Things to do in Pattaya

Pattaya’s reputation for seedy nightlife may be justified, but there are still lots of things to do in Pattaya for all types of visitors.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

The best things to do in Pattaya

With its focus on partying and its busy red light districts, Pattaya is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

While the beaches aren't the best, and the city can be a bit too large and noisy, you will still find some interesting things to do in Pattaya if the convenient transport from Bangkok means you end up here for a few days.

Even with all the time I have spent in Thailand over the past 20 or so years, it took me years until I made it to Pattaya.

The problem was its reputation – as a hub for sex tourism and everything that brought with it.

Of course, there are many more things to do in Pattaya that don’t involve the red light districts or the ‘companions’ that many foreign visitors pick up for their stay. But are they worth the visit?

Well, I’m about to give you some suggestions for what to do in Pattaya, and some of them are interesting and fun.

But I have to be honest right at the top here – I wouldn’t really recommend visiting Pattaya. It’s just not one of the best places in Thailand.

Things to see in Pattaya: The main Pattaya Beach

If you want great beaches, you’re better off in popular destinations like Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, or quieter islands like Koh Lanta or Koh Lipe.

If you want nightlife, you’re going to find much better options in Phuket, or even Bangkok.

And if you’re looking for good food or interesting culture, head to Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya.

Really, the best thing going for Pattaya is its convenience – and certainly a two-hour bus ride from Bangkok for about 150 baht (US$4) is a great deal and a much easier way to leave the capital for a few nights than fly to a different part of the country.

Things to do in Pattaya

But the problem is that most of the things to do in Pattaya are just tacky tourist attractions that have been created solely to entertain the hordes of visitors, rather than anything that actually has any meaning or authenticity.

Did you really come all the way to Thailand to see a generic aquarium, a random Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, or (worst of all) an abused elephant or tiger?

Is Pattaya really that bad?

In my opinion, the notoriety that Pattaya has for seediness is justified – but it’s also just one part of the city.

Pattaya’s Walking Street is as much a red light district as a nightlife district, but it’s not an area you need to go through.

The other sois (streets) that are lined with bars full of beckoning ladies (or men) are likewise… avoidable.

And even if you can’t avoid the shadowy figures under trees at night offering their services, or the older Western men with their young Thai friend across from you in a restaurant, you can quite easily ignore them.

Things to do in Pattaya: Nightlife

I think the biggest problem with Pattaya is not the sex tourism, but just that it’s not a particularly nice place to spend your time.

The city is enormous, full of busy streets, meaning it feels nothing like a beach resort in the central areas. Even at the main beach, the sand isn’t relaxing with its hawkers and crowded sun lounges, while the water is not particularly nice.

If you’re looking for other things to do in Pattaya away from the beach, the decent attractions are not close to each other, so you’re going to have to deal with some of the transport issues that come with such a large and overpopulated city.

Alternatively, if you stick to the tourist sights in the central area, you’ll find them uninspiring and overpriced.

Should you visit Pattaya?

When it comes down to it, I would recommend considering other places in Thailand before you choose Pattaya. But, if you do decide to come here, then make sure you do it right.

My first suggestion would be to not stay around central Pattaya, but instead choose one of the northern beaches or somewhere around Jomtien Beach.

Secondly, I would recommend you treat your time here as relaxation, not sightseeing. There are a few key Pattaya attractions that are worth seeing (which I’ll mention very shortly), but most of the others can easily be missed. So just come here and chill by the pool, have a few drinks, and go out for a nice meal or two.

Is Pattaya worth visiting?

And thirdly, don’t expect Pattaya to be a good representation of Thailand. I would compare it to somewhere like Kuta, which is not a great representation of Bali, and certainly nothing at all like the rest of Indonesia.

Pattaya is its own little world. A fishing village until the 1960s, Pattaya has become what it is today because members of the American military came here for relaxation during the Vietnam War.

It grew quickly to accommodate the crowds as word got out, and it’s never looked back. In some ways, Pattaya is what it always was – a place for a hedonistic holiday of booze and sex. To expect it to be anything different is perhaps unfair.

Anyway, with all of that said, I still wanted to offer a list of suggestions for what to do in Pattaya, from the ones I recommend the most to the ones worth avoiding.

Top sights

There are a handful of places in Pattaya that I would recommend going to, either because they are genuinely worthwhile or because they are quintessential Pattaya and will give you an accurate impression of what the city is.

Sanctuary of Truth

Of all the things to do in Pattaya, this is my favourite. It’s a fantastic sight that looks amazing, is interesting to explore, and gives you a lot to think about.

Although it’s described as a museum, the Sanctuary of Truth is really much more like a temple. It’s a huge structure made of entirely of wood filled with hand-carved statues.

Sanctuary of Truth, Pattaya

Construction started in 1981 and is still going – you’ll get to see people making sculptures and putting them in place. Because it’s technically a construction site, you have to wear a hard hat, which seems a little odd in somewhere so spiritual.

But when you visit the Sanctuary of Truth, you’ll discover that the whole design revolves around seven ‘truths’, exploring questions like “Who are we?”, “How do we survive?” and “What is the purpose of life?”.

Sanctuary of Truth

You can come here and just admire the enormous building and the thousands of intricate statues. Or you can also use it as an opportunity to think more about some of these deeper issues.

Koh Larn

In the next section, I’ll tell you more about the best beaches in Pattaya. But if you really want some beautiful sandy strips with crystal clear water, you’ll find the best ones on Koh Larn, not on the mainland Pattaya beaches.

Koh Larn is a small island about seven kilometres off the coast of Pattaya. It’s really easy to reach with regular boat services taking about 40 minutes each way and costing just 30 baht.

The island has about half a dozen beaches, each with their own atmosphere. Some, like Tawaen Beach, are quite busy and have lots of shops and restaurants.

Koh Larn island, Pattaya

But if you want to escape the crowds, you can head somewhere like Ta Yai Beach, which is relaxing and stunning.

I reckon Koh Larn is a highlight of Pattaya and I definitely recommend you come over for the day (or at least half a day).

Walking Street

Love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that Walking Street is one of the most famous attractions in Pattaya, which is why I’m going to talk about it right at the top.

During the day, there’s not much to see here, and many of the businesses are closed. But once the sun goes down, this becomes the city’s main nightlife hub.

Along the 700 metre stretch are dozens of restaurants, bars, and clubs. Although there’s definitely prostitution and strip clubs here, there are also fairly innocent-looking places like sports bars (although they’ll still have women ‘working’ here).

Walking Street, Pattaya

It’s an interesting place to walk along to see some of the activity. You might also want to stop for a casual drink in the earlier part of the evening. But Pattaya’s Walking Street really gets going later in the evening and is probably only worth coming to if you’re looking for a bit of a night out.

Beaches

One of the city’s main drawcards is as a coastal resort close to Bangkok, so of course the beaches are some of the best things to do in Pattaya.

For many visitors, the best beach may seem like the ones that’s closest to you – an easy stroll from your accommodation is certainly a plus.

But there are actually a few beaches in Pattaya (plus those on Koh Larn, which I’ve already mentioned). They each have quite a different atmosphere, so it may be worth travelling to the one that’s right for you.

Pattaya Beach

In the centre of the tourist part of the city, the main Pattaya Beach is a focal point for much of the activity here.

All along its three-kilometre stretch, there’s a busy main road with lots of bars, shops, malls, hotels, and other development on one side, and then the sand on the other.

On the sand, you’ll find plenty of sun lounges that are set up in tight blocks covered by shade cloth. Hawkers walking along the beach will offer massages or water sports like parasailing. And there are lots of boats in the water.

Pattaya Beach

I don’t think this is a particularly nice beach for swimming, although you definitely can get in the water. In fact, it’s not even that pleasant a beach to sunbake on all day, because of all the traffic and the busy activity along the road.

It may be convenient to where you’re staying, so worth a quick visit for a refreshing dip or to hang out for a drink, but I wouldn’t recommend it as one of the best beaches in Pattaya.

Jomtien Beach

At about six kilometres long, Jomtien Beach is about double the length of the main Pattaya Beach, but it has a lot less going on. However, because it’s just to the south of central Pattaya, the northern part has a lot more development, with plenty of bars and restaurants.

As you go further down the sand, it becomes quieter and, even though you’ll notice some high rise buildings, they are more likely to be apartment blocks rather than anything directly related to tourism.

Jomtien Beach, Pattaya

The water is probably no nicer than at Pattaya Beach, which is to say that it’s not the most pleasant place to swim for long periods. But because it’s not as busy and the lounge chair areas on the sand are not quite as cramped, it is much nicer to hang out here for a few hours.

Wong Amat Beach

North of central Pattaya, Wong Amat Beach feels completely different to the beaches to its south, with a much more exclusive and secluded vibe.

This is, for a large part, because it doesn’t have a road between the sand and the coastal buildings. The hotels and restaurants here open up directly onto the sand, so it’s quieter without traffic and quieter without people walking past all day long.

Wong Amat Beach, Pattaya

I think staying at a hotel here at Wong Amat Beach is a fantastic way to avoid many of the bad things you’ll find in Pattaya and is probably the closest to a relaxing tropical holiday you’ll find.

But even if you’re not staying here, coming to spend the day, with some food and drinks at the lovely beach clubs or restaurants, is going to be much more enjoyable than the busier main beaches.

Culture

Even if the beach is your focus, there may be days when you’re looking for something a bit more cultural to do in Pattaya. While it’s not a destination that has a particularly strong heritage or artistic side to it, there are a few interesting places I would recommend.

Wat Phra Yai

Officially it’s called Wat Phra Yai, but most people in Pattaya just refer to it as the ‘Big Buddha Temple’. It’s one of the most important sights in Pattaya and is easy enough to visit while you’re here.

The temple is located at a top of a hill right between the main Pattaya Beach and Jomtien Beach. Surrounded by a small forest, Wat Phra Yai has a sense of serenity when you visit.

Wat Phra Yai

To get to the temple, you’ll need to walk up a long steep staircase that has the large golden Buddha at the top. While this is the focus, there are lots of statues in the same area, along with shrines and other interesting features.

The temple was founded in the 1940s, when Pattaya was still a sleepy fishing village, so it’s one of the few original and authentic places you’ll see here. There’s also a great view across different parts of the city.

Wat Yansangwararam

The next three things I’m going to mention are actually out of town, so you’ll need to consider your transport options if you’re going to visit – but I’m come to that in a second.

Wat Yansangwararam is another Buddhist temple but, because it was only built in 1976, it has a completely different style. It consists of an expansive complex of gardens and lakes and is made up multiple buildings including halls and a monastery.

Wat Yansangwararam, Pattaya

The main stupa is seven stories high and is decorated with a series of intricate carved patterns. On the ground floor, there’s a small exhibition about Buddha and his enlightenment.

Anek Kusala Sala

Just a short walk from Wat Yansangwararam is Anek Kusala Sala, a museum designed to look like a Chinese temple – and, I’ve gotta say, I think this is one of the best attractions in Pattaya.

It was built to house a collection of Chinese art that is even more impressive than you’ll realise at first. As you walk through, you’ll find dozens of bronze statues, jade carvings, large sculptures of Shaolin monks, and wooden shrines.

Anek Kusala Sala, Pattaya

But the highlight here is the small collection of terracotta warriors from the emperor’s mausoleum in Xian. It is very rare to see them outside of China, and I had to double check to make sure they were real!

It’s easy to spend a couple of hours at Anek Kusala Sala if you want to see everything properly (although an hour is probably enough for most people).

Khao Chi Chan

If you look across the fields from Anek Kusala Sala, you’ll be able to see the Khao Chi Chan Buddha because, even though it’s about 2.5 kilometres away, it’s that big!

Khao Chi Chan, also called Buddha Mountain, is an icon of Pattaya because of its enormous image of Buddha that’s 109 metres high.

Khao Chi Chan, Pattaya

The artwork was made by first flattening one side of the mountain, then laser cutting it to draw the Buddha shape, and then adding gold leaf to it.

The giant Buddha image was created on the request of the then-king, Rama IX, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his coronation in 1996, so is considered by Thai people to be an extremely important sight.

Tourist sights

As I’ve already mentioned, there are quite a few things to do in Pattaya that have been created purely for tourists – in other words, attractions established purely to make money from all the visitors.

That doesn’t mean they’re terrible, and people certainly enjoy going to them if it’s a good fit for the kind of holiday you want. You may find one or two of these options are a good way to spend a few hours.

Nong Nooch Tropical Garden

About 20 kilometres south of central Pattaya, Nong Nooch Tropical Garden is one of the region’s best known tourist sites.

Across a large 200-hectare site, there are a series of different garden zones landscaped in themes like the Cactus Garden, the French Garden (inspired by Versailles), and Stonehenge Garden (with a replica of the ancient site).

The main activity here is exploring these different areas, although there are also other experiences here like cultural shows and massage parlours. (Unfortunately there are also elephant shows and other questionable zoo-like features.)

It’s easy to spend half a day at Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, and you’ll also need to factor in transport here – although you can combine a visit with some of the nearby cultural sights like Anek Kusala Sala and Khao Chi Chan Buddha.

Ramayana Water Park

In the same area as Nong Nooch, you’ll find the Ramayana Water Park, the largest of its kind in Thailand.

It’s pretty much what you would expect from a large waterpark and I actually think this is one of the best touristy things to do in Pattaya because it’s a genuinely fun day out (especially for families).

There are more than 20 waterslides, with different degrees of difficulty to suit various ages. There’s also a 600-metre-long lazy river that you can float down slowly if you’re feeling… well, lazy.

Themed like an ancient city, Ramayana Water Park has got a fun and interesting vibe, with several food options and cabanas to hang out in.

Pattaya Floating Market

The first thing to know about the Pattaya Floating Market is that this is not a genuine market, but rather one that has been constructed on the outskirts of the city for tour buses to stop at.

But if you know that, and you’re happy to see a sanitised recreation of a floating village, then it may suit you. There are certainly quite a few shops and activities inside – the problem is that they’re overpriced and inauthentic.

Pattaya Floating Market

You can opt to take a boat trip along the waterway but this isn’t necessary and, again, is quite expensive. Even with the admission fee (200 baht per person) you’ll need to pay for most of the experiences here.

To be honest, I would avoid the Pattaya Floating Market, but some people may like it as a photo opportunity.

Mini Siam

There’s quite a nice story to the founding of Mini Siam. It was opened in 1985 by a Thai man who was interested in art and architecture and wanted to show the world’s landmarks to people who may never have a chance to visit them.

There’s a section dedicated to Thailand, with more than 50 miniature versions of national landmarks like Ayutthaya, the Bridge of the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, and temples of Sukhothai.

The international area is about the same size and has almost 40 miniature models of famous places from around the world, like the Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Sphinx in Cairo.

This is a cute little attraction that delivers what it promises. You may not need to spend long at Mini Siam and it’s probably not the best value (it’s a bit rundown these days), but it passes the time for families.

Art in Paradise

One of the reasons Art in Paradise is popular is because it’s just a ten-minute walk from the main beach. The other main reason is that it offers the perfect Instagram fodder.

Art in Paradise is a 3D art gallery, which basically means the paintings are on the walls and the floors, acting as optical illusions when you stand in them – a room appearing upside down and like you’re falling off a bridge, for instance.

Some of artworks are videos, so it look like you’re interacting with animals, as an example. But ultimately nobody’s probably going to be fooled by the quality.

It’s a bit of fun but it’s not so jaw-dropping that this is a must-see. Art in Paradise probably more suited to families or people with social media followers who’d be impressed by this kind of thing.

To be avoided

When you visit Pattaya, you’ll see advertising for plenty of tourist attractions – and not all of them are worth visiting. You may even see the attractions themselves as you’re walking about or driving to other areas.

As always, different places will appeal to different kinds of travellers. But, if I can offer a bit of advice – please avoid these well known Pattaya attractions.

Tiger Park

As the name suggests, Tiger Park is where you can go to see tigers. But, despite what the name says, I wouldn’t describe this as a park. It’s more like a very small zoo full of enclosures in which about 300 of the big cats are held.

One of the main things people do here is have their photo taken with a tiger, which I think is really problematic.

It should be clear to anyone that it is not normal for an animal like this to sit peacefully posing with humans. The tigers have been mistreated so badly that they’re scared to do anything or they’re drugged to near sedation (the more likely option).

You may think you’re going to get an amazing photo to show your friends, but this is actually a really depressing place and all you’re doing is supporting animal cruelty.

Elephant Village

Just like the Tiger Park, the Pattaya Elephant Village promises you a special animal encounter but does that through practices that many people would consider to be abusive.

It offers elephant rides and elephant shows – which are only possible because the animals have been trained over the years with beatings and other cruel methods. It may look fun to you in the moment, but there are awful things going on in the background.

One thing that may be confusing – there is a different attraction in the region called the Pattaya Elephant Sanctuary (note the ‘sanctuary’ rather than ‘village’).

It actually is a relatively ethical institution where the focus is on the rehabilitation of the animals. You’ll be able to see them and probably feed them, but there are no rides or shows.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

It’s not really fair for me to put this museum of oddities in the same category as two unethical sites that I consider to be animal abusers. Ripley’s Believe It or Not is clearly not in the same league.

But, to me, it is emblematic of one of the main problems here in Pattaya – that attractions have been created just to cater to tourists who are bored and think they should be doing something, even if that something is rather pointless and extremely overpriced.

So, yes, avoid Ripley’s Believe It or Not because it’s just a silly waste of money. But also avoid all the other ridiculous museums and tacky tourist sights that have brochures in your hotel lobby, because most of them are not going to make your holiday any better!

Leave a comment