After several days spent in Bangkok enjoying Khao San road and the local museums, galleries and Grand Palace (an entire day trip of splendour in itself) the time was right to head to the beach. In the pamphlets and brochures, Pattaya is a glorious stretch of white sandy beaches and azure ocean, replete with smiling locals and finely-bronzed tourists enjoying the wide open oceanside. Much like the rest of Thailand, really, Pattaya is not what it looks like. Nothing, in fact, could have prepared me for the sights that awaited me the moment I stepped off the shuttle bus.
Once off the shuttle, we were promptly told by our now-paid transport service that they cannot take us as far as Jomtien Lodge, the place where I had hoped we could locate easily and quickly. Leaving the money-grubbing tourist agency behind, we boarded the nearest beach taxi vehicle. The Pattaya beach taxis are essentially bakkie’s rigged with a canopied back, replete with padded seating for 8-12 passengers. Upon boarding, I was seated opposite a thin-looking American flanked by two of his fine escorts. Once off down the road, the American enquired as my nationality. After replying, he remarked “so you speak English, right?”. What then followed was a rather one-sided dialogue between myself and this man, who swiftly introduced himself as ‘Vegas Dave’ and that he was a famous dude back in the states. Jolly good. Then Vegas Dave exclaimed “Man I could sure use some blow right now.” The taxi’s engine was loud, so I figured I’d maybe misheard this good fellow. Surely he wasn’t talking about a hankering for some fine Bolivian Marching Powder? Alas, Vegas Dave then beamed “actually, I think I have some with me! Do you want some?” as he ruffled through his baggy shorts for his packet of cocaine. I declined, being not particularly partial to habitual drug use and all that. This was Pattaya after 5 minutes.
It turned out Vegas Dave was a 46 year-old American who had been staying in Pattaya for about two weeks, rutting with anything and everything, snorting coke and generally having a grand old time. He’d invited me to come play at his house – the sky lounge in a 5 star hotel on the beach – but I suffer from vertigo, so I politely declined, whilst trying not to appear disturbed that this drug-addled sex-fiend was my new best friend. My last sight of Vegas Dave was of his pale bum stumbling out of the taxi while his two Thai prostitutes tried in desperation to pull his pants up. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what Pattaya is about…
The beachfront is inhabited by a fair mix of English, German, Russian, Portuguese and other european geriatrics, the majority of whome are accompanied by seriously underaged Thai escorts, all clambering for their patron’s money. The beach was a crowded morass of beach chairs, jetskis and shady-looking pimps trying to sell you anything from hookers to speedboat rides. Pot-bellied Germanics dressed in nothing but a speedo is an image that will stay with me to my dying days. The bars and restuarants are full of these people, all with the same purpose. The malls and fast-food chains are packed with horrid little chav children, scoffing Burger King and generally acting like little savages while their parents run off on some lewd adventure. If I ever have children, and they wear gold neck chains and gaudy rings, so help me god I will put them up for adoption!
I realise many Europeans like to travel to the beach for a holiday in the sun and surf, but I honestly had no idea that there were places in this world where they fly halfway around the world in order to hire a Thai girl a third of their age and prance about in speedos, swigging beer and letting their filthy offspring run around like feral cats.
At first I was a bit shocked, to be sure. Vegas Dave was interesting, but I’d foolishly assumed it was a minor, albeit colourful, experience. But Vegas Dave, if anything, is the lord of his kingdom, rather than a minor anomaly. For the first time in a long, long while, I found myself offended. Well and truly offended. As long as I live I think I shall hold Pattaya as the bastion of vice and sin that I shall never, ever condone or accept. The level of depravity contained in that 2km stretch of beach represents to me the ultimate corruption of Thailand by the tourist industry. The place is completely ruined by tourism, and yet it thrives only because of the voracious appetites of the European pensioners. During the Vietnam War Pattaya was the only airforce base in Thailand that could host B52 bombers, thus making it a large port of call for US forces, and therefore creating a burgeoning tourist industry. Much like Bangkok, the US presence ignited the fires of tourism that have ultimately overtaken Thailand and has begun corrupting it indefinitely.
Pattaya is the epitome of this corruption. Certainly in the South of Thailand the coast has been regulated somewhat more responsibly, and I cannot draw too general a picture. But ultimately I have to wonder what other once-wonderful locations have been utterly spoiled by the developed world’s hunger for sex, sun and surf.