Notorious for its thriving sex industry, Pattaya has long attracted those in search of a good time. We've all seen the t-shirts claiming 'good guys go to heaven and bad guys go to Pattaya', but what is it that attracts so many members of the gay community to this commercialised beach resort? The answer is, of course, Pattaya's naughty nightlife.
Pattaya has cashed in on the gay scene in recent years with numerous bars catering to a gay clientele, not to mention the enormously popular cabaret shows performed by kathoey, transwomen who are also commonly referred to as ladyboys. These unique performances add a touch of Moulin Rouge to the otherwise largely unglamorous resort and make for a memorable spectacle for the many gay men who come here specifically for the ladyboys.
First-time gay and lesbian visitors are often overwhelmed by Pattaya nightlife and its large area devoted solely to gay entertainment - Pattayaland soi 3. Lined with male go-go bars and nightclubs packing in a largely western crowd, the neon-lit district attracts equal numbers of curious tourists and punters looking to pay for sexual services.
Each bar has a number of staff at the entrance whose job it is to attract customers. In addition, the streets are lined with 'freelancers' whose presence multiplies by the end of the evening. Men and women walking around Pattayaland at night, also known as Boyz Town, should be ready to encounter friendly yet persistent representatives of the gay venues.
As with girlie bars in Thailand, inside Pattaya gay bars foreigners are made to feel welcome by staff that readily spark up friendly conversation with customers. The male-oriented gay bars are run by mainly young Thai guys whose feminine and petite nature often appeal to western tastes. Customers at these bars are under no obligation to do anything more than have a drink, but if they do like the look of one of the boys working, it is easy enough to agree on a price for any additional services.
Popular favourite Pattaya gay bars on Pattayaland soi 3 are Boyz Boyz Boyz, attracting both foreigners and locals with its dance floor and nightly shows, and the Throb/Splash nightclub opposite Le Cafe Royal, a popular 'gay' hotel. For happy hour, head for Panorama, a large and lively gay bar in the heart of the Boyz Town district.
"I'm amazed at how relaxed the atmosphere is in many of Pattayland's gay bars", says Hank, a first-time gay visitor from the Netherlands. "Of course, you have your regular pick-up joints, but many of the bars here offer more than just friendly guys", he adds.
Not all gay visitors to Pattaya come here from the sex industry mind you, with many enjoying the cabaret shows and go-go bar performances along with their partners. The popular cabaret shows in Pattaya such as Alcazar and Tiffany's are a hit with all types of visitors and are highly rated for their ornately costumed and often bear-breasted kathoey dancers.
The lesbian scene is more discreet, with a lack of venues devoted to women looking for women. Nevertheless, most of the bars welcome lesbians and there are many prostitutes who are happy to service women. Just like men, lesbian women can enjoy the go-go bars though they should expect to be in the minority. Thai tom girls, or dee, mostly take on a male appearance and can also be found in many of the regular, heterosexual bars and clubs around town.
Megan, a 30-year-old lesbian from Brisbane says the lesbian scene in Pattaya is healthy enough. "Anyone can walk into any bar and watch one of the shows or enjoy the company of the pretty Thai girls", she says. "Many of the girls at the bars prefer the company of a farang female", she adds.
There is however inevitably a seedy side to Pattaya's gay and lesbian scene, with many gay tourists rejecting the entertainment on offer here. Even worse, a fare share of tourists end up getting ripped off while enjoying the bar scene. The Pattaya authorities have tried to clean up and contain the entertainment areas in recent years with some success, but as with all sex industry hubs, Pattayaland has its downsides.
Despite its controversial nature, the raunchy nightlife scene on offer in Pattaya remains a melting pot for gay and lesbian visitors, and a good income earner for the many gay and straight Thais who work the scene.