Bangkok vs Pattaya: Which Is Better for Nomads and Expats?

I’ve lived for 6 months in Bangkok and 1 month in Pattaya as a digital nomad. Although these cities are only a couple hours’ bus ride apart, they really offer different things. Today, let’s discuss the differences and which is better.

Keep in mind: I’m a single male American digital nomad in his 30s. I don’t speak Thai. I like big cities. I don’t drink alcohol or partake in much nightlife. All of this affects how I view Bangkok and Pattaya.

Overview: Living in Pattaya vs Bangkok

The biggest difference between Bangkok and Pattaya is the size. Bangkok is a huge city. Pattaya is a party beach town. So, if you have a clear preference for or against big cities, that may already tell you which is better for you.

Another thing to consider is that, if you’re looking for nightlife, both cities have a lot of that. Both cities have red light districts, tons of bars, and everything associated with that in Thailand.

If I look back and compare my own experience in Bangkok and Pattaya, I’d list these 3 benefits of living in Bangkok:

  1. More Restaurants and Shopping Options
  2. Skyline Views and Big City Energy
  3. Better Dating and Social Life

But Pattaya wasn’t all bad, either. I found these 3 benefits of living in Pattaya:

  1. Beaches and Nearby Island Beauty
  2. Slightly Cheaper
  3. Less Traffic, Faster to Get Around

Now, let’s explore all these points in more detail. We’ll start with the areas where Bangkok wins.

Why Bangkok Is Better

The following three points are probably the most important areas where I think Bangkok shines over Pattaya.

1. More Restaurants and Shopping Options

Bangkok is one of the best cities in the world for restaurants, grocery stores, and shopping malls. There’s so much to choose from. Meanwhile, Pattaya is a much smaller city, with just a few malls.

You can eat basically any cuisine you want in Bangkok, anytime. Then you can go to the grocery store and get groceries from anywhere around the world. Then you can go shop in one of the largest malls in the world.

Staying in Central Pattaya, there was a convenient shopping mall or two near me, with decent grocery stores as well. So, it’s not like you’ll be hurting too bad in Pattaya. But there’s just a lot more to explore in Bangkok all together.

2. Skyline Views and Big City Energy

Bangkok has ~10 times as many skyscrapers as Pattaya. As of 2023, Pattaya has about 10 skyscrapers over 150 meters tall. Meanwhile, Bangkok has about 110 such skyscrapers. (source)

This gives Bangkok one of the most epic city skylines in all of Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Pattaya just has a few tall buildings, in a much smaller city by the beach.

Arguably, the beach does add a lot to the Pattaya views—so maybe it’s a worthwhile trade off. But if you appreciate the energy and views of a big city (as I personally do), Pattaya is not that. Bangkok is.

3. Better Dating and Social Life

In my view, Bangkok is a great place to meet people, whereas Pattaya is generally much worse. This is for at least three reasons.

First reason: Population. Bangkok has a lot more people than Pattaya. Bangkok’s population is about 11 million, whereas Pattaya’s is only ~120,000. So there’s about 100 times more people in Bangkok.

This means any social strategy that relies on large population sizes—like meeting people from dating apps or language exchange apps—will do a lot better in Bangkok.

Second reason: The vibe and reputation of Pattaya. As you may know, Pattaya is basically ground zero for sex tourism in Thailand. And this has a few effects.

One effect is that dating apps are kind of… different in Pattaya. I’d say around half of all the women on dating apps in Pattaya are sex workers. So, many of them are actually not looking for dates—they’re looking for customers.

This culture of sex tourism in Pattaya may also impact how you’re viewed as a foreigner. Basically, in the minds of locals, you may be associated with all the other “sexpats” and so on, at least until you prove otherwise.

Third reason: Expat age demographics. If you want to meet other expats and digital nomads, more of the younger ones will typically be found in Bangkok.

Pattaya generally attracts an older, retired expat crowd, while Bangkok’s expat scene is a bit more diverse and younger.

Obviously, if you have friends in Pattaya, or if you specifically want to befriend the kinds of older expats who especially love Pattaya—then it may be a great place for you socially. But for most people, Bangkok probably has more potential.

Why Pattaya Is Better

Despite my personal preference for Bangkok, there are actually some strong reasons why many of you may prefer Pattaya.

1. Beaches and Nearby Island Beauty

Pattaya has beaches and a beautiful nearby island (Koh Lan). Meanwhile, Bangkok is a “concrete jungle.” So of course, the natural beauty is a lot more abundant in Pattaya.

Pattaya’s beaches are not as nice as those elsewhere in Thailand. My beach sunset pictures from Phuket were much more stunning… But it’s still nice to walk along the waterside at sunset.

Bangkok has some pretty large parks with green spaces, including Benjakitti Park and Lumpini Park. But in my opinion, seeing and hearing the waves crash on the beach in Pattaya is still more refreshing by far.

2. Slightly Cheaper

Pattaya is 20% cheaper than Bangkok overall, according to Expatistan. And actually, the cost of housing is supposedly only half the price in Pattaya vs Bangkok.

This makes sense to an extent, as Bangkok is much more of a center for international business, and so there are more wealthy people who pay for housing (and everything else) in Bangkok.

But in my personal experience, the hotels and Airbnbs were not quite 50% cheaper in Pattaya compared to Bangkok. Maybe just 20% to 30% cheaper.

Personally, I like staying in high-rise condos, and I usually pay short-term Airbnb rates due to traveling often. In Bangkok, I pay roughly $30 to $50 per night. In Pattaya, I’d say it’s more like $20 to $40 per night for my kind of place.

3. Less Traffic, Faster to Get Around

Bangkok traffic can get pretty bad, especially at rush hour. But even at other times, getting from one side of Bangkok to the other can take quite a long time.

In comparison, most of what I did in Pattaya was within a walking distance or only a quick ride away.

If you live in Pattaya, I can almost guarantee you’ll spend less time “in transit” compared to living in Bangkok.

Overall, my personal preference is Bangkok over Pattaya, and it’s not even close. However, if you like beaches and “seedy” nightlife—and if you’d like to pay a bit less and spend less time in traffic—then certainly, Pattaya has its perks, too.