Those who pedal the Pattaya as ‘Sin City’ line have engulfed social media with their particular take on life here, so much so that I’m numb now to what I read on-line. Believe them, and Pattaya is a one-dimensional city of hedonism. Believe me, the father of eight year old children who has chosen to live here with his family, and it’s not. Well, I may be outnumbered on-line but this is my blog, so you’re going to hear my side of the story.
Don’t think for a second that I’m sugar-coating Pattaya. There are some unsavoury parts to the city and anyone who has heard from a charity like the Hand to Hand Foundation will know that behind the bright lights are some harrowing stories. But what about the other side of the story; what’s the draw for a family?
We’ve had some great street food, particularly from the night markets. My top tip: cast aside anxieties about your children’s teeth and buy them a banana pancake from any number of street-side peddlers. Batter, eggs, condensed milk, banana, chocolate sauce, more condensed milk. What’s not to love?
It’s a beach resort which attracts tourists from around the world, so prepare to thrill your family with a bewildering array of restaurants serving dishes from around the world. And some of them are really good. We’ve taken a particular shine to a few Thai and Turkish restaurants, but almost anything can be found in the city. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll still disappointingly point to the club sandwich on the menu but, hey, exposure to world cuisine is the first step to acceptance, isn’t it?
Goodbye to two-hour birthday parties in damp village halls. Hello to poolside parties in grand hotels on Beach Road. Seven sun-filled hours of banana boat racing, water polo, dancing in a foam disco and more, all under the watchful eye of a team of attentive party organisers. And all the while, the adults sip cocktails in the shade of a cabana…
The natural world
You’d have to drag my family kicking and screaming to the beach in the centre of Pattaya, but head down the coast past Jomtien for some great stretches of coastline – we love those little purple shells you can pick up on the coast south of Rayong. Further down still are the mangrove swamps, great for birdwatching. Inland, the woodland and hills around Khao Kheow – dotted with Chinese cemeteries and golf courses – offer a welcome respite from the pineapple plantations and tapioca fields surrounding Pattaya. But don’t feel you have to travel far with the kids to find nature: take a walk around your local neighbourhood – we’ve spotted snake skins, a praying mantis, countless lizards, and much more.
The chaos of Pattaya invigorates our family life. Lights flash, mopeds swarm, unidentifiable smells waft from every shop front, Thai signs baffle. Pattaya is alive and unruly and keeps children and adults alike on their toes. Will our enthusiasm for this chaos ever wear off? Probably, but right now it’s a fantastic antidote to the Hobbiton we’ve come from. I want my kids to know that there’s life beyond neatly-trimmed lawns.
Cinemas, bowling alleys, fishing lakes, water parks, paintball facilities, go-cart tracks, driving ranges and more. Quite simply, you’ve really got no excuse for letting your kids get bored in this city.
The Thai people we’ve met in Pattaya love children. From our local vet to the bank tellers to supermarket cashiers – they invariably respond to my children in a friendly way and have made them feel very welcome in the city. And try this experiment. Take your children mountain biking around the rural roads on the outskirts of Pattaya, call out Sawadee Krab (“hello”) to every Thai you see working in a field, fixing a car, frying food or tidying the front lawn and keep track of how many call back the friendly greeting. It will be pretty close to a full house. You don’t get that in England.
As a family, we talk about what we see in Pattaya. Not everything, of course, because some topics are better broached with older children. But if you want, as I do, to draw your children out of their ex-pat bubble and invite them to think deeply about the world they live in then find a way to link up with ‘Community Partners’. A school like Regents has an outstanding Community Partnership programme (see a recent blog post on Community Partnerships by Paul Crouch) which does precisely that, encouraging children to form ideas and identify right from wrong under the watchful gaze of thoughtful adults.
Pattaya will never be everyone’s ideal destination, but don’t be fooled by the caricatures: your family has a lot to gain from the city – and give back to it.
Regents International School Pattaya