As the neon lights shimmered, a cacophony of giggling girls shrieked and screamed, as the sound waves bounced off my eardrums rendering me almost deaf. Traversing the length and breadth of Walking Street in Pattaya makes you question reality as we know it. Is this real life? Or is it just an illusion amidst this slipstream of reality we decode known as visible light? Pattaya is akin to its own republic where anything goes. I had to ask myself the question, “Was Pattaya always like this, and if not, how did it become this way, and even more interestingly what was it like before?”
“You really couldn’t believe what Pattaya was like in the 1960s,” said John Holmes (no relation to the famed porn-star of the same name), Missouri-native and Vietnam War veteran. At the beginning of the 60s, Pattaya was just a small yet beautiful fishing village where life rolled by at a pedestrian pace, sleepy and charming, encapsulating the natural abundance that makes Thailand so special. During the Vietnam War, Pattaya became a place of “Rest and Relaxation” for American servicemen on short-term leave from the rigors of the frontline.
“News travelled fast,” said John. “All of a sudden, word was out that the American soldiers were spending lots of time in the village and had more money than sense.” Indeed, Pattaya’s reputation rapidly grew as a place where you could find anything you were looking for in terms of female companionship. “Pretty Thai girls flocked to Pattaya, kick-starting the party atmosphere that still remains its hallmark today over 50 years later.”
When the American warships sailed into Pattaya Bay, there were hundreds, and sometimes thousands of tired and stressed soldiers desperately seeking solace within this beautiful beachside location. “It really was like all our Christmases and birthday parties all came at once,” said John. “When word got out that an American warship was coming to town, Thai girls were sleeping on the beaches waiting for us to arrive.”
Impoverished Thai girls from the rural Northeastern region of Isaan flocked to Pattaya, seeking good fortune in the hope of sending money back to their families and improving their standard of living. “These were the days when the 500 baht note was the highest denomination,” said John. “Most of the girls had very rarely even seen a 500 baht note before, let alone actually owned one, but they acclimatized to that quite quickly.”
In the 1960s, Walking Street was little more than a shack-lined street, dusty and dirty. No-one could imagine the changes over half a century later. “We really couldn’t believe our luck,” said John. “The beaches were beautiful and untouched, the water was transparent and clean, the bevy of babes were astounding to young and naive lads such as us, and there wasn’t a single 7/11 in sight.”
The funniest thing about John’s story was as soon as the war was over, he hot-stepped back to Pattaya and has been living here on and off the past 50 years. “Lots of guys who stood alongside me in Vietnam couldn’t wait to get back here after the war. Going back to live in Birmingham, Alabama, was not even an option to guys who had experienced a brave and exciting new world,” said John. “To be honest, Pattaya changed us for life, and things could never be the same again.” We all know that feeling John!