Travel in Thailand is fairly straight forward. You can book in advance, often online or through a travel agent, or you can often turn up at a bus station or train station and get a ticket for same day travel. There are lots of private companies providing an extensive travel network joining up all the major tourist destinations in Thailand. Thus you could well plan a tour of Thailand that included both Pattaya and Haad Rin. But would you want to?
On the surface, the answer seems to be ‘no’ since the two tourist destinations are very different. Pattaya is a big city. It has 3 main beaches stretching around its headland. On an average day the sands are 3 deep in deck chairs and sun loungers. The city has big shopping areas, 5 star hotels, boutique stores and an infamous red-light district called Walking Street.
The type of tourist to visit Pattaya falls into 2 categories – those who go to Pattaya for the whores and those who don’t. Even the shy Chinese tour groups (in the latter camp) visit Walking Street to take in the prurient atmosphere and take photos.
Those who visit Haad Rin are primarily drawn by the party scene, in particular the Full Moon Party. It is the biggest outdoor beach party in Thailand and probably the world. The party takes over Haad Rin Sunrise Beach (Haad Rin Nok) as well the town. It is a messy, booze and drug fuelled carnival that goes on for nearly 48 hours (if you include the after parties). While some people come for the music and the DJs, most attend the party because it is a bucket list item; it is a right-of-passage for backpackers in South East Asia. If you tell your mates at home that you went to Koh Phangan they will expect you to have been to the Full Moon Party.
Whereas, your mates will be more circumspect about asking if you had a blowie or a short stay in Pattaya (especially if you are a woman).
While budget travellers are drawn to Koh Phangan’s cheap wooden bungalows and laissez faire island attitude, they are less visible in Pattaya. You see lots of Russians and Europeans spending plenty of money on food and drink as well as female entertainment. Hence you will see big brand hotel chains in Pattaya. In contrast the only chain in Haad Rin is Best Western.
If you like experiencing different things on holiday and like encountering different types of holiday-makers then you may well get quite a kick out of going to Haad Rin for a party and to Pattaya for sun, sand and optional extras. You might argue that Haad Rin and Pattaya both cater for hedonists but perhaps hedonists chasing different pleasures in different ways.