Until the late 1950’s, Pattaya was a small fishing village like many others in the Gulf of Thailand. Known as Pad Tha Ya, which means the ‘wind blows from the southwest to the northeast at the beginning of the rainy season’, the name eventually became Pattaya.
Before 1956, Pattaya was just a subdistrict of Chonburi and didn’t even have the status of a municipality. This covered only the Naklua area (North Pattaya today), which was extended to South Pattaya in 1964. In the late ’50s, Pattaya started to expand into a resort to attract visiting American GIs, who had money to spend, from a base in Nakhon Ratchasima.
US navy men from nearby Sattahip – particularly during the Vietnam war – enabled great expansion of facilities available to visiting forces by local entrepreneurs, and Pattaya became an official centre of ‘R&R’ for American troops.
They were flown into nearby U-Tapao Airport – built for American use at the time – and hotel accommodation, as well as shops, bars and services in Pattaya, grew rapidly due to the increasing demand.
Many Thais, particularly from Bangkok, were also regular visitors for the weekend; many renting, or buying, small bungalows and beach huts in the area. From that point on, Pattaya grew quickly as a holiday destination for both Thais and foreigners, and in 1978 the national government granted it city status to reflect this. Pattaya City came into being on 29th November, 1978, and this anniversary is celebrated every year.
The 1980s and ‘90s were also a boom time for Pattaya, with a large influx of tourists from European countries, particularly in their winter. Later, as well-heeled visitors moved south to the Andaman coast and Samui, a new generation of Russian, Eastern European, and Arabian nationals began arriving. The city’s administration grew to cater for the increasing size and demands of Thailand’s biggest resort town, which now receives several million visitors a year, both Thai and foreign.
The city’s infrastructure has also grown to keep pace with increasing development, with construction of many condos in both Naklua and Jomtien, as well as the in-filling of any available open space in Central and South Pattaya. This has necessitated large public and private long-term investment in major projects. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, which opened in the summer of 2006, means Pattaya is just over an hour away by road.
Due to its proximity to Bangkok, and partly as a legacy of the GI R&R activities during the Vietnam War, Pattaya developed a reputation as a party city; a badge it still holds today. With this came an influx of girls from the poor Isaan region of north-eastern Thailand who supply the ever-growing sex trade, which is very much part of Pattaya.
Pattaya also has its serious side, though, and it provides for a growing community of foreigners employed in the burgeoning eastern seaboard industries of the area. An estimated 40-50,000 foreigners from all parts of the world live permanently in Pattaya, supporting a large infrastructure of restaurants, bars, clubs, societies and services set up specifically to support them. This number swells considerably with the part-time residents who spend part of their year here. This is evident in the extraordinary boom in construction and property prices the city has witnessed in recent times. More on Pattaya for expats.
Pattaya is a modern city and you won’t find any old buildings, simply because there aren’t any, although the Buddhist temples (wats) have all the character and splendour of older buildings. This resort city has grown apace with the influx of visitors, and will no doubt continue to do so.