PATTAYA, Thailand — Start by selecting a lovely but lonely stretch of bug-infested beach where the only sound is the chatter of a few fishermen and the soft lapping of water on snow-white sand.
Then add a cadre of war-weary American soldiers on R&R leave from Vietnam, wait a few years for word to spread about a new-found paradise and suddenly you have a cross between Acapulco and Coney Island on your hands.
It's no exaggeration to say that the turned-on and neon-festooned strand of South Pattaya Beach has a lineup of chockablock bars the size of aircraft hangers, each peopled with a battalion of more-than-friendly bar girls anxious for you to come in for a drink.
Inevitably there are fights, not of the barroom variety but formal Thai boxing in floodlighted rings.
Pattaya grew almost overnight into the Paul Bunyan of playlands, aided in part by the locust cloud of beautiful Thai women who made their way to the bright lights and nonstop party atmosphere.
A government effort eradicated the mosquitoes, affluent Thais built their summer homes here and now Pattaya also has a distinct family atmosphere, plus marvelous beaches with stately palms, great resort hotels and numerous seafood restaurants.
Here to there: United, Singapore, Japan, Philippines, Korean and China airlines get you to Bangkok, all with stops. Pattaya is about a two-hour ride south of Bangkok, about $42 by cab, $5 by bus, and they toss in a free soft drink.
How long/how much: Cultural outlets are almost nil, so plan your stay around how much beach time and delicious seafood you can take. Lodging prices are moderate, dining the same.
A few fast facts: The Thai baht was recently valued at .044, about 22.7 to the dollar. Hottest months are March to May, coolest November until February, afternoon rains from June to October. But Pattaya is pleasant most of the year, thanks to breezes off the Bay of Bengal. Mini-buses tool you up and down the beach areas for about a dime.
Getting settled in: Orchid Lodge ($48 double) has a forest of greenery in a lobby open to breezes, tropical garden leading to the beach, large pool and tennis courts. Four restaurants offer you Italian, German and Thai seafood and British pub grub, plus a coffee shop opening onto the grounds. Large handsome rooms with gigantic beds, kids' playground and pool, even a baby elephant to feed bananas to.
Wong Amat ($42 double) is a cool, white oasis on its own beach, complete with 25 acres of gardens and rooms with tasteful rattan decor. Tennis courts, two pools, beachside seafood barbecue and an old fishing boat decorated into a honeymoon nest on a beach beneath palms. Outstanding restaurant, about which there will be more later.
Grand Palace ($74) is truly spectacular, with an open-air lobby and a huge statue of Buddha overlooking a small lake with swans floating about. Rooms are large and luxurious with marble baths, many spaced around the lake area. Marvelous shopping arcade with a fine selection of antiques. Have your sundowner in the Peacock Lounge watching the haughty birds preen themselves and strut on the lawn.
Regional food and drink: Seafood is obviously the specialty here: shrimp, king prawns, rock lobster, sea bass, clams and mussels, most being grilled or steamed rather than fried because of the heat. Lots of beef, chicken and pork in Thai dishes.
You'll find po pia tot everywhere. It's a spring roll frequently eaten as a first course or snack. Kuay tieo haeng , rice noodles with meat, green onions and bamboo shoots, is also very popular.
Desserts run to coconut custards, bananas in coconut syrup and plenty of very sweet and brightly decorated cookies. But we couldn't get enough of fresh Thai fruits, almost too numerous and exotic to name. Thai beer and iced coffee and tea go well with the hot weather and spicy food.
Moderate-cost dining: Nang Nual (South Pattaya) has a formidable layout of fresh seafood to choose from as you enter. It's a difficult selection to make. Then move out to a terrace right over the gulf and get ready for the works: baby clams with green onions, squid with garlic, prawn tempura, rock lobster, sea bass with lime sauce and a steady stream of small plates loaded with Thai, Chinese and Japanese delicacies. Nang Nual is an enormous place, right at the center of the brightly-lit strip. It's no secret, however; every table is usually filled.
Nual Anong (North Pattaya) is another huge garden restaurant with tiny lights twinkling in the trees and more than 300 Thai specialties for you to mull over. Features white rattan tables and chairs, a large lighted fountain and such treats as baked sea crab with vermicelli, bass baked in banana leaves, and marvelous Thai soups and salads. The setting is gorgeous.