King Kong. Hollywood’s. Banana Bar. Fun Factory. Playschool. Easy Riders. These are just some of the hundreds of so called beer bars that litter the streets of downtown Pattaya. It is only here in the sex capital of Asia that bars need to be prefixed with the word ‘beer’. But for the patrons of these establishments, alcohol is the last thing on their minds.
There are an estimated 20,000 ‘sex workers’ in Pattaya. Pattaya’s population is somewhere between 60 and 65,000. That’s an awful lot of whores. There is no red light district in Pattaya. Pattaya is the red light district. A Sodom and Gomorrah for the 21st Century. The ‘tourists’ that come here are usually male, usually middle aged, always horny. They come from all over the world, this is their Mecca, their two week pilgrimage to a place where everyone has a price.
Pattaya first garnered a reputation as being an adult playground during the Vietnam War when American troops would be flown there for some R&R between stints in IndoChina. After the war the boom continued and Pattaya continued to expand, attracting sex hungry men from all over the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of punters from the ex-USSR flew in on cheap one way flights from the former Eastern Bloc, hoping to claim their place in the sun. For a while it looked as if Pattaya would become a Moscow on the sea. That never materialised, though there still is a sizeable Russian population here. As the town grew, so did it’s less than savoury reputation. Pattaya has been trying hard to remodel itself as a family resort but as soon as you step off the bus, the reason for Pattaya’s popularity becomes glaringly obvious.
That Pattaya is not your average package destination was illustrated when I checked into the hotel. A big red sign over the reception desk read “GUESTS 900 BAHT”. The concierge was a little more discrete.
“Maybe you will make a friend tonight, but you will have to pay extra,” he said pointing to the sign.
As I waited to check in, a thirtysomething Frenchmen was bringing his new friend upstairs. “But I already pay this morning,” he drawled. “Is this the same one?” asked the concierge, pointing at the young Thai girl dressed in hot pants and a bra. “Yes…..oh..no, wait it’s not.” The frenchman paid his baht and led a friend up to the room for the second time that day. “You see?” smiled the concierge, “You can make many new friends here.”
Pattaya itself is bordered by two main roads, one bordering the sea and one road parallel to the beach, about a thousand yards back. It is in the Soi’s or streets that connect these two roads that most of the action takes place. These lanes are lined with beer bars, massage parlours, gogo bars, strip clubs, blow job bars, discos, cabarets and short and long stay hotels.
The biggest draw are the beer bars. These are rectangular bars surrounded by stools, one set on the inside for the girls, one set on the outside for the customers. Basically you sit opposite the girl you want. You talk to her. She talks to you. You buy her drinks. She drinks them. She asks if you want long or short time. You decide, hand over the baht and hey presto, seduction Thai-style.
The girls themselves range from the attractive to the hideous. The customers rarely get above presentable. But even though Pattaya is a singularly cash driven economy, there is a strange symmetry between the men and their girls. The older and uglier the man, the older and uglier the girl. Despite the fact that they are in effect prostitutes, it seems they still have some taste. They won’t go with just anyone, you know. And Pattaya has a strangely comforting feeling to it. Even these dregs, these losers, these acne scarred, broken capillaried, overweight, non-entities can find happiness. Surely there’s hope for us all.
And Pattaya is a happy place. There are no fights. Everybody is smiling. The men are smiling because they’re going to have sex. Or have just had sex. Or are having sex. The girls are smiling because they have found their money train. And they will ride that train until either the money or the juice runs out. Of course, sometimes the train never stops. Many of these men marry their whore and take them away to colder climes. Many stay here, winding down their golden years in a flurry of sunshine and sex. It’s a bit like Florida on viagra.
The reason Pattaya is so popular is partly due to the way it is set up. All the bars and clubs are made to resemble normal nightlife venues. To the innocent eye it would seem as though young Thai girls find overweight, sunburnt Germans particularly attractive. I overheard one group of Welsh men talking about ‘Terry’, a friend who had left the bar where they were seated watching day old Premiership highlights.
“Looks like Terry got lucky then,” said one.
“Yeah, good for him,” said another.
They seemed ignorant of the fact that in Pattaya, luck has nothing to do with it. Terry, for all I know
looked like Quasimodo, and he still would have got lucky. But that is the beauty of Pattaya. After a while you forget what is going on is prostitution. It all seems so normal, so innocent. Everywhere you look there are loving couples walking hand in hand, laughing and joking. The men convince themselves they’ve still got it; that they can still pull an attractive girl. There is no shame in Pattaya, sex is not a vice here, it’s as normal as eating or sleeping. There is none of the nod and wink stuff that two patrons of a regular brothel might engage in.
For me the most startling thing about Pattaya was the number of families strolling around, buggies in tow. What crazed lunatic would think Pattaya is the ideal location for his family’s holiday? “Forget France this year darling, let’s bring the kids to a massive, open air brothel.” What effect Pattaya would have on the average ten year old, God only knows. What was even more cruel was the sight of lanky teenagers, walking in step with their oblivious parents. Teenage hormones are unpredictable enough without dragging them through a massive red light district.
But for all it’s sexual garishness, the biggest clue about Pattaya’s role in the Asian tourist industry can be gauged from it’s other, non sex related activities. These are of such a low quality that it’s hard to imagine anyone coming here if it wasn’t for it’s carnal attractions. It does have a beach of sorts, although in reality, it’s more like a five metre deep sand pit, dominated by sundecks and hawkers. My first few minutes on the sand were spent trying to get rid of one such lowlife. Dressed in what looked like purple underpants he was trying to sell gemstones. “No,” I said and looked away. “Burma,” he squeaked. I ignored him which only seemed to agitate him. “Burma, Burma,” he said again, tapping my shoulder. “Fuck off,” I said, and eventually he did. I have no knowledge of gemstones, so I have no idea of how good Burmese gemstones are. Maybe they are the creme de la creme of gemstones. But if I did possess such knowledge of gemstones, I know I wouldn’t be making my purchases on a beach, from a man dressed only in purple underpants.
The clientele of the beach consisted solely of sweaty red tourists, smoking and boozing. Some were with their families, most were getting oiled up by their hired nymphs. No one was in the water which had as much to do with the floating debris as the chance of being carved up by an out of control jet ski.
Elsewhere, you can visit the Million Years Stone Park, where can see monkeys smoking and wearing lipstick, bears, tigers and lions sharing the same enclosure and ‘rocks of grotesque shapes’. Billed as a living museum, this is actually a Disneyland for people who hate animals. The bizarre and humiliating tasks the animals are forced to go through might explain why the place is never going to rival Sea World. Pattaya also has a cinema (three screens), a KFC, a Pizza Hut, and well, that’s about it.
These piss poor amenities are of no concern for the vast majority of those who descend on Pattaya. They are certainly not here for the cuisine or the watersports. No, they are here for the after dark activities, of which there are many. I was in Pattaya, primarily to rest up and catch the Liverpool-Everton match (honest), before heading to Ban Phe the next day. But even for those who have no interest in hired sex, Pattaya is still a fascinating place. Those who like people watching will be in paradise. Sit in a promenade side restaurant as the sun goes down and just relax and let the freak show begin. Every type of lunatic is represented here. The obese, the clinically insane, the elderly, the very young, Russian mafiose, German paedophiles, coked up thugs, beer boys, pill heads, scumbags of every variety.
The later it gets and the farther down the strip you walk, the sleazier and seedier everything gets. The corner of Walking Street and the beach road is possibly the sleaziest place in the world. It makes Amsterdam look like Lourdes. For about 500 metres in every direction, every possible sexual taste is catered for. Want a blowjob from an amputee ladyboy? No problem. Want to watch a bird fly out of a hermaphrodite’s nether regions? That can be arranged. Want a threesome with two blind drag queens? Sure.
Yes, this little corner of Asia is truly an adult Disneyland. And the glazed punters who weave through the lanes and soi’s every night are like kids in a candy store.
For me one night was enough, and I escaped to the relative sanity of Koh Samet the next day. It’s reassuring calm was a welcome relief after the neon anarchy that is Pattaya. And while it wouldn’t be my choice for a two week holiday, it’s definitely worth a look.