Pattaya gained its name from Phraya Tak who later became known as King Taksin the Great who marched along with his followers from Ayutthaya to Chanthaburi in 1767.
At that time and indeed up until the mid-1950’s the town largely paled into insignificance, dwarfed by the much larger Naklua to the north and Rayong to the south
During the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, for the most part Pattaya was just a small fishing village with isolated, palm covered beaches that attracted no-one apart from fisherman. During this period, very little changed from one generation to the next. However, in 1948 Mr. Parinya Chawalitthamrong saw that Pattaya had potential and purchased large sections of land with the intention of developing Pattaya into a Mecca for tourism.
The next significant development for Pattaya came in 1956 when Naklua became officially recognised having only previously been known as a sub-district of Chonburi, so small that it wasn’t even given the status of municipality. In 1964 the official recognition for the area was extended to cover South Pattaya.
The mid to late 1950’s saw the first regular visitors from Bangkok start to venture down to Pattaya – braving rough roads and journeys that could take more than 8 hours. These visitors started to realise that Pattaya had plenty to offer in terms of crystal clear, clean waters and diving opportunities. As more people start to visit so the restaurants and bars started to emerge. Pattaya had started to become more than just a sleepy fishing village, it had begun to evolve into what we know today.
Pattaya’s first big break came on 29th June 1959 when a reported five US Military transport trucks laden with GIs arrived in the city from their base in Nakhon Ratchasima. The marines, on R&R rented houses at the southern end of Pattaya beach from Phraya Sunthorn and stayed for around a week.
Depending on which stories you read, it seems that on this visit the friendly locals had made quite an impact on the gentleman and their adventures must have been told to countless other GIs as groups of marines kept returning to the same place – the area that would now be classed as Walking Street. (other stories claim that the second visit wasn’t until 29th April 1961)
As the number of GIs started to increase, the village of Pattaya started to grow and become increasingly focused on catering for the GIs needs. Everything they should want for their break was supplied – restaurants, bars and of course friendly local girls on hand to provide the marines with ‘company’.
The first recorded restaurants and bars in Pattaya were Charlie’s Hideaway, The Nipa Hut, The Coral Reef, The Outrigger, The Blue Pataya, Suzanne’s and the Seagull which all opened in the early 1960’s. The first major hotel to open was the Nipa Lodge that opened in 1965, just around the time that America became involved in the Vietnam War.
It was the Vietnam War that was to prove a major milestone in Pattaya’s history and seemed to send a gradually germinating tourist industry into overdrive. 1967 saw the first US Air Force flight operations over Vietnam and these took off from the Royal Thai Navy Base at U-Tapao. Being close to the Pattaya, the now thriving village was the obvious destination for troops and civilians looking for relaxation and fun. Such was the popularity of the place, the US military established an R&R Reception Centre for US Servicemen in Pattaya – flying them direct to Bangkok from Saigon.
As US war efforts grew, so too did the number of GIs visiting Pattaya with a reported 6,000 troops visiting the area for 5 days each month by December 1967. The troops were cash rich and desperate to spend their wealth in the local bars so naturally more bars opened and with it came more girls.
Everyone wanted a piece of the pie and by the following year tourist numbers in Thailand had swollen to 335,000. Thailand and Pattaya had become a destination of choice.
One of the most famous restaurants in Pattaya’s history, Dolf Riks was opened in the summer of 1969. By 1970 the popularity of Pattaya had extended beyond the GIs, it was now popular with the budget traveller and hippie generation. Chinese-run guesthouses and lodgings started to emerge for the lower budget end whilst jewellers, Sikh tailors, souvenir shops and girls catered for our free-spending US friends. More hotels were needed and so they sprung up; it seemed that whatever was demanded, was provided – todays Pattaya had been born.
The early 1970’s saw visitors from Europe start to join the large numbers still coming from the States and it was a sign that the rest of the world was starting to become aware of everything that Pattaya had to offer. However, as the number of guests increased so too did the problems for the city. The early infrastructure that had been put in place by Parinya Chawalitthamrong was not designed to cope with these large visitor numbers. Lack of fresh water, electricity and poor drainage started to cause concern, concerns that would last for years and have only recently been properly addressed.
Naturally as visitor numbers swelled more hotels started to appear and the skyline of central Pattaya started to become more akin to what we know today. It was during the 1970’s that the Siam Bayhorse, Royal Cliff, Orchid Lodge (now the Amari) and Merlin (now the Hard Rock) emerged and the big Thai families started to recognise Pattaya’s prospects and appreciate that the city wasn’t just for the US GIs.
By the end of 1975 there were 2,600 hotel rooms in Pattaya but this coincided with the mass US military withdrawal in 1976 which sadly saw tourist numbers drop by 50% almost overnight. Something needed to be done and fast action was required, but no time scales were properly established. U-Tapao was to become a commercial airport once the US had left but no one knew when this would be completed. Casinos started to be mentioned, as too did high speed rail links – ideas that are still floated today. Pattaya was struggling and things wouldn’t improve for another two years.
It was in 1976 that Naklua and Pattaya started to be recognised as one in administrative and infrastructure terms and the government promulgated the Pattaya City Act in 1978 which officially join the pair to form the fifth local government municipality and therefore granted city status. It was from here that Pattaya would never look back.
1977 would be another year of struggle with the only memorable visitors being unwanted Vietnamese refugees arriving on a trawler on 2nd October. 1978 saw the birth of the now famous Tahitian Queen Agogo and 3,150 hotel rooms were available in the city and by 1980 this had grown to 7,000. Despite a flat global economy, in 1983 the country still registered 2.2 million foreign tourists and in 1984 the number of hotels rooms available had reached 11,000 but by 2005 it had grown to a staggering 35,000.
Since the early 1980’s Pattaya thailand has seen rapid growth in the number of tourists coming to the city with only internal political turmoil and global financial crises causing any significant drops. The 1997, collapse of the Thai economy saw the Thai baht reach record lows which was the catalyst to a massive rise in tourism. Pattaya had gained a reputation as an unspoilt haven and European visitor numbers were increasing rapidly but sadly the city had obtained an image that was somewhat tarnished by sleaze.
The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw affluent Russians start to arrive along with concerted efforts to improve the city’s image. The city was starting to closely resemble what we know today and with the integration of Thailand into ASEAN at the end of 2015 the prospects for the city looked even greater.