Is a party town any place for a family vacation? Surprisingly the beachside city of Pattaya in Thailand has loads of exciting, wholesome activities that are equally fun-filled for the perfect holiday.
Words: Beverly Rodrigues Photography: Adam Lee
Mention Pattaya, and you’ll probably get one of those sly, knowing smiles. Since the 60s when the first batch of American servicemen dropped by for a little R&R during the Vietnam War, Pattaya’s reputation as a hotspot for hedonism has spread far and wide. But, strange as it may seem, over the past couple of years, Pattaya has begun courting a new market: Families. And even stranger yet, it seems to be working!
The young and the restless can still have their fun but the city has also spruced up its image.
Located just 150 kms south-east of Bangkok, the local council has had significant success in attracting vacationing families. The close proximity to Bangkok allows visitors, both local and foreign, to make quick weekend getaways for some sun-and-sand, and to enjoy the alternative attractions available at Pattaya.
Here’s a quick round-up of the fun stuff in Pattaya – from cultural and adventure activities to foodie excursions and shopping sprees!
You don’t need to be a botany buff to enjoy the award-winning Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden. Even if you’re ‘botanically-challenged’ and wouldn’t know a Venus flytrap if it bit you, this tropical garden is sure to fascinate.
What began as a fantastical ornamental garden in the sprawling hills of Chonburi some three decades ago, has become one of the largest collections of living plants in Southeast Asia. Within the lush 652 acres here are 27 gardens that are constantly evolving in creativity and diversity. While the mini Stonehenge Garden and European Garden with its gazebo, Greek sculptures and tropical hedge are definite highlights, the real star is the French Garden; inspired by the gardens of Versailles. Using tropical plants, it exemplifies the symmetry of French design with geometrical parterres and topiaries.
Moving away from Renaissance-style gardens, take in the stark beauty of the Cactus Garden, where exotic golden barrel cacti, wire cacti, prickly pears and other strange-looking species twist and tangle. Cactus flowers bloom from January to May.
Visit Buddha Mountain
The Khao Chee Chan Buddha Mountain, fondly dubbed ‘Laser Buddha’is believed to be Thailand’s only image of Buddha carved by a laser beam on the face of a rock. Created in 1996 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne, this mega artwork portrays one of Buddhism’s most beloved images: Buddha subduing mara, and calling the earth to witness. Mara is perceived as either a demon or the realm of sense and desire, and the image depicts Buddha’s enlightenment and victory over temptation. While there’s speculation on whether laser beams were actually used to carve the rock, the Laser Buddha remains an iconic landmark.
Combining views and vino, Pattaya’s sprawling Silverlake Vineyard is a fun spot to sample grape products and, snap some great family pictures. A stroll through the vineyard, scattered with numerous art installations that range from cute to kitsch, will transport you to a technicolour wonderland. Here, the Garden of Love, complete with statues of angels, multi-coloured snails, heart-shaped flower arches and bird houses, has become a popular spot for wedding photography. Once you’re done posing for photos, check out Silverlake’s range of table grapes, wines like chenin blanc, shiraz and rosé, as well as grape juice, jelly, pies and raisins.
Travel the World
Traverse the globe from the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris to the Egyptian rock temples of Abu Simbel in the time it takes to say ‘Pattaya’. Mini Siam with its detailed miniatures of some of the world’s most stunning structures offers an impressive round-the-world excursion. The park showcases masterpieces such as Wat Phra Kaeo that houses the Emerald Buddha, the historical park of Ayutthaya and the beautiful Temple of Dawn. In the Mini Europe area, you’ll see the onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s in Moscow, London’s Tower Bridge and Michealangelo’s beautiful sculpture, Pietà. Angkor Wat and the Statue of Liberty complete the ‘world tour’. Visit at night to see Mini Siam all lit up.
Entrance: THB300 /adult; THB150/child
Ride & Splash
Take a 45-minute ferry ride from Pattaya’s Tourist Port to the island of Koh Larn, a hotspot for snorkelling, diving and other water sports, just seven kms off the coast of Pattaya. With aquamarine waters, this tropical island has something for the solitude seeker, as well as the energetic beach bunny. While lively Ta Waen Beach in the north is packed with holidaymakers splashing in the blue, and waiting for their turn to ride jetskis and banana boats, you’ll find a more tranquil setting at nearby Thong Lang, where you can opt for snorkelling or sea walking. On the west side, Samae Beach offers a 300-metre stretch of powdery white sand, as well as delicious local seafood on sale.
Ferry fare: THB30/person
Search for Truth
Rising from Rachvate Cape like an ancient temple, the Sanctuary of Truth is truly an awesome sight. Carved entirely of teak, red and rose woods using traditional methods, its elaborate architecture is imbued with ancient Eastern philosophies. The design reflects the cycle of life, and the belief that man cannot exist without the seven creators: Heaven, earth, father, mother, moon, sun and stars. Taking in the magnificent detail of the carvings and sculptures, you’ll be surprised to learn that construction only began 30 years ago. In fact, work is still going on, so you’ll be able to don a hardhat and witness a great heritage site in the making.
Entrance fee: THB500/person
Catch a Cabaret Show
Touted as Thailand’s original transgender cabaret show and the largest in the world, Tiffany’s Show has been running for 37 years! With extravagant sets, dramatic costumes and a mix of contemporary and traditional music and dance, Tiffany’s Show is so popular that it plays to a packed house three times a night. Apart from the occasional ribaldry that may include performers with ‘mutant breasts’ randomly picking audience members to squish in their bosom, the show is pretty harmless. After the show, be sure to get your camera ready. The mardi gras-like atmosphere is electric with families rushing to snap photos with their favourite cabaret stars.
Entrance fee: THB500 to THB800/person
Throw a Punch
Martial arts junkies must take a lesson or two in Muay Thai at the Fairtex Sports & Racquet Club, famous for its serious Thai kickboxing camps. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro looking to brush up on your craft, Fairtex gives you the skills and support you need. Most of the instructors here are champion fighters who used to battle it out in some of the country’s biggest rings, including Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok. Your lesson will take place in a regulation size boxing ring to give you the feel of a real Muay Thai match.
Class: THB800 THB/3 hour session
Shop on Water
Shop for handicrafts, traditional snacks, fashion apparel, Thai silk and more at the Pattaya Floating Market. Over 100 stalls sit on teak walkways that crisscross a manmade lake, and are divided into four regions – north, south, northeast and central Thailand. This segmentation was more distinct when the market opened in 2008, but today the lines are blurred and you’ll find an exciting mishmash of cultural delights. For a truly Thai experience, sample local delicacies served from paddle boats that ply the waterway. You’ll find everything from sweet traditional desserts to grilled crocodile meat. If you’re tired of shopping, get a foot massage, take a boatride or glide across a130-metre long cable over the lake at the Skywalker Sling Adventure.
Dine by the Sea
For an atmospheric dinner, drop by The Glasshouse that just opened in June 2011. This beachside restaurant is built around a glasshouse with outdoor dining. The clean, white lines of the design, traveller’s palms and lapping waves create a lovely setting, and the restaurant offers some interesting dishes such as spicy larb salmon, a salad prepared with fish sauce, chilli and kaffir lime, as well as bestsellers like mango cheese cake and white chocolate fruit tart.
Pattaya city is accessible by bus from Bangkok. Roong Reuang Coach Co., Ltd. offers direct connections to Jomtien Pattaya at THB124, while Bell Travel Service includes hotel drop-offs for just THB200. Visit www.airportpattayabus.com and www.belltravelservice.com for more info.