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

I’ve lived for 3 months in Phuket and 1 month in Pattaya as a digital nomad. In Phuket, I also tried living in many different parts of the island. Today I’d like to share the main differences I noticed, and which would I recommend more.

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

Overview: Living in Pattaya vs Phuket

Phuket is an island full of resorts and beaches, while Pattaya is known as a party city by the beach. So the overall appeal and reputation of each place is different.

The main draw to Pattaya is its nightlife. It’s probably most appealing to single men, honestly. The typical foreign visitor to Pattaya seems to be older retired men in particular.

In contrast, Phuket is mostly seen as a beach vacation destination. Families, couples, and singles alike come to enjoy Phuket’s natural beauty. There is some nightlife, but it’s not the main attraction like it is in Pattaya.

Comparing the two places, I found these 3 benefits of living in Phuket:

  1. More Beaches and Island Beauty
  2. Less “Seedy,” More Family Friendly
  3. More Restaurant and Food Options

That said, I also noticed these 3 benefits of living in Pattaya:

  1. Cheaper Cost of Living
  2. Quicker and Easier to Get Around
  3. More Nightlife

Below, we’ll look at each of these points in more detail, with specific examples and everything. Let’s get into it.

Why Phuket Is Better

Overall, I liked Phuket a bit more than Pattaya, and I’ve come back to visit more times. Here are the main benefits I see to choosing Phuket over Pattaya.

1. More Beaches and Island Beauty

Pattaya has a few beaches, but there’s a lot more of them to choose from in Phuket. And the Phuket beaches are also generally considered more beautiful, with more clean white sand and pristine waters.

Personally, maybe the best beach sunsets of my life were the ones I’ve seen from Karon Beach in Phuket. Kata Beach is very nice, as well.

Phuket also seems to have more nearby excursions to see natural beauty, including many islands and wildlife. Pattaya has nearby Koh Lan and a few others, too, but I think Phuket is still the winner in this category.

2. Less “Seedy,” More Family Friendly

Pattaya is mostly known for its nightlife and, let’s be honest, sex tourism. You’ll find it everywhere: Lady bars on most streets, “freelance” sex workers standing on the sidewalks, massage shops that offer extra “services,” and more.

Someone once said, “Pattaya doesn’t have a red-light district—Pattaya is a red-light district.” Of course, that’s an overstatement, but it gives you an idea.

On the other hand, Phuket has some nightlife, particularly on Bangla Road in Patong—but it’s not the focus of the whole island. And from what I saw, even the bars in Phuket are not quite as “seedy” as many of those in Pattaya (on average).

Many families come to Phuket for vacation. They are focused on the beaches, the island trips, seeing wildlife, visiting temples, and more.

But Pattaya is mainly known for its nightlife, and that’s about it. So, if you’re bringing your kids, you’ll probably find a lot less to do in Pattaya. And you may want to shield their eyes a bit more often, as well.

3. More Restaurant and Food Options

Phuket has a bit more diversity when it comes to restaurants, with more cuisines represented in greater variety.

In Pattaya, there’s definitely a lot of Thai restaurants, and definitely good selection for Chinese and Indian food. But if you want more international cuisines from all around the world, there’s a bit more selection in Phuket.

Phuket also has more restaurants that have really nice sea views or mountain views. Some of those restaurants will be expensive, as you’re paying for the view—but it’s a nice luxury you won’t find as much in Pattaya.

I also think Phuket has a bit more options for night markets and street food. But of course, there are still going to be great Thai food availability in both places.

Why Pattaya Is Better

Even though I liked Phuket more overall, Pattaya does have a few strong points. Here are 3 things I liked more about Pattaya than Phuket.

1. Cheaper Cost of Living

The cost of living in Pattaya is 11% cheaper than Phuket, according to Expatistan. And the housing specifically is even 29% cheaper in Pattaya than Phuket.

Indeed, when I’ve spoken to locals around Thailand, many of them told me that “Phuket is expensive!”

Of course, to a westerner, both places are relatively cheap—or at least, you can find good deals in both places. But Pattaya is generally cheaper.

Personally, in Pattaya, I’ve stayed mostly in high-rise studio condo units from Airbnb. I’ve spent in the $20-40 per night range for those. My favorite was The Edge condo, but The Base is a bit cheaper and decent, as well.

In Phuket, there aren’t many high-rises, so I’ve gone for hotels instead. My favorites were Rak Elegant in Patong, and Chalong Chalet Resort in Chalong.

The hotel prices in Phuket seem to fluctuate a lot based on seasonality. The high season from October to February is generally more expensive. But I’ve usually ended up paying between $30 to $60 per night in Phuket for a nice room.

2. Quicker and Easier to Get Around

Phuket is not always quick or easy to get around. It’s an island, but it’s a decently big one. And many of the beaches and attractions are spread out. It could take 30 minutes or more to drive from one popular beach to another.

In comparison, Pattaya is much smaller—and especially the main nightlife areas near Pattaya Beach are in a pretty small area. Therefore, you can get around it quickly.

Add to that, there’s often a small supply of drivers on the Grab app in Phuket. If you’re not familiar, Grab is like the Uber of SE Asia—you can order rides. But in Phuket, Grab is slower and more expensive than elsewhere (as of 2023).

If you rent your own motorbike, you can get around the whole island of Phuket at a better cost… But be careful. Many, many foreigners come to Thailand and get in motorbike accidents. So, drive slowly and cautiously.

Pattaya also has a bunch of songthaews constantly riding through the popular areas. These taxi trucks are very cheap. Just hop on, ride until you want to get off, and then go hand a 10 baht coin to the driver before walking off.

There are no cheap songthaews in Phuket from what I’ve seen. You’ll probably end up spending a lot on taxis, waiting around for Grab drivers to arrive, or renting a motorbike, which can be fun but comes with risk.

3. More Nightlife

Phuket has some bars and nightlife, but Pattaya is primarily known for it. So, there’s just a lot more selection, pretty much an endless supply in Pattaya.

I’m not the best person to evaluate the nightlife in each place, as I don’t partake in much myself. But I’ve walked down the various party streets of both, just “people watching,” and there’s definitely a lot more to choose from in Pattaya.

Particularly if you want the “naughty” side of Thai nightlife, there’s going to be a lot more to choose from in Pattaya. Particularly on Pattaya Walking Street and the Soi Buakhao (Tree Town Market) areas, that stuff seems very abundant.

Overall, Pattaya and Phuket are both best known as short-term vacation destinations, rather than long-term living spots. But hopefully from the tips above, you can assess if they would be good spots for long-term stays for you.

For more detail, you can read my extended looks at the pros and cons of Phuket and of Pattaya.