I spent the past year marooned in Singapore due to a complicated pregnancy, followed by the tiring newborn phase. Once my baby boy started sleeping through the night, I jumped at the chance to join my husband -- who is in the U.S. Navy -- on a work trip to Pattaya.
With the plane tickets purchased, I turned to friends who have lived and traveled to Thailand with kids for advice on things to do in Pattaya. Their response surprised me. One friend described the city as "seedy," while another said her family wouldn't travel there due to "violence."
"Oh no," I thought. "What did I get myself into?!"
Well, I would soon find out. My husband, who had been to Pattaya before, assured me the hotel we were staying at was nice and our family would be safe while in the coastal town. Trusting him, my family of four in June boarded a plane in Singapore destined for Bangkok. Once in Thailand's capital, we hired a taxi driver to take us south to Pattaya.
It was late at night by the time we arrived in the city, which sits on the Gulf of Thailand. As the taxi driver weaved in and out of traffic, I focused on the scenery outside the car window. Packs of scooters zipped around us. Pick up trucks with long benches in the back stopped along the street to give paying customers a lift. Billboards and signs representing the restaurants, bars and shops that lined the streets vied for my attention, but there were so many that they ended up blurring together as we drove past.
That night and throughout our stay in Pattaya, I kept my eyes peeled for anything that could be construed as seedy or violent as my friends warned. I did in fact see some things that made me raise my eyebrows. Not far from the hotel, I saw an area dubbed "Walking Street," which apparently is the go-to place for nightclubs, go-go bars and "working ladies." There were also dark alleys, run-down buildings and people loitering on the sidewalks and streets who made me nervous.
But I avoided all of that. I'm not into go-go bars, so I didn't visit them. I also didn't venture out at night alone. Instead, I turned to the trusty hotel concierge for advice on how to find and experience the family-friendly side of Pattaya. And, I was thrilled to learn that there were plenty of things to do for a mama with two little kids.
While my husband Clayton worked, the kids and I splashed around the hotel pool and took a walk on the beach. We also climbed stairs leading to a very big Buddha.
And, we got a hill-top view of the city.
The kids and I watched a performance showcasing Thai dancing and boxing.
My daughter fed elephants, sting rays and fish during our stay in Pattaya too.
We listened to the U.S. Navy band Orient Express play at a local school and witnessed first hand how music truly is a universal language. What a treat to see the children of Pattaya smiling and dancing the afternoon away to American music.
We also experienced how warm and friendly the Thai people were, especially when it came to children. Locals offered to help me lug my stroller up stairs a number of times. Some even wanted to hold my baby.
My family wasn't the only one visiting Pattaya. Whether we were at the hotel or out and about town, we met families from around the world, including India, China and Switzerland -- all of them looking to experience the family friendly side of Pattaya.
The city may not have a spotless reputation, but the kids and I enjoyed our time there and we wouldn't hesitate to go back.