Pattaya Walking Street is the biggest and busiest party hotspot in the whole of Thailand, with only a couple of the top places in Bangkok beating it for sheer volume and variety. A full kilometre from its high-tech gateway at the Beach Road end to the Bali Hai Plaza end, almost every building along its length is a nightclub, go-go bar, beer bar or restaurant. Each of the side streets – which span from Soi 14 to Soi 16, with a couple of uniquely-named streets in between – is more of the same, making the whole southern end of the city into a warren of nightlife entertainments, with something for practically every taste.
The remarkable thing about Pattaya Walking Street is that there is so much to see and do, and it is so densely packed that you could spend every night for a whole week there and, aside from having the mother of all hangovers, you would still be finding new places each and every evening. We have endeavoured to survey the main points of interest and even here we are just scratching the surface of the hundreds of venues on and around the neon-drenched strip.
Walking Street is effectively a part of Pattaya Beach Road. While the main tarmac-topped route turns to the left to become South Pattaya Road (Pattaya Tai), vehicles can continue into the brick-paved Walking Street any time between about 02:00 and 18:00. At the end of the one-way road, you will find Bali Hai Pier and the famous Pattaya City sign, as well as the southernmost end of Pattaya Third Road, which will take you back into the city.
There is more to the nightlife attractions of the area than just Pattaya Walking Street, however. Most of the small side sois which split off from the inland side of the street lead all the way to Pattaya Second Road, making this whole southern end of the city almost exclusively comprised of nightlife venues and related businesses.
Walking Street has concentrations of different sorts of venues as you make your way along it. Starting from the Beach Road end, you will find first mostly restaurants, then go-go bars and beer bars, then nightclubs and live music bars. At about the halfway point is the famous Walking Street Tree (there’s only the one), around which you will find mostly ladyboy bars and clubs. Continuing towards Bali Hai Pier, you will see more tailors and gem shops as well as more hotels and guesthouses, culminating in the Siam Bayshore Resort & Spa.
Parking for motorbikes is available close to Pattaya Walking Street in Soi 16 and at Bali Hai Plaza and costs about 20 baht. However, driving home after a night of partying is not at all recommended. You would be much safer using the plentiful supply of motorbike taxis and songthaews available.
The Sanctuary of Truth is perhaps the most iconic structure in Pattaya. Intricately carved entirely from teak wood, the awe-inspiring 105-metre-tall hall on the headland to the north of Wongamat Beach is a one-of-a-kind structure in the whole world. Neither temple nor palace, despite looking like a hybrid of both, it was commissioned by a local business tycoon to act as a place of appreciation for philosophy, art, culture and faith, without being tied to a single religion.
The sanctuary is perhaps best described as a monument to Thai craftsmanship, with its stunningly detailed carvings of elephants, people and scenes, creatures and deities from mythology. They pay homage to and are a reflection of the Ancient Vision of Earth, Ancient Knowledge and Eastern Philosophy and they adorn every single surface – both inside and out – of the building. They are also a reflection of the fleeting nature and ceaseless toil of human existence because none of the wood is treated or protected from the elements, meaning that older parts gradually succumb to the rigours of the weather and climate and need to be replaced. The construction of the sanctuary, which began in 1981, is an on-going, never-ending task.
The Sanctuary of Truth was conceived from the vision that human civilization has been achieved and nurtured by religious and philosophical truth; created, in other words, out of goodness drawn from religion, philosophy and art. Through elaborate carvings and sculptures, it pays tribute to the seven creators man cannot exist without: Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and Stars. Deeply embedded into all of this are ancient Buddhist, Hindu, Brahman and other spiritual and philosophical elements.
Even without faith, the building is a wonder to behold. It creates a strong sense of peace and a there is a hushed reverence within which occurs naturally, without the need for notices demanding silence. It therefore seems a little odd that the expansive park-like grounds of the sanctuary also contain a small shooting range and regular dramatic demonstrations of sword-fighting. Elephant and horse rides, and a small selection of souvenir stalls, are also available.
From North Pattaya Road, turn right into Naklua Road at the circle before you get to Pattaya Beach Road. Turn left into Naklua Soi 12, and travel right towards the end. Admission is 500 baht for adults and 250 baht for children. Tour guides are free, friendly and very knowledgeable.
Tiffany’s Cabaret Show takes place in a grand theatre that, with its huge faux-marble lobby, manages to be almost as spectacular as the dazzling costumes. Performers make their entrances dressed in everything from long sweeping ball-gowns and plumes of feathers, to elaborate headdresses and skimpy polkadot swimwear.
A breathless hour-long riot of sound, colour and light ensues; a show that spans the entire hemisphere through song, dance or skit. Scenes include a Bollywood musical take on the Indian Raj, a traditional Korean fan dance, homage to China’s Imperial past and progress, Siam’s history told through graceful Thai dance, Broadway show tunes, and slapstick burlesque.
Tiffany’s Cabaret Show is Pattaya’s world-famous and 30 year-old ladyboy cabaret extravaganza. Here, three times each night, a surgically and hormonally-enhanced army of transgender performers put on a show that shatters that fearsome reputation. With painted nails, delicious pouts and feline grace, not only do they look ladylike, they even act it.
Truly a labour of ladyboy love, a highlight is a show-stopping tribute to Pattaya, during which the cast mime, pout and preen to a painted backdrop of the city’s surreally sleazy neon-lit hunting ground, otherwise known as Walking Street. It’s a whole lot of fun; by turns comedic, tragic, cheeky, exotic, elegant and, ultimately, uplifting. With the raunch factor turned firmly down to tame, the kids can even enjoy it (though expect some probing questions later).
In truth, however, the eclectic repertoire, the lavish sets, the artful choreography is all just an elaborate but entertaining ruse. This show is really about letting the dainty half-dames do what they love most: dress up, show off their sublimely sculpted curves, and wow audiences. Of course some are much more striking than others, but as a whole ladyboys in Thailand are renowned, even revered, for their beauty. Little of the sniggering or sneering that gets heaped on cross-dressing performers in the West takes place here. Local girls envy their otherworldly (often superior) blend of statuesque height, flawless complexion and feminine grace. Some even gain make-up tips from them at beauty counters across the Kingdom. That said, most fun at Tiffany’s is to be divulged from trying to spot tiny cracks in the façade: the bulging larynx, a rogue sprouting leg hair, the untimely slip of the demure demeanor.
After the show the audience can pose for pictures with them outside. If anything, these robust ambassadors for the third sex look even more superhuman and sexy when towering over the hordes of us mere flesh and blood mortals, like princesses just landed from some faraway planet. I had to stop myself from pleading “take me to your leader’.
Nong Nooch Garden is set in a 2.4sq.km. beautifully landscaped park and can easily make an all-day trip. The entire area is more like a theme park, with daily cultural shows, restaurants and accommodation as well as a vast area showcasing individually themed gardens. A leisurely stroll through the botanical park is like taking a journey around the world, through its many famous gardens, whether 17th-century French garden, Stonehenge, or European Renaissance garden. Equally fascinating are species-specific gardens, such as cactus and succulent plants, orchid nurseries, tropical palm gardens, bonsai and topiary garden.
Due to its vast landscape, it’s unlikely that you will hit all the attractions within Nong Nooch Garden by walking alone. It’s a good idea to rent a bicycle and explore the garden at a leisurely pace. Don’t miss the orchid nurseries which house more than 670 native species and hybrids all in one place – the largest collection in the country. Showcasing exotic-shaped leaves and blossoms, the cactus and succulent plants garden is both educational and eye-opening.
Meanwhile, the French garden, with its symmetrical design and perfectly manicured shrubs modeled after the gardens of Versailles, is another big highlight. An interesting feature is the skywalk, a shaded, 1.1km elevated walkway that takes you through the topiary garden, European garden, tropical palm garden, butterfly hill and Stonehenge garden. Apart from the botanical park, Nong Nooch Garden features daily shows at the Thai Cultural Hall. Enjoy the spectacle of sights and sounds in a classical Thai dance, Muay Thai or ancient drum performance, as well as the elephant talent shows. Other activities include paddle boats, elephant rides and cycling.
Covering an area of 100,000sqm, the Four Regions Floating Market is separated into four sections – each representing and selling items from the four major parts of Thailand (north, northeast, central and south). Expect to find many eateries, fruit stalls, souvenir shops and some art galleries. There is also a cultural show every afternoon. The 350 million baht market has over 114 shops and water vendors selling authentic Thai food, desserts and specialties from all over the kingdom. For a floating market experience, hire a man-powered boat to get around and discover the richness of the surrounding Thai architecture and riverside life. Typically, the boat is big enough for four people and can be hired for a small fee for around 30 minutes.
A walk through the hundreds of wooden houses built in the different styles of the four regions is pleasant and fun. Food happens to be the main draw here. There are plenty of authentic Thai dishes and classic desserts to sample. Highlights include noodle soups, pad thai (stir-fried rice noodles), kanom jean (rice vermicelli) with different kinds of curries, ka nom krok (coconut pancake), foi thong (golden threads), thong yip (sweet egg yolk) and more. Postcards, Thai handicrafts and some ancient toys made from wood or die-cast metal are widely available within the market, too.
Besides food stalls and shops, the market also features other educational and entertaining attractions. The wood-carving museum displays beautiful carved images. If photography is one of your hobbies, don’t miss the sunflower and agricultural demonstration fields. There is also a daily free show featuring four cultural performances. The Four Regions Floating Market Pattaya is a good place to get away from the chaos that is Pattaya and is a must-do for those who have yet to visit a Thai floating market. The market is located on Sukhumvit Road, about two kilometres past Pattaya Underwater World, on the way to Sattahip.
On the very top of Pratumnak Hill, between Pattaya and Jomtien Beach, you can’t fail to notice an enormous 18 metre tall Buddha popping up through the trees. This Big Buddha – the largest in the region – is the highlight of Wat Phra Yai, a temple built in the 1940s when Pattaya was nothing more than a fishing village. The Big Buddha is extremely popular with tour groups who love to see the intricate design of the statue and the temple complex, but it is also revered by local people who come to pray at the temple. Despite the crowds, the wreaths of flowers and burning incense create a reflective mood in which to explore the many smaller Buddha statues, partial views of Jomtien Beach, and the pavilion hall which has a beautifully painted mosaic on the walls.
The staircase leading up to the temple is quite striking as there are golden dragons running along the entire handrails, and at the foot of the stairs, seven-headed mythical snakes called Nagas emerge from the dragon’s mouths. Once at the top, visitors like to take photographs with the many Buddha figures in different postures (some are sitting, others lying down or standing) which are representative of different days of the week. Many foreigners are unsure on which day they were born but in Thailand there is a special relevance placed on this information, with a unique Buddha posture which should be revered. Although a visit to Wat Phra Yai requires some walking, it is a popular activity with old and young visitors and the stairs aren’t difficult to handle.
Before you arrive at the top of the hill, you will notice traders selling many small birds that are kept together in cages. The idea is for people to set them free and gain good karma. This all sounds wonderful, but actually we would not encourage it because, in reality, the more money given to this practice, the more birds will be caught and enslaved. It is far better to donate to the temple. Either enter the temple at the foot of the stairs and be blessed by a monk in return for a small donation of your choice, or donate in the pavilion hall at the top of the stairs, next to the enormous smiling Buddha. Another popular activity while visiting Big Buddha Hill in Pattaya is to ring the line of bells with a big stick, which is supposed to call good luck to whoever completes the task.
The Big Buddha Statue in Pattaya is a cultural highlight to any visit to Pattaya and can be enjoyed by people who are knowledgeable about Buddhism but equally by people who have limited knowledge of the religion and the way of life. Pratumnak Hill is only 2km from South Pattaya and entry to the temple is free. If you need transport, a songtaew (baht bus) will take you there for around 200 baht. Opposite Wat Phra Yai there is a Chinese Shrine complex dedicated to Confucius, Guan Yin, and a Taoist temple which can be explored afterwards.
There are many waterparks and theme parks in Pattaya, with a focus on family fun to appeal to younger visitors. Most feature bit high-speed slides for the adrenaline junkies as well as more relaxing attractions such as wave pools and lazy rivers. You can also recreate all the fun of water skiing or the thrills and spills of TV’s “Total Wipeout” in the more specialised parks.
While Pattaya may have a great selection water sports available out at sea, Pattaya Bay in particular often seems worrying chaotic because of the sheer number of watercraft in such a small area. The waterparks in Pattaya give you the same fun in a more controlled environment, with lifeguards on standby and much better refreshments more immediately available.
Coral Island near Pattaya is a little piece of paradise beyond the hustle and bustle of Pattaya. Although Thailand’s famous beach resort town would not be your first thought when imagining a cerulean blue sea and a long stretch of pristine beach void of high-rise buildings and away from the claws of civilization, this little idyllic island offers exactly that and is just a short ferry ride away from Walking Street.
Also known by its Thai name of Koh Larn (and sometimes as Larn Island), Coral Island is situated 7.5 kilometres west of Pattaya Beach. It has long been an alternative retreat for those who have become jaded with Pattaya’s overdeveloped and overcrowded beaches. Since the island is not so far away, visitors can easily go there in the morning, stay for several hours and then come back to Pattaya Beach in the late afternoon. The most convenient way of doing this is by taking a guided tour.
Endowed with several beautiful beaches and unspoiled natural wonders, Coral Island near Pattaya exudes a true tropical atmosphere and ample sunshine. If you didn’t buy any tours on the ferry earlier, you can still delight in a host of activities offered on the beach. In addition to parasailing and speedboat riding, jet skiing, banana boat riding and, of course, swimming can also be enjoyed. Although not much coral left to be seen, the island’s clear waters are excellent for snorkelling.
For the less energetic, the beach has plenty of sun loungers for you to laze and bronze on while being lured to slumber by the sound of waves lapping on the sand. If the lengthy ferry ride earlier left your muscles in knots, have them stretched and straightened by the readily available beach masseuses. Other passive, time-killing activities include having your body henna-tattooed and your hair braided. Lunch is served at 13:00, and is comprised of soup, steamed rice, four main dishes and a platter of fresh fruits (a refill can be had if you want more). Drinks are not provided but can be bought from a nearby stall. Beach vendors do exist, but still very small in number compared to Pattaya Beach. Many shops and restaurants can be found along the beach, but remember that prices tend to be a little higher than normal.
The glass-bottomed boat arrives at 15:00 to take the now-tanned visitors to the ferry back to Pattaya Beach. About an hour later, the ferry arrives safely at Bali Hai Pier, where the sun is now mild with the shadow of Coral Island lurking in the distance – seemingly beckoning us to return (as many of us have already planned to). If Pattaya’s crowded beach is not what you envisage to spend your precious vacation on, this full-day getaway makes for a perfect substitute, ideal for family, couples and a group of friends.
This full-day tour begins with a ‘songtaew’ (a pick-up truck converted into a bus) transfer from the guests’ hotels to a designated boarding point on the beach, where a flat-bottomed boat is waiting to take visitors to the two-levelled ferry floating offshore. This leg of the tour takes around five minutes before passengers continue on to the 45-minute ferry ride to the island. On board, the tour crew offers all sorts of fun-filled activity packages. The tip here is to always barter, and keep in mind that it’s usually cheaper to buy a package (usually includes a few of the most popular tours) as opposed to an individual tour.
The ferry stops at a floating dock for those who have decided to have a go at parasailing. One by one, an aspiring daredevil is harnessed with a parachute and then dragged by a motorboat until airborne. The ride usually makes a circle around the dock and lasts about 30 seconds, but provides plenty of exhilaration. The less adventurous can stay on the ferry and watch the action. Depending on the number of people participating, this parasailing stop lasts around 15-20 minutes. Then a couple of people are dropped off at a speedboat for a quick tour around the island before the rest of the passengers are taken to the tour’s final destination, Haad Tien (Tien Beach), one of the most gorgeous beaches on Coral Island near Pattaya.
Art in Paradise is a fun and fresh take on an art gallery that has closed the divide between art and spectator with three-dimensional paintings that are interactive and laugh-out-loud funny. Through clever use of shading and borders, artists have painted directly on to walls to create stunning images that trick our eyes into thinking animals are smashing through walls, friends are balancing over raging waterfalls and polar bears are stealing a sip of our coconut. The gallery has over 100 individual art pieces in ten themed sections, covering optical illusions, wild animals, nature, past civilisations and reproductions of classic art with witty additions such as bright pink nail polish on a pre-Raphaelite beauty, or a pencil added to the Mona Lisa so you can be Leanardo Da Vinci… for a second, at least.
The taking of photographs isn’t just tolerated at Art in Paradise, it is actively encouraged and you will see plenty of Thai people engaging in one of the nation’s favourite pastimes, taking shot after shot of friends in ever more elaborate poses. Art in Paradise inspires visitors to get creative with the paintings as the 3D imagery looks more authentic in photographs. This is a great place to come with children, friends or on a date and you will leave the gallery with a lot of funny moments captured on your camera.
It takes around two hours to get around the whole gallery, although you can spend as little or as long as you wish interacting with the paintings. There is nothing else quite like Art in Paradise in Pattaya as it is well thought out, professionally executed and is something the whole family can enjoy in any weather. The price is a sticking point however, at 500 baht for foreign adults and 300 baht for foreign children. This pricing scheme seems a little high compared to the 150 baht Thai citizens are required to pay, but this is a common strategy employed by many tourist activities in Thailand. If you live in Thailand, you can show your work permit or driving license to gain entry at the Thai price irrespective of your nationality.
The art gallery is located on Pattaya 2nd Road, although the entrance is 20 metres up Pattaya Soi 2. Pattaya 2nd Road is a one-way street, so it’s very easy to find Art in Paradise, close to the Dolphin Roundabout in North Pattaya. If visitors feel inspired by all the art they have witnessed, there is a shop near the entrance where they can buy art supplies, paints and paint-by-numbers canvases and there’s also a small café selling drinks and snacks. Art in Paradise is the most amusing gallery you have probably ever been to and turns the whole art gallery experience on its head – making the viewer part of the art.