Nice piece today and I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion on the demographics of Pattaya.
I have always had a soft spot for Pattaya, even though I don’t pursue the P4P scene. Back in the 1980s, Pattaya and the surrounding area was where a lot of international companies had beach houses for their senior managers. As a result,
there were a lot of families holidaying in the area (both Thai and Western). The place and number of family entertainment options was quite small, so we would often bump into each other in the area, e.g. dinner at the Pizza Hut, lunching at the
Royal Varuna yacht club, horse riding up at the ranch, or bowling at the small alley at the Royal Cliff resort.
In terms of demographic change (and also how Pattaya in general has changed), these are my experiences:
- In 1983, Pattaya was fairly small. You had the main Pattaya beach road strip, with the intersection to Walking Street (then still a driving street) being the centre of town. There were plenty of bars in the area, but it was also a good area for Western food. The first Pizza Hut in Thailand was located near here (in the Italian restaurant next door to the current Pizza Hut near Royal Garden Plaza). There was also a fantastic Japanese restaurant on, you guessed it, Soi Yamato. The beach was crap even back then, and there was no footpath on the beach side (or even kerbing between the road and beach… or at least not the entire length of beach road). There were a few good, large, family oriented hotels in the area though: Montien, Royal Cliff, Grand Palace (Dusit), Siam Bayshore, Siam Bayview and the Merlin (Hard Rock). The demographic mix as I recall it then was quite varied. Lots of wealthy Thai families, staying in places like the Grand Palace, and eating at Pizza Hut. There were sex tourists as well and they were conspicuous, but I also kind of recall them being on average a bit younger than the guys you see today. I also seem to recall that a bigger mix of them were sailors (ships in those days stayed in port or at anchor longer; with the efficiencies of today, ships don’t stay as long and are often have come and gone within 24 hours).
- During the mid to late 1980s, Pattaya worked a bit on its infrastructure to make the place a bit more attractive. The first footpath along the beach was constructed, and water treatment plants started popping up. However, by the late 1980s, Thai and Western families were spending less time in Pattaya and more time in the surrounding areas such as Naklua and Jomtien. Jomtien in particular went through a lot of change then, going from a sleepy little village with a dirt beach road, to a developed resort area in itself. The old beach accommodation such as the Copa Cabana disappeared and by 1990, condos started popping up and Jomtien got its own footpath along the beach. Also Pattaya Park opened up on Dong Tan beach, which once opened, became the main place to find ex pat families during the day. We still often came into Pattaya in the evenings for a meal, but that was about it. So my guess at the demographic in the late 1980s was that you would probably see more P4P’ers in the city than in the early 1980s. In Jomtien, there was even a Swedish teenager working on the beach at one of the beach chair concessions.
- By the mid 1990s, Pattaya went through some pretty important improvements. More water treatment centres, the sudden boom of larger hotels, and the beginning of the condo boom. In addition, Pattaya received two decent sized shopping centres, Mike's Department Store and Royal Garden Plaza. When these first opened, I found them to be eerily quiet. Notwithstanding that Royal Garden Plaza had a lot of family entertainment, I think by this stage Pattaya’s reputation had kind of stuck and so ex pat families did not frequent the area as often and were staying even further afield such as Phuket, Rayong, etc. Also, for some reason, the lighting in Royal Garden Plaza when it first opened was very gloomy, making the place feel quite depressing. My view is the mid (or maybe even late) 1990s must have been the sex tourist peak. This was when I noticed the fewest families in town, the fewest Thai holidaying families in town and the most p4p’ers around. This is also when I first started to notice the Russians in any real numbers. They stood out on the beach because they would be the ones that would sunbath standing up (only necessary in cold countries where the sun is always low on the horizon).
- By 2001, longer term ex pat and Thai families were still largely staying away from Pattaya. However a lot of Thai / Western couples with their kids were visiting. By this time, the bigger international resort chains were starting to move into Pattaya as well. For example, Hard Rock took over the Merlin (approximately 1997), and the Amari group had moved in near the Dusit resort. Also, a Big C finally opened up on Second Road near the Amari. I also recall seeing lots of Russian and other Eastern European families holidaying in the area. The P4P tourist was therefore not the majority demographic again.
- From 2001 to the present day, my view is the demographic has very much moved away from being dominated by the P4P scene. During the first half of the 2000s, Pattaya was very much dominated by package tourists, especially from Asia. Also, the bigger hotels became great places for business conventions. Pattaya had also by this time built up a good reputation as a sporting destination (Jomtien used to hold some sort of world windsurfing championship), plus there was boat racing, international women's tennis and lots of high quality golf courses. Therefore, athletes and convention-goers took up a big slice of the demographic pie in this period.
- From around 2005 to 2009, with the even quicker access to Pattaya from Bangkok and the new airport, and the fact that a lot of the other resort areas had been spoiled (over-developed, over-touristed, over-priced, less value for money etc), a lot of the ex pat families and Thai families started coming back. A lot of people I know would spend weekends in Pattaya with their kids in order to de-stress from Bangkok. It was a quick and cheap trip to make and by this time, there were lots of hotel options. Royal Garden Plaza was packed to capacity in the evening and there were lots of entertaining restaurants around Pattaya that were great for all demographics, including families.
- The opening of Central Festival, I think, is the final nail in the coffin for P4P’ers. I missed the original opening, but came several months later and I noticed the area was positively heaving, particularly with Thai families. Even Thai attitudes towards Pattaya have changed a bit. Previously, when talking to Thai friends or in-laws, if I mentioned I was spending time in Pattaya, they couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay there, irrespective of how good the resort I chose was. However, now it seems to be very much a viable holiday option again. In my last discussion, my Thai friends and in-laws were quite interested in choice of resorts, and got into big discussions on what was better, places to eat, out of the way activities to pursue etc.
I can definitely understand why people would want to re-take Pattaya. Yes, the beach is crap. However, it is a very quick drive from Bangkok. Other beach areas near Bangkok (e.g. Bang Saen, Rayong) are not that nice. Going the other way, it takes longer
to get to Cha Am and Hua Hin. Nicer beaches, but no-where near the infrastructure and entertainment options that Pattaya and surrounds has. I mean, tiger park, raceway, go-karting, trail riding, paintball, water park with a small rollercoaster,
Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Madam Toussaud’s, Toys-R-Us, a submarine, in-land fishing parks, Hard Rock Resort (great for families, with a Kids Club, kids foam parties and even special hotel rooms oriented towards kids) and heaps
of really good restaurants.
As families start to move back in greater numbers, I suspect that the sex tourists will feel a little bit more outnumbered and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this was inevitable due to Pattaya’s location and infrastructure. I think
the writing was on the wall in the early 2000s when more people were walking through Walking Street, sight-seeing rather than drinking. Also, I am not convinced that the current era of sex tourist is being replaced to the same extent by a younger
generation (and if they are, I suspect that younger generation has taken its business elsewhere).
Anyway, I am sure the above is food for thought. For those that disagree, please keep in mind that the above is not a statement of fact. It is a reflection of the trends as I remember them.
I suspect that Pattaya's development will draw even more mainstream tourists and that the naughty stuff will get squeezed. It won't go away, but it might be confined to certain areas. I would not be at all surprised to see very little in the way of naughty bars on or near the beach, with the exception of Walking Street.