A group of British retirees explain why they feel young at heart in peaceful Pattaya, which has more to it than its seedy reputation
The eastern Thai resort town and notorious sex haven that is Pattaya doesn’t seem like an obvious retirement destination.
After all, the city is best known for its neon-lit Walking Street — a 1.5km strip of bars in which you can satisfy any kind of fetish imaginable — and the Russian mafiosi who call the place home.
But while Pattaya may have a tarnished image in the Western media, two British retiree couples who have lived happily in the region for the past 12 years insist it’s not as hedonistic as it’s cracked up to be.
Graham and Felicity Smith, 70 and 69, and Wendy and John Khan, 64 and 60, say that beyond the tourist traps is a tolerant and peaceful community no more debauched than others.
“In other countries there’s sex for sale but it’s just hidden,” says Graham. “Here, it’s not. It’s totally different to how it’s portrayed.”
The Smiths have a long history with Pattaya, which they first visited in 1982. They subsequently holidayed there every year for a month in February.
It was just a small fishing village back then, but they loved the fact they were by the sea, it was sunny every day and the people were polite.
“It was like England in the 1950s,” says Felicity. “The children would curtsy to you.”
When their home in North Wales, which had been on the market for years, finally sold in 2001, they took it as a sign.
They arranged for a house to be built in Pattaya, quit their jobs as a quality control officer (Felicity) and an assistant at a boatyard chandlery (Graham), and six months later a new chapter in their lives began.
As for Wendy and John Khan from Leicester, the couple moved because Wendy’s son from her previous marriage lives in Bangkok.
Like the Smiths, the Khans immediately found Thailand to their liking, especially the heat, the culture and the fact their pensions stretched further.
They holidayed in 2000 and relocated a year later, choosing Pattaya as it was only two hours east of Bangkok but not as chaotic.
“We just felt comfortable here,” Wendy explains.
They’re not alone in their thinking.
The British embassy estimates that at any given time 5,000 – 10,000 of its citizens reside in Thailand’s east coast and local estate agent Keith Harrison, 34, says that Brits are among his most prevalent clientele, including many families and retirees.
Some older men are undoubtedly allured by the prospect of acquiring a younger Thai bride, but Harrison stresses that equally appealing are the expat clubs and diverse range of activities on offer.
“In Pattaya you can be young at heart,” he says.
These days its population has swelled to approximately 500,000, which has led to added leisure options.
The Smiths and Khans fill their days golfing, watching polo matches and partaking in plays by amateur theatre group The Pattaya Players.
The Smiths also give back to the local community by selling old household items every six months to fund a day trip for children with disabilities.
“If we were in the UK we’d have a very boring, staid life,” says Graham. “We’d only know people of the same age, background and educational level.”
Instead, their social circle is wide and varied, consisting of both Thais and expats from all walks of life. Furthermore, health care is top-notch and the economic and physical benefits of living in south-east Asia are numerous.
“Our house is paid for, we have a swimming pool, cooking gas is cheaper and people here don’t get rheumatism [due to the heat],” says Wendy.
She adds: “We have the most fantastic restaurants.”
The Smiths, who are childless, are so happy and settled that they’ve never once left the country since relocating, not even to visit the UK.
While the city certainly has its fair share of problems, all are adamant the sex industry is just one facet of Pattaya’s many faces.
John even jokes that since moving to Thailand his self-esteem has never been higher.
“I get compliments every day,” he quips with irony. “They [bar girls] yell out, ‘Hello sexy man’.”
Hannah Carrodus, 26, is an Australian freelance journalist based in Thailand. She writes lifestyle and property stories.