IMAGE problem? What image problem? Pattaya has long been saddled with a down-at-heel sleazy image and many agents have deemed it unsuitable as a family destination.

But over the last few years the Thai government has made a strenuous effort to clean up the resort and attract the private sector – and its endeavours are finally paying off.

The streets have a less seedy, more relaxed feel about them and on my recent visit I was surprised to see couples and families wandering about, a rare sight just a few years ago.

I asked one couple, Ian and Jan from Sheffield en route to Australia with their teenage daughters, what they thought of Pattaya. “We heard so many negative stories that we were nervous about coming here. However, we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

“The hotel and beach are great, the Thais are so friendly and I’ve seen far worse in Sheffield on a Saturday night.”

A number of upmarket hotel chains are coming in with quality properties. One of this new breed is the Sheraton Pattaya, perched on the headland between Pattaya Beach and Jomtien. Well away from the bustle of central Pattaya, the 153- room hotel is designed in typical Thai style.

InterContinental will open its doors next year and Central, a Thai group, has a massive project under way on Pattaya Beach. And as Pattaya continues its drive upmarket, Shangri-La is rumoured to be scoping out the terrain.

Travel 2 Far East product manager Helen Beedle said: “The reinvention of Pattaya has seen business steadily improving. The resort is popular with repeat visitors and for long stays, and its potential for short-stay business will be enhanced when Bangkok’s new airport opens.”

The new airport, scheduled to open in December, is eagerly awaited by hoteliers and tour operators. Midway between Bangkok and Pattaya, it will increase visitor numbers to the resort.

Gold Medal contract manager Nick Page said: “We believe Pattaya will attract much of the stopover market to Australia and New Zealand that traditionally stays in Bangkok or Singapore.”

The beaches in Pattaya are now cleaner than ever and the resort offers everything from water sports to spa retreats. Operators are also tapping into medical holidays – combining minor surgery, usually cosmetic or dentistry, with a holiday.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand in London is convinced the clean-up operation will be enough to attract high-spending families to the once sleazy resort.

Reputations can take years to shed, but one thing’s for sure – clients looking for a beach break stopover or a full-scale resort holiday may find Pattaya is just what they’re after. Either way, they shouldn’t need to lock up their daughters.

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Gold Medal offers seven nights’ room-only accommodation at the five-star Dusit Resort from £525 per person in September, including flights and transfers. Guests paying for four to seven nights receive the same number of nights free.

Hayes and Jarvis offers seven nights’ room-only at the five-star Sheraton Pattaya from £911 per person in September, including flights and transfers.

Travel 2 offers seven nights room-only at the five-star Royal Cliff Beach Hotel from £708 per person in September, including flights via Amsterdam and transfers.

flight check

thailand feature 090606 - flight checkFirst impressions?
Royal Silk check-in was quick, efficient and helpful. The SAS lounge that Thai shares at Heathrow was spacious, comfortable and well stocked with snacks, drinks and newspapers. There’s also free Internet access.

Ready for take-off?
Boarding was painless and on time and the all-Thai cabin crew were helpful and friendly. Drinks were served immediately.

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Comfy or cramped?
The Royal Silk cabin occupies both levels of the Boeing 747 aircraft. The new seats are two-abreast with a privacy divider and a 170° recline with a seat pitch of 60 inches. They don’t convert to flatbeds by they are extremely comfortable whether sitting or fully reclined.

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Food glorious food?
Choice was good, the western menu was excellent but the Thai was surprisingly disappointing. There was a very good cheese and fruit tray and a good selection of wines, but like many business classes no fresh juice.

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Screen check?
Each seat has a LCD screen, telephone and AC outlet to power a laptop. The movie selection was excellent. A smart amenities bag was provided.

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Smiley service?
The Royal Silk cabin staff were attentive at all times, alert, efficient and friendly. They created a relaxed atmosphere, were knowledgeable about the destination and all spoke flawless English.

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Recommend it?
Yes, a great new service has brought Thai well and truly into the new millennium.

Score: 24/30