While Thailand has done very well in terms of keeping COVID-19 infections under control, the price of that has been a near-total shutdown of the Kingdom’s borders since earlier since year. Whereas I used to travel on a regular basis, this situation has left me itching for a change of scenery, so a few weekends ago, we took a long weekend trip to Pattaya.
Pattaya is a beach town in Chonburi province, about a two to three-hour drive southeast of Bangkok. Located on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya Pattaya became a sizable city during the United States’ war in Vietnam, when it became a popular destination for soldiers to take rest and relaxation breaks.
The city’s reputation has not always been so reputable: polluted water, underage sex available for purchase on the beach, and all sorts of sin on the famous “walking street” after the sun sets. That reputation was, of course, never the full story of Pattaya and the city has cleaned up much of its image in recent years. This was only the second time I have visited the city for any length of time and it was a chance to see a bit more of it.
We chose to stay at the Renaissance Resort & Spa, located about a 20-minute drive south of the city on a much quieter stretch of beach. The resort is fairly new and features a ten-story tower with ocean views and two three-story buildings that overlook the pools. One of those buildings has ground-floor rooms where you can plunge directly from your deck into the water.
The hotel is in fine shape and the staff is attentive and friendly, reminding me how much Thai culture is well-suited for the hospitality industry. It was also a reminder of how appreciative these employees were to have guests back in their hotel, as as much as seven percent of Thailand’s economy depends on tourism. Only recently has domestic tourism started to pick up and the borders are still closed to foreign tourists.
Sights to see
There are many things to see and do in and around Pattaya but many of them are quite touristy: the Pattaya Dolphinarium, the Cartoon Network Amazone water park, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, etc. We spent most of our time at the hotel, relaxing.
One thing we did enjoy was a visit to the Sanctuary of Truth. This privately-owned site is both a museum to wood-working skills and an artistic expression of the philosophy of love and goodness. Started as a passion project by a wealthy Thai businessman and his wife, it continues into perpetuity as the nature of this all-wood project is that it will forever need to be rebuilt.
From the outside, the structure looks like a Thai Buddhist temple. As you go on the guided tour, you begin to realize that it is a fanciful mish-mash of styles and symbolism from all the world’s religions and philosophies. An army of craftspeople, nearly all Burmese as few Thais still practice these wood-carving skills, chisel, carve and cut away at three types of wood, rebuilding the structure and refining the intricate details. It really is quite exquisite if a bit overwhelming!
What to eat
Sitting on the Gulf of Thailand and with a sizable local fishing fleet, seafood is a great option and Pattaya has opened many tasty and Instagram-friendly places to eat, see and be seen.
On the drive down, we stopped Chonburi town, to the north of Pattaya, and had lunch at Charin Nongmon. This family-run, open-air seafood restaurant has been around more than 40 years and continues to produce excellent food at reasonable prices.
They are best known for two crab-based treats: buu jaa and hoy jor. The buu jaa (shown to the left) is a crab cake – crab and pork combined with seasonings, placed in a crab shell and deep fried. The hoy jor, which the restaurant lays claim to originating, is a crab meat dumpling wrapped in delicate tofu skin and deep fried. All the dishes are excellent and these two are outstanding.
We had a sunset dinner at the Glass House. There are two locations and we chose the one on the south side of the city, close to our hotel. This highly-Instagrammable location offers an extensive menu of Thai food, heavy on the seafood, and some “international” items, too. The food is good and while not memorable, the location on the beach very much is.
Book ahead to get a table on the beach. If you arrive early, you will be quite exposed to the sun, but in the last half-hour before sunset, the weather is pleasant and you are just a few meters from the gentle waves lapping on the sand. As the strings of lights are illuminated and the sky turns all shades of pink and baby blue, you really will be charmed and feel very relaxed.
A few other places worth considering:
Rimpa Lapin is a more foreigner-friendly restaurant, terraced along a cliff with a commanding view of the sunset. Book ahead for a nice table. They also have a decent wine list.
For a more local flavor, visit Preecha Seafood or Jai Sang Ma not too far away in Sattahip.
Is it worth a visit?
A lot of tour groups visiting Thailand, include a stop in Pattaya. I presume it is because the city is close to Bangkok, offers a pretty beach and many tourist-accessible amenities. While I am not the biggest beach person, I feel like there are better options if you are visiting Thailand. If you are a Bangkok local and looking for a quick and easy gettaway, Pattaya is a convenient choice, especially if all you want to do it hole up in your hotel, relax and unwind.
Beautiful post Chris. You should this to Conde Nast Travel or Travel and Leisure magazine. Love the photographs and your description is excellent. I am so glad you both got away and relaxed there. Love.
Thanks for your kind words. I’m nowhere near that level of quality but will keep on trying.
Chris, don’t underestimate your writing and the photographs. They are excellent.You should just go ahead and submit a few. They will talk to you. Saadi had sent them some of her work after she returned from India. This was in the early 90’s. The magazine loved her work, (it was very simple and not as refined as yours), and some of the local newspapers took that up and published her work.
Makes me wish I could travel! I second Zakiah’s suggestion – submit to Travel & Leisure magazine.
Oh, I am sure their standards are much too high! =D
I third the suggestions. I’ve always enjoyed your travel summaries / reports.
I’ve never been to Pattaya and am glad it’s cleaned up. The hotel looks nice and the food looks great. I really like that Sanctuary of Truth. I would go nuts taking pictures there.
It is an interesting challenge taking pictures there as the contrast is not very high in some of the carvings – dark on dark. Still a fun challenge!
Makes me miss Thailand and reminds me I should see more of it than just Bangkok every time. Those crab dishes sound so good.
Later this month and then again in December, I will do more traveling around the country. I realize the outside Bangkok posts in my blog are a decade old, so this will be a good chance to refresh old content and post new content, too.
It is nice that you guys got a chance to have a little R&R. I have only been to Pattaya once, for a business trip. A one-night stay. Stayed at the hotel for a whole afternoon of meeting, followed by a corporate dinner, then left the city the next morning with the group to visit a factory. No chance for an exploration. How I wish I had the chance to visit that stunning looking Sanctuary of Truth building and had the same crab cakes you had. Reminding me now how much I miss New England’s crab cakes. Let’s hope this Covid thing is over soon so some of us can start traveling again.