The lively beachside resort city, not far from Bangkok

Basking on the Gulf of Thailand 150km southeast of Bangkok, Pattaya has outgrown its bawdy past and these days is Thailand’s fastest growing resort town with sophisticated restaurants, religious temples, secluded coves and numerous golf courses that attract more than eight million visitors a year. It also makes for an ideal beach break, for those wanting a weekend respite from the intensity of the capital Bangkok.

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The best beaches, bars and family fun

Beaches and nightlife were the big draws for visitors to Pattaya some 50 years ago, when it was a quiet fishing village known as Pad Tha Ya. In that sense, not much has changed. These days however Pattaya’s main beach is dense with deckchairs so head south over the hill to Jomtien for wider, whiter sands, or north to the little coves of Wong Amat. The best (and most fun) way to get around town is on one of the ‘baht buses’, the blue pickup trucks that loop constantly along Beach and Second roads. There are bench seats in the back and passengers can hop on or off anywhere (it’s a flat fare of ten Thai baht).

For family fun, the surrounding Chonburi province has theme parks such as Nong Nooch Tropical Garden (the flamingo garden is fun and full of animal sculptures) and Ramayana Water Park, with plenty of the adrenalin-pumping waterslide thrills that kids’ love. Near the latter is Buddha Mountain, where a 130-metre high image is etched in gold on a cliff-facewhile closer to town, on the aptly-named Buddha Hill sits a giant golden Buddha and offers a superb viewpoint overlooking Pattaya Bay.

However, Pattaya’s most spectacular attraction remains the Sanctuary of Truth at Wong Amat. This extraordinary, all-wood structure topped by a 105-metre spire, honours an amalgam of eastern religions and mythology. Other child-friendly activities guaranteed to get the thumbs up include the interactive Art in Paradise Museum with fun 3D wall paintings and the weird but wonderful Ripleys Believe It or Not museum, which has an infinity maze, wax figures of the famous and a haunted house.

The Gulf region around Pattaya could easily be dubbed the Golf of Siam, with a number of courses within reach, including Siam Country Club, Laem Chabang International and Greenwood Club (designed by the legendary Peter Thompson). Less physically exerting are the Thai-style massages available everywhere in town: one of the best places is the Thai Blind Massage Institute in the Jomtien Complex shopping centre. More shopping (especially designer fashion labels) and plenty of excellent restaurants can be found in Central Festival mall, part of the same bay front complex as the Hilton Pattaya.

Nightlife is still one Pattaya’s biggest attractions and many parts of town do not really get going until dusk when scores of bars start filling with people. South Pattaya’s Walking Street has a garish strip of go-go bars, buskers and wide-eyed tour groups but for more family entertainment, book tickets to the Alangkarn Extravaganza Show – a dazzling performance that tells the story of Thai culture through music and circus-style acrobatics.

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