147km (91 miles) SE of Bangkok

The slow evolution of Pattaya from a sleepy fishing town to a sprawling development of high-rise coastal resorts began in 1959 when U.S. Army GIs, stationed in the northeast, came here for R & R. Word spread, and with more U.S. troops arriving to fight in the Vietnam War, the town became a hot destination for weekend partying. The impression left by those early visitors accounts for its ill repute today, propagated by hundreds of go-go clubs, beer bars, and seedy massage parlors along the beachside.

Tourism boomed in the 1980s, and unchecked resort development was exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure upgrades -- so much so that beaches became flooded with raw sewage. Recent years have seen a few civil projects to clean up the bay area with some success, but environmental work is still needed to improve water quality.

Despite this, Pattaya now supports a collection of large, sophisticated international resorts. Smaller hotels set in sprawling, manicured seaside gardens and upscale restaurants dot the landscape. The town is also trying to create an image as a family destination, expat retirement magnet, and convention hub -- and it now has the facilities to back this up. Pattaya's close-knit expatriate community not only is at the forefront in the effort to clean up the town's image, but also is very active in other local activities, particularly in charity-related events.

Neighboring Jomtien is a popular alternative to Pattaya. Less seedy surroundings complement the narrow beaches; however, government reports state that water quality is still under par. Jomtien's best accommodations are private condominiums, but it does have a few high-quality hotels.