Strange Route: Qatar Airways Launches Non-Stop Service to Pattaya, Thailand

Qatar Airways is launching non-stop service from Doha to Pattaya, Thailand effective January 28. (HT: Khalil D.)

The Boeing 787 flight be operate:

  • Doha – Pattaya, 8:05pm – 6:30am+1, QR828 Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
  • Pattaya – Doha, 7:50am – 11:40am, QR829 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

    Pattaya Beach

Qatar already flies 5 times daily to Bangkok, twice daily to Phuket, and will be daily Krabi service December 1 and four times weekly Chian Mai service December 12.

However I find the Pattaya service the strangest.

  • Pattaya is less than a 90 minute drive from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport.

  • The new service is actually to U-Tapao International Airport which is still 45 minutes from Pattaya, and often thought of more as Bangkok’s third international airport. It receives service from ultra low cost carriers Air Asia and Nok Air, about half a dozen Chinese carriers and Russian airline S7.

  • Qatar is one of the more religiously conservative countries in the region. Pattaya is.. anything but.

Pattaya developed a strong reputation as a place where money could buy almost anything 50 years ago. It was a common R&R destination for US servicemen during the Vietnam War when the US military used U-Tapao as a B-52 bomber base.

Though there’s been a crack down on certain forms of child prostitution, Pattaya has been called “the world’s sex capital” and even the “modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.” It has a thriving gay scene around Boyztown and Sunee Plaza.

I recall my first visit to Pattaya years ago, noticing a young Thai boy with a 70s white man at the table next to me at breakfast the first morning and then going out to the pool at the hotel where there was a 60s Russian man sitting with a young Thai woman. What was striking about Pattaya a decade ago was how open, casual and accepted such taboos were.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

This new service, I think, underscores something of the contradiction of Qatari society. I’ve been told by several people that Doha itself has a thriving gay night club scene. Talking with one staffer at a hotel in Bangkok last year he really missed living in Doha, and all the friends he met there.

It also underscores I think that a nation’s airlines are often the most socially progressive force in conservative countries. That’s one reason I often root for the airlines of countries I don’t much favor.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, most of the conservative ME countries have a large gay population. Even Saudi Arabia, arguably one of the most conservative.

  2. Pattaya is the Myrtle Beach of Thailand x10. Been there once, it is indeed, “hooker hell”. As a Thai resident I am scratching my head over this one Gary…


  3. Did you once have a bad experience in Pattaya? I don’t normally read your column, but a friend suggested that this particular one was worth my time. You evidence a very simplistic and un-nuanced view. Yes, it does have a relatively small “nightlife” area; but it is a big tourist area for Thais. I’ve been once, and there’s lots to see and do. For example, there is a museum with one of the largest collection of Chinese sculpture I’ve ever seen. The Sanctuary of Truth is a truly unique structure, which is definitely worth a visit. Maybe it’s time to go back. In any case, you’re not really doing your regular readers a service with such a one-sided view/presentation.

  4. This flight is a conduit for European sex tourists. That’s who will be on it. Also, Qataris, Emiratis, Saudis, etc, when they leave the country all those pious mores go out the window. I cannot tell you how many Emiratis I knew who went to Morocco or Thailand for sex tourism on weekend junkets when I was there. Middle Easterners also tend to go to Thailand for medical care. This flight will sell itself with the combination of these factors and these factors alone.

    On a related note, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai all have thriving gay scenes that are generally just below the surface. When I lived in Abu Dhabi my brother visited me. he was living in San Francisco at the time and he felt that my life was more vibrantly gay in Abu Dhabi than his was in San Francisco. I had a great time and made many great friends there.

  5. Great! How the Royals who can’t afford a private jet can still get to the underage kids in Thailand for sex without making a connection!

  6. First thing I thought was how many US military in Gulf will be thrilled to learn they are that much closer to Pattaya (even if they aren’t exactly) when booking. I guessed this based on the two Marines I sat next to in Abu Dhabi last year awaiting flight to BKK … Pattaya Pattaya Pattaya was all they could talk about

  7. As you state in your article the route will fly into an airport 45 min. south west of Pattaya. That puts you within easy reach of the little island of Koh Samet. Further to the west are the islands of Koh Chang, Koh Mak and Koh Kood. All beautiful islands with nice beaches and so on. Why make it all about Pattaya?!

  8. Carl Erik – I wonder if the flight is being marketed as destination Pattaya. That would explain “all about Pattaya.”

    I have been there twice and did see some of the marvelous sights in the area. However, that did nothing to lessen my horror at seeing the numbers of young men and women that were involved in the “entertainment industry.” Keep in mind that trafficking is a huge problem there. I totally agree with Gary and probably wouldn’t have been as calm in my writing as he was. There is an issue of trafficking and using people whose lives are really tough. It is unnerving to walk the streets in Pattaya. There are also charter flights from Eastern European countries and Russia – guess how those charters are titled?

  9. I meant to write south east of Pattaya, and “further east”.
    Zippy: I’m not trying to neglect the trafficking issues. They are indeed real! I’m merely trying to point out that the area around Pattaya offers so much more.

  10. I meant to write south east of Pattaya, and “further east”.
    Zippy: I’m not trying to neglect the trafficking issues. They are indeed real! I’m merely trying to point out that the area around Pattaya offers so much more.

  11. I never was in Doha before as well as in other oriental places, but it’s my will to take a trip to Cairo as soon as I would have some time to spare!! But I have been in Pattaya once for a day or two – it was a transfer from Singapore to northern Thailand. To be clear, I’m not a huge fan these typical tourist resorts with the 5-star hotel and private beaches here and there. So during my last visit I have decided to explore the mountainous places, where you could barely meet a bunch of tourists hanging around, but to take a look at the life of locals and their holy sites. So I took a plane to Chiang Mai, contacted Catmotors motorental company, what have been suugested to me by friend of mine, and took a trip over the city views and the mountains near! Overall, now I have the feeling that it was not the travel of mine, but the road movie I’ve watched, because I nad never believed that something of this beauty could be real!

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