Pattaya, Thailand’s got to be the seediest, one-track party-town in the world. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Huge signs advertising the Fcuk Inn Bar and Kiss Food and Drink make the theme obvious. Couples like this one are ubiquitous.
Hot, sweaty days are for advertising the possibilities of hot, sweaty nights. Bored “massage” girls pose on plastic chairs in front of their shops, long bare legs ending in spike-heeled evening shoes dangling in the trash-filled gutters.
Just across the narrow lanes, clusters of old, fat, ugly, white men slouch and slump over beers, gathering confidence from one another. They all look the same. They all wear floppy shorts and t-shirts and sandals. Some wear socks with their sandals. These are the tunnel-vision men those pretty Thai girls are dreaming of.
The local specialty, called ladyboys, also ogle these men. Look at the 23-year-old ladyboy pictured at left, who just had her bag snatched while riding on the back of her Italian boyfriend’s motorcycle. (A reversal of the classic Italian scippatori theft, in which the thief—not the victim—is the backseat rider.) The Italian “boyfriend” may or may not have known what was under the coy ladyboy’s skirt.
After dark the lanes explode with open-air billiards bars, tiny beer bars, bars named for your country, pole-dancing bars, and enormous “pussy bars” offering “pussy menus” and buckets of ping pong balls. Establishments large and small feature alluring girls.
The city’s other passion is food. I love the street food culture in Pattaya. Entire restaurants zip through the streets on the backs of tricycles and on motorcycle sidecars, their sauce buckets sloshing and condiments precarious. In grubby plastic baskets they carry the myriad fresh and fermented ingredients that their specialties comprise. Seductive food is cooked to order on smoky charcoal grills or stirred over car-battery-operated stoves.
Hot, ready-to-eat curries are peddled from wooden trays on the backs of bikes, single servings tied up in clear plastic baggies. Mysterious delicacies are baked in bamboo canes—the ultimate environmentally-friendly fast-food container. Longons, lychees, mangosteens, jackfruit, dragonfruit, durian—the tropical fruit displays are mouthwatering.
Whatever your pleasure, Pattaya is to drool for. Western men tend to visit for three week stays. Many or most have met their exotic girls online and come specifically to see them. They pay the girls about US$100 a night to stay with them in their hotels. They might visit their girls two or three times a year. Sometimes the couples marry and the men take the girls away to live in their Western countries.
For a beach resort town, Pattaya’s remarkably unattractive. Where trees should be, tangled electrical wires form a shadeless canopy over streets, the thick cords nearly obscuring the mosaic of signs for Cialis, Viagra, pharmacy, clinic, laundry, and rooms-for-rent. There’s nothing for the eye here—just hard-driven business: that is, the business of the sexual drive. It’s a lewd town, but an honest one, advertising what it’s about in every way it can.