foot. It’s nice being able to really enjoy myself drink, have sex, and eat Thai food. Im younger but old guys seem much happier here. Leave your other half alone in Pattaya (not recommended) then I want his opinion.

  13. Americanthai March 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Local Women…Yes Foreign Woman…No
    It is quite sad to see the "honeymoon" couple or "clueless couples" who did not know what they were in for when visiting Pattaya. I feel sometimes it doesn't always happen by accident and the men plan it that way and the women have to suffer. Either way the Thai news will have you believe Pattaya is a family friendly destination. Jomtien…ok sure I buy that! Pattaya/Walking street being dubbed family friendly that is a…..s t r e t c h

  14. OCDemon April 8, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Eastern Europe has plenty of this, with hostels on first floors and brothels on second floors, and quite a few stag partiers who are looking to indulge. Sigh…
    My recent post Top 5 reasons you should start travel blogging right now

  15. Four Trotters April 29, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I like the put-down 'Lonely Old Men' as if being shy or alone is a crime. If you are young and gotgrous it seems you are morally above those sleeze bags.

  16. PattayaBrent June 3, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    I bet Brent will be back and it will be without you.

  17. richardf June 3, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Hello Jessica, Thank you for the article but no one coming to Pattaya is "naive". They've read the forums and the books such as Private Dancer by Stephen Leather. Pattaya is just a game: Falang V Bargirl. Both sides are shrewd and know how to play.

  18. hancnx June 3, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Good article. By the looks of it you stayed in the LK Metro area (Kilkenny or Pasadena Lodge perhaps), kind of a ground zero for old sexpats. So yes, it's going to look sleazy then.

    Pattaya is a sizeable city these days though, and I'm very comfortable taking my wife and young children there for a holiday. It just depends on who you want to be; if that's sleazy then indeed there is no trouble finding it. But you can also have a perfectly fine family holiday with some boat trips, beaches and attractions that are fun for kids like dolphin shows, elephants, etc.

    As a beach destination in Thailand, you can clearly do better, that's also beyond doubt. But Pattaya is quick and easy to get to from Bangkok, and it's affordable.

  19. ChuckWow June 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    What is wrong with older men wanting to have sex with young and attractive women? Should they have to settle with fat, ugly, old and bad attitude women of the west?
    For the record I'm only 33 and I love Pattaya because sex is easy and everywhere. I don't have to be a GQ model with a six rack of abs to get laid. I don't have to be a millionaire showing off in Vegas to get laid. Of course western women like yourself think guys should only get laid with girls that are their age and similar in looks right? You don't like seeing a normal, old or ugly dude walking down the beach with a hot Thai chick because he's broken the societal rules of engagement for getting laid.

  20. waysofwanderers June 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Have a nice trip.

  21. philkrenshaw June 8, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Aside from jet ski rental, I saw no rip offs in Pattaya. $5 for a steak dinner. about 30 cents for a ride on the Baht Buses, $6 for an hour long bus trip from the airport followed by a minibus to your hotel door. Large air conditioned room with bath, WiFi and flat screen cable TV for under $20. Breakfast–eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, tomatoes, coffee and OJ for less than $3, $20 for a BJ, $5 for a Thai Silk shirt, a couple dollars for the ferry out to Koh Larn where the best beaches are, $3 for a haircut, $20 for teeth polished, cleaned and checkup, $3 to have your feet nibbled on by fish for an hour, etc. etc. Yes, lots of cheap sex around the clock, but plenty of other things to do also. Great place to relax and unwind.

  22. bob June 8, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I found most girls in beer bars/gogo bars etc loved their jobs. You will find lot of these girls get sponsored, move back to their village, get bored and come back to the bright lights of Pattaya, where every night is a big party for them.

    When it comes to morals, I think a Buddhist culture is very different than our own Abrahamic culture in the west. I think you have to see the positives more than the negatives. The prostitute is getting big money, and the customer is getting love and care for the price he agreed on. Both parties are happy. Obviously Pattaya is not for everyone (especially a female with a partner)

    I remember I went into a bar, and I seen a bar girl, with this 40 year old man. He was fat, ugly and looked like to me, he wouldn't have a hope, if he went into a western nightclub looking for beautiful ladies. The man had a big smile on his face, and the girl actually showed she cared for him (maybe she did, maybe she didn't does it matter?)

    You say Pattaya is more expensive than other areas? I disagree, I've been to Puket, Bangkok, Koh Samet, Rayong, Koh samui and Koh chaing… among those Pattaya seems the cheaper option for drinks/food and accommodation

  23. pacifictheme July 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Well written piece Jess. I went to Phuket a few years ago and found it so sleazy – don't think I could stomach anywhere sleazier than that!
    My recent post Brits (Australians?) Behaving Badly

  24. foreignsanctuary August 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I have traveled to Thailand several times and Pattaya has never been on my list!! I guess your blog post verifies that the rumors are true!!
    My recent post Taipei 101: 7 Ways to Explore & Experience While Looking Up!

  25. Suresh May 31, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    Wow you really said it all and is very true but it is so sad they government stinks just like male tourists who thinks of them self 🙁 there is so many girls have babies from the so call fun for male tourists go there 🙁 So many single young mothers ..I can understand them wanting better life but please if u can’t help them just don’t use them and leave them with more problems and is the fact Thailand man should start showing some respect for their women so sad

  26. OZ26 July 7, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    Wow Jessica, you have just put western women back to the category they get stereotyped in, with this narrow minded blog.

    Before you go mouthing off that this is just another "lonely old male" post, I am a 35yr old Australian women, married with a 2 yr old son, worked my whole life and have been afforded the opportunity to travel to many places of the globe for which I am grateful for.

    I also, have visited Pattaya many times and in fact am moving my family there at the end of the year for some R and R.

    You are clearly a lollipop back packer and not an actual Traveller.
    I will agree that the beaches are not to be compared with some of Thailand, and that it is indeed heavy into sex tourism. For a inexperienced, immature backpacker, it would be very easy to get yourself lost and overcome in that scene.

    Pattaya has many relaxing spots to enjoy as a family or couple, the shopping is great, food is second to none, excellent Muai Thai Schools, international schools and language schools, massage and not to mention the mix of Thai locals and expats which makes Pattaya the multicultural melting pot of greatness that it is.

    I'm afraid it is you my dear, who seems Naive.

    You only need to witness a bar girl arriving at the bar and offering orange slices, fanta, an incense clouded Wai and prayer to Buddah to realise "Real Thai Culture" is far from devoid in Pattaya, or present your offerings at dawn to a monk adorned in his saffron robes, infact it's places like these that one can see real Buddhism at work, but I can understand how a full moon party, Khao San road, a rigged Muai Thai match or a fake Louis Vuitton can be someone's Real Cultural Expeiance.

    I am also curious to know what is actually wrong with being a "lonely old man"?
    These giggling girls whom you admit to not knowing much about, are normally no more educated than the 6th grade, are supporting entire families, selling flesh to live day to day and deserve more than your attempt at pity. Many of the Bar Girls, ( prostitute is not a word readily used in Thailand ) I have met would happily sit and tell you about their lives, share their food, teach you Thai and listen to your stories. They are not the leeches clinging to your Brent, ready to destroy his morality as you would have us visualise
    However I dare say Brent would have quite happily unloaded a few hundred bhat had you not been present. We are talking about Men and Sex sweetie, it's the way of the world.
    So in conclusion, I am glad you didn't like the lengthy two whole days you spent in pattaya, and are spreading the word to the uneducated masses, it just means you won't be back.

    Keep up the great work!

  27. waysofwanderers July 7, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    I wish you could have shared this perspective without so much unnecessary condescension, because you make some good points. Can't a discussion be fun? Isn't it possible to have different ideas without hating each other? "I disagree" goes so much further than "You're a stupid person!"

    If genuine culture does exist in Pattaya, it's sad that it's so buried beneath the bar culture that a typical short-term tourist, like me, will never be able to see it. That's not naive, it's about flat out not enjoying a city where I have to dig through several blocks of go-go bars in order to find a temple.

    Pity is harsh word, and not the one I would use to sum up this post or my feelings. I felt uncomfortable seeing "lonely old men" being taken advantage of by bar girls (perhaps not my best choice of words, but I meant this expression in sympathy, not in accusation); and likewise, I felt uncomfortable seeing men treat Thailand like their personal playground. I've met Thai women who literally can't go to Pattaya because the foreign men there assume every Thai woman they see is for sale. I'm sure Pattaya has its good side, but there's something seriously wrong with stories like these. This isn't about the morality of prostitution, it's about how painful it is to see Westerners steamrolling over Thailand's people and culture.

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  30. beckysmiltneek June 8, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

    You do realize that probably the majority of those girls/women are being trafficked and are being forced to have sex with foreigners while their traffickers keep the money. Educate yourself on modern day sex slavery. This is NOT just sleazy; it's criminal.

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