Pattaya Beach, the largest and most important seaside resort area in Asia, had a modest beginning more than six decades ago. It is unimaginable the meteroic rise that Pattaya has experienced since its humble beginning as a sleepy fishing village. Nothing more than a flat, slightly curving bay with a stretch of fine beach sand and sparkling water along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand, it was simply an inlet for local fishermen. However, Pattaya has become the true international by-word for bright sunshine, clear skies, overdoses of fun, lurid entertainment, sex in excess, and hearty-partying on a worldwide basis.
Named after the monsoonal winds that blow from the southwest to the northeast at the start of the rainy season, Pattaya first became famous in Thai history as the general area where General Phraya Tak (later King Taksin) regrouped his army after the fall of the former Siamese capital of Ayutthaya in 1767. From this lowest ebb in the country’s fortunes, General Phraya Tak moved to quickly retake the kingdom from invaders and permanently expel them. Things have been on a virtually continuous up-hill climb for Thailand – and Pattaya – ever since.
The earliest tale on the beginning of Pattaya as a rolicking, rock-‘em, sock-‘em, phenominal, gawdy tourist resort is mired in the hazy mists of ancient history. From most sources, it has been stated that maybe 100 GIs on leave status, riding 4-5 trucks, showed up on 29 June 1959 from Khorat Thai Air Force Base in Nakhon Ratchasima. They rented the resort home (or houses) on what is now ‘Walking Street’ from a Khun Phraya Sunthorn. (Some sources say this seminal event happened in April 1961 or June 1962). All except the first U.S. Air Force personnel didn’t even arrive at Khorat Thai Air Force Base until April 1962 and there were just 15 of them. This fact makes all these tales (and dates) highly unlikely. In any event, at least by 1964, when the first bar was recorded to have opened in Pattaya, there were at least some tourists. These visitors were the ones who supposedly initiated the word-of-mouth on Pattaya’s many charms and laid-back, relaxing attractions. But the word was very slow to be spread due to international travel and tourism was still in infancy as far as Thailand was concerned.
It wasn’t actually until the Vietnam War (1965-1975) started, and Royal Thai Naval Air Base at U-Tapao nearby Pattaya was greatly expanded to accomodate American B-52 bombers in October 1965 in support of the air war, that Pattaya really found itself finally on the map as a local, but highly popular, tourist resort. First for American military troops and soon after for other expats drawn down from Bangkok. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. government declared Thailand as an official Rest & Recreation (R&R) center for the troops serving in Vietnam with airline flights coming directly from Saigon to Bangkok. These R&R centers also included Bangkok and Pattaya.
Pattaya’s first downturn was marked with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from the country by June 1976. Pattaya fell back into a slumbering, almost forgotten sleepy fishing village again with only a few stray tourists. However, Pattaya many attractions could not be long supressed. The resort slowly started a spectacular rise with exponential growth in tourist visits each year, with a few missteps and backward steps along the way including the end of the Cold War and the regional economic collapse in 1997.
Over half a century, Pattaya, like Thailand, has ridden the rollercoaster of economic ups and downs through the decades. Pattaya has been affected by business downturns even more so as you have to eat, but you don’t necessarily have to spend your money having fun when life get tough. Although some local pundits always call every financial slump the deahknell of the resort beach, the long-time expat residents and local denizens just simply shake their heads in amusement and knowingly smile. They have repeatedly seen that Pattaya always stages a roaring come-back, if some what altered in appearance, ever bigger, better, bolder – and badder – than ever, as soon as after the economic rubble gets finally cleared. Pattaya is an authentic symbol of success in excess. Pattaya – in short – is never short of hopes for a better day (or a way-over-the-top, roaringly great time for all).