When the denizens of Bangkok want to escape to the beach on a long weekend, the resort town of Pattaya is usually the first choice.
Located a comfortable hour and a half drive Southeast of Bangkok, Pattaya got its start during the Vietnam war when it became a popular "R & R" destination for servicemen stationed at the nearby U-Tapao air base. Given these origins, it should come as no surprise that a flourishing sex trade developed. It should also be no surprise that some servicemen preferred to be serviced by men, and so probably began Pattaya's gay scene.

Although recent enhancements to Pattaya's infrastructure such as improving the water quality and the roads have broadened Pattaya's appeal, the sex trade still flourishes.


The bar at Splash in Boyz Town surrounds a glass-sided swimming pool with shows that owe little to Esther Williams.
Many Thai governments over the years have promised to clean up Pattaya, and the current one is no different. Their "social order" campaign has been extended to Pattaya. While there is ample reason to be concerned about where this campaign is headed, it has so far consisted mostly of enforcing the laws regarding closing times (2:00 a.m.) and the minimum drinking age (20). Although gay places have been the subject of checks, they don't appear to have been singled out for special harassment. Sunee Plaza was recently targeted with checks on the working boys' ages and several places were fined or closed.

NIGHTLIFE

The gay scene itself is still heavily commercialized. Although there are go-go clubs and "host" bars dotted all over town, most gay venues are located in one of two centres. The older and easier to find is Boyz Town, located around Pattayaland Soi 3 just off Pattaya 2 Road. You'll find two of the exclusively gay hotels here, the Ambiance and Le Cafe Royal, as well some of the few non-commercial bars where you can drink in the scene without having to pay for the company of a host. The second cluster of venues is Sunee Plaza further south on the opposite side of Pattaya 2 road. Senee Plaza largely caters to those looking for "younger" companionship.

Aside from the go-go bars in Boyz Town, nightlife seems to follow a predictable pattern here with the many boys and their admirers staggering from one venue to the next. Most start the evening at Panorama Pub, a no-frills bar brightened by its cute clientele and waiters, though be aware - this is Pattaya! - that almost everything is up for sale. The terrible music is compensated for by the cheapness of the drinks and the aforementioned cuties.

Just across the street from Panorama is the hallowed Boyz, Boyz, Boyz. It's officially a go-go bar but come midnight it seems like the whole of Pattaya's gay scene piles in and it becomes a disco. The small dance floor is packed nightly with nubile young things and western tourists ranging in age from 25 to almost infinity. Though age probably wouldn't prevent even the oldest dinosaur going home happy.

As most places mentioned unfortunately close at 2am due to Thailand's new found Puritanism, people wanting to drink the night away can head from Boyz, Boyz, Boyz across the road to Le Café Royale where the hotel's piano bar hosts what must be the kingdom's most incredibly kitsch singer. If you do happen to go, please whisper in his ear that leather trousers were never actually in. It's a great laugh, though, and if you're still alone at this point, you won't be for long.

THE GAY BEACH

Of course, the real reason many of us visit Pattaya is to spend some time on the beach, allowing the fresh ocean air to clean Bangkok's pollution out of our lungs. Thailand's only gay beach is located near Pattaya. The gay hotels in Boyz Town like to advertise, as hotels will do, that they are "just minutes from the gay beach." It is true that they are only about a hundred yards from Strong beach, but they are in fact about 20 minutes from the gay beach, which is located South of Pattaya in Jomtien.

Jomtien is a long sandy beach on the other side of a mountain that forms the headland at the South end of Pattaya Bay. The gay section starts where the beach road turns away from the beachfront and extends up to the Pattaya Park hotel at the base of the mountain. The experience here is somewhat unique, combining the natural attraction of the ocean with the ambiance of a sidewalk cafe. The beach is divided into sections about 30 feet wide, each run by an individual concessionaire who provides beach chairs, towels and at least some food and drinks. Our regular spot is the section in front of Tui's Place, which is right in the middle of the gay section and has a menu that runs from cooked breakfasts and hamburgers to all the standard Thai dishes.

There are also vendors wandering up and down the beach selling fresh pastries, fruits and ice cream, as well as trinkets, newspapers henna tattoos and many other things. In addition you'll get many offers of a traditional Thai massage from masseuses working on the beach. These are generally licensed and appear to be safe. Some of them also seem to promise what are euphemistically called value added services. There are usually also some old ladies offering manicures as well.

The water here is warm and relatively clean. The beach flattens out just below the high tide line, so the sea remains quite shallow for several yards. The waves are generally only two to three feet, so there's no surfing. Some people do swim, although you have to keep an eye out for the odd Jet Ski or windsurfer who strays inside the buoys.
© Tourism Authority of Thailand
Unfortunately there are no real bars along the gay beach but a great place to enjoy a sundowner with that new friend is just a short hop away. Dick's Café at nearby Jomtien Complex has brought a smattering of its Bangkok style to this recently opened branch. The interior is artsy and comfortable, though most popular is the outdoor seating and the new romantic garden setting just across the road. Friendly service, good and cheap food, reasonably priced drinks and no hassle from money boys ensures this is one of Pattaya's most popular gay additions.

BED & BOARD

The older and easier to find are in Boyz Town, located around Pattayaland Soi 3 just off Pattaya 2 Road. There are some small hotels in Jomtien. If you'd like to be as close to the gay beach as possible, I'd suggest the gay-friendly Rabbit Resort, which is right on the beach, right in the middle of the gay section. The resort consists of several individual cottages built in a traditional Thai style but with all the modern amenities.

If you would prefer be near the centre of the daytime action rather than staying in far-flung Boyz Town, you really need to be in Jomtien. The Sugar Palm Beach Hotel is less than five minutes' walk from the gay beach and all its attractions. The hotel's rooms are all fairly sizeable plus you can request a sea view and a double bed! At a little over ten pounds a night this cheap and cheerful joint really does represent excellent value and is perfectly situated. Not only that, the friendly staff seem to have no objection to guests bringing "visitors" back to the rooms for some post-beach fun.

Pattaya does put on one of Thailand's best organized Pride festivals, with fund-raising events held throughout the year leading up to the big bash in early December. You can check out the festival's website for details on upcoming events.

SIGHTSEEING

One of the drawbacks to Pattaya is that it can be so full of westerners that you could easily not know you're in Thailand, or even Asia. Its always nice to find someplace where you can be reminded that you're in a culture that is very different from your own. I recently paid a visit to a new attraction of sorts that is still under construction just North of Pattaya.

With the extravagant name of Sanctuary of Truth, the temple-like structure was conceived by the same rather eccentric businessman who built the Ancient City near Bangkok. Khun Lek made a fortune importing luxury cars, he became convinced that the western values that have heavily influenced Asia in the last 50 years has not been a particularly good thing. In particular, he saw the rise of materialism as being highly detrimental to Asian values. The sanctuary was built as a rather subtle reminder of the artistic and cultural heritage of Asia.

Dramatically sited on a point of the coast in Naklua, a comparatively sleepy village abutting Pattaya to the North, construction was started about 20 years ago. One of the many unusual things about the structure is that it's constructed entirely of wood. A team of 250 wood carvers from northern and northeastern Thailand is at work on the building, which is now about 70% complete. They are hopeful of completing construction in the next five years.

Although the overall design of the sanctuary is Thai-inspired, each of the cruciform plan's four wings is decorated with carvings in a different style, representing the four artistic styles and philosophies present in Thailand: Hindu, Khmer, Chinese and Thai. You won't find the Sanctuary of Truth in guidebooks or even in any of the local tourist publications. Although visitors are welcome, they aren't actively promoted since too many would get in the way of the construction. If you do visit, you'll be given a guided tour although the guides don't appear to speak English very well.

Michael Holland. Courtesy www.bluway.com
Updated by Robin Newbold March 2005

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Ambiance Hotel (325/89 Pattayaland Soi 3, Pattaya Chonburi 20260 (038) 424-099 www.ambiance-pattaya.com)
Boyz, Boyz, Boyz (325/91 Pattayaland Soi 3, South Pattaya; 662-38-424099)
Le Cafe Royale (102-5 Pattayaland Soi 3, Pattaya Chonburi 20260 (038) 428-303 www.caferoyale-pattaya.com)
Dick's Café Jomtien (413/129 Jomtien Complex, Tappraya Road, Jomtien; 662-38-252417 www.dickscafe.com)
Panorama Pub, 244/10-11 Pattayaland Soi 3, South Pattaya; 662-38-710597
PattayaGay.com Website
Rabbit Resort (Dongtan Beach, Jomtien (038) 303-303 www.rabbitresort.com)
Sanctuary Of Truth www.chiengfa.com
Sugar Palm Beach Hotel (45/16 Moo 12, Jomtien; 662-38-231386)

 

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