Pattaya is not really for the traveler. It is squarely and firmly for the package, beach and MacDonalds tourist, or for those who want easy and inexpensive sex. There are a few quality hotel choices on the beaches just outside the main drag. But most hotels are 3 star "ghettos" for tour group hoards from Europe, the Russian Federation (and yes, the Russian Mafia are rife in Pattaya) and the Middle East, plus large numbers of tolerant guest house style hotels near the town center. One hotel that tries hard though is the Flamingo Hotel (both gay and normal friendly).
Pattaya does have claim to some fame, in that it is Thailand's busiest beach resort, with one third of all visitors actually spending some time there. Also, the large number of water-sport operators and the proximity of some relatively unspoiled islands, does make it a top destination for scuba divers (mostly around soi 5/6). With wind-surfers, jet-skiers and parasailers around Jomtien Beach; the later two being sold to novices who frequently have accidents and then discover they have no insurance. Downtown soi 13 area is where the go-go (ladies for rent) bars tend to concentrate, with sois 1 thru to 3 being almost exclusively for homosexuals. One tour operator that specializes in gay tours is Utopia Tours.
In recent times, there have been some raw sewage and large quantities of litter problems on the (narrow, crowded) beach. And the skyline looks like a battle ground for who can build the tallest hotel. Some useful links for this resort are The Pattaya Mail, Pattaya City Map Site, Thai Students Pattaya Guide, and this "Girly Bar" site Freelancer Bar for those that fit the stereotypes. If you need to find your way around, we can recommend the Pattaya Groovy Map.
For a great impression of Isaan, you can not do much better than Chris Burkill's View of Isaan.
Koh Samet / Rayong
The white powder sands and low cost accommodations of Koh Samet, make it a very popular choice with budget foreign travelers and Thai students from Bangkok alike. On the island, the beach areas of Ao Wong Deuan and Hat Sai Kaew have the most western standard hotels. With neighboring Ao's Hin Kok and Phai offering low budget accommodations. The beaches are literally squeaky clean (the squeak coming from silicone), but they are starting to have a major problem with jet skis and their insurance less operators. Rayong (Ban Phe Harbour) is the mainland port for Samet, and many people chose to stay there and simply take day trips to the island. There are only radio phones on Koh Samet.
Boasts 70% of the gems mined in Thailand. But bargain stone hunting tourists should beware. Low grade stones are heat treated to fool all but the real experts, and red glass ground in gravel chips for days looks like an uncut stone to the foolish amateur! The town itself has almost a French feel to it (they did build the cathedral), and has some of the highest grade fruits to be found. Good Chanthaburi site.
Trat / Koh Chang
Trat is a wooden building rich, market town, with a beautiful / scenic (waterfalls, sea views and forests) road to border crossing town of Ban Hat Lek (with its duty free market). From Laem Ngop pier, you can catch a boat ride to Koh Chang. An island in a series of 52, with some of the very best rain forest in SE Asia. Hat Sai Kaew is the busiest beach area, with the most hotels (some with aircon). Hat Kaibae is less busy, but the beach is not as good. The beaches on the other (Eastern) side of the island are not as good. Koh Chang and Trat area generally is malarial.
Only receives around 2% of Thailand's tourism, yet it is possibly one of the most interesting areas of all Thailand. Prehistoric cave paintings and 4,000 year old bronze culture artifacts predate those of anywhere else in the world. Also, for the bargain hunters, here you will find the finest Thai silks and at the lowest prices. A nice Isaan site is This One, run by a school in England with opportunities for teachers to help / stay in Isaan. The areas in / around Isaan are;
Thailand's oldest National Park, and one of the world's best. With mountains, elephants and even tigers. There are a number of western run guest house / lodge style small hotels around the park grounds, which offer some of the better tours within the park. Here are some good Khao Yai websites; WildAid, Sawatdee, Khorat, Khao Yai Trekking.
Kaen / Udon Thani
The central cities within Isaan. Udon Thani is a maze of concrete buildings for the most part. Although there is a central(ish) park / lake area with an excellent and popular restaurant (Ram Nam) serving genuine Isaan food, such as Serpents Head fish. Khon Kaen is more attractive (actually, less ugly), has more in the way of quality hotels and is further south, so better placed for trips to the silk areas and a restored Khmer temple. Udon Thani is close to Ban Chiang (bronze age site), but the river towns probably have more potential. To help you find your way around "Udon", why not try Udon Thani Information & Maps.
The River Towns
Along the Mekong river, there is a natural border between Thailand and Laos / Cambodia, and some stunning natural vistas. All of the following riverside towns have tourist targeted hotels, although they are normally very basic in terms of quality. However, the route itself more than makes up for any temporary and minor loss of creature comforts. 2 nights in each would make for a very memorable, and relatively tourist free holiday indeed. Chiang Khan with its memorable river trips. Nong Khai the border town for Vientiane in Laos, with riverside promenade and French-Chinese architecture. Ban Ahong with its natural river swimming pools. Nakhon Phanom with a chance to stay in some more creature comfort hotels and good river / Laotian views. That Phanon with its market dominated by Laotian merchants. Mukdahan, with possibly the best Mekong views and renowned Asian market.
Some other notable Isaan / Pattaya sites:
Behand Lungs Centre: Alternative cancer medication pioneers in Udon Thani
If you like wreck diving, Thailand Shipwrecks is a comprehensive resource for divers intending to dive shipwrecks in The Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Although they are based in Pattaya, they detail wrecks throughout Thailand.
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