Pattaya’s story as a resort begins in the mid 1960s, when the small Royal Thai Navy airfield of U-Tapao was rebuilt by the United States to handle the B52 bombers that were being used during the Vietnam War. This resulted in a large number of U.S. servicemen being stationed at Sattahip, and the beach at Pattaya being used for R&R.
By 1971 Pattaya was beginning to attract non-military visitors from Bangkok. Recent upgrades to the Sukhumvit Highway had reduced the bus journey to only two hours, and the hotel accommodation was improving.
Originally visitors had stayed in guesthouses and beach huts, but the Nipa Lodge (now the Nova Lodge) had opened, nearby was the Pattaya Palace, while the Ocean View Hotel made up a trio of top-class hotels on the beachfront. It was to be another couple of years before the Royal Cliff Resort opened.
The main Pattaya nightlife activity was at South Pattaya where there were a few restaurants, the most notable of which stood where World Gems now stands and was owned by a Dutchman named Dolf Riks. An enormous tamarind tree stood in the middle of the intersection between South Pattaya Road (now Walking Street) and Beach Road, where it was quite naturally a magnet for intoxicated drivers.
There was very little else at Pattaya at this time, but the 1970s were going to see an explosive growth. In 1978 Pattaya was given city status, and by the end of the decade the resort was already taking the shape that we see today.
As for those two great tourism centers in the south of Thailand, Phuket and Samui, they were completely unknown. It is tempting to say that they were backpacker destinations, but backpackers had yet to emerge as a distinct species. Only the more adventurous travellers along the hippy trail got as far as Bangkok: most of them did a U-turn at India. The wilds of southern Thailand were just a little bit too far away.