On the Gulf of Thailand 100 mi/160 km south of Bangkok, the resort of Pattaya was developed in 1968 and has evolved into a major tourist destination. Pattaya attracts more visitors than anywhere else in Thailand, save Bangkok. Those who haven't been there in the past 20 years will hardly recognize this 5-mi-/8-km-long beach.

Though some of the newer properties are stunning, construction has gotten out of hand—too many new hotels and apartments now line the shore. Because of sewage runoff, the main beach along the strip is periodically unsuitable for swimming, but outlying beach areas are still OK for swimming and other watersports. What is euphemistically called bachelor nightlife—and more graphically acknowledged as sex tourism—is the main attraction for many visitors. Although it is trying to project a more family-friendly atmosphere, Pattaya remains slightly seedy. We recommend avoiding the place—there are other beach areas that are much nicer than Pattaya.

If you decide to visit, the main action is found along Hat Pattaya, or Pattaya Beach, which is backed by shops, restaurants and go-go bars.

Take a glass-bottomed boat to see the coral off the nearby island of Koh Lan. Koh Lin and Koh Pai also offer good diving. Both islands are about an hour's boat ride away. Jomtien Beach, 4 mi/6 km away, is excellent, although it, too, has experienced some growing pains and has many, many condominiums. (Note that Jomtien is often written as Chom Tian on maps and road signs.)

Mini Siam, on Pattaya's outskirts, has more than 100 miniatures of Thailand's major sights, and a nice excursion can be made to the Nong Nooch Orchid Wonderland, a 500-acre/200-hectare private garden full of beautiful orchids and rare palm trees. Elephant and cultural shows are also staged there. Pattaya can be reached by public bus and train.

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