Pattaya, the beach resort city that was the scene of one of the worst fires in Thailand’s history, is known less for sun and sand than for sin.
Crime, drug dealing and prostitution are so rampant that after a visit to the town earlier this year, Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh branded it the country’s “greatest source of evil.”
On Friday, a fire killed at least 82 people trapped in a beachfront hotel that lacked even basic safety features - smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, alarms or sprinklers - a lack common in Thai buildings.
The blaze started in a first-floor coffee shop and swept through the 17-story Royal Jomtien Resort, burning for 12 hours while trapped guests screamed for help from the windows and helicopters lifted the lucky ones to safety. Many victims died next to exits chained shut to keep guests from skipping out on their bills.
Besides the dead at the hotel, 11 members of a volunteer rescue group were killed Friday when their pickup crashed as they raced to the fire.
Perhaps because of its Wild West atmosphere, or simply because it’s only 70 some miles from Bangkok, more than 60 percent of people surveyed recently in the capital said Pattaya was their first choice as a holiday destination.
But Pattaya isn’t only popular with Thais. It is a prime destination for sex tourists, pedophiles, smugglers, hardened criminals and gangsters from Russia, Japan, the Middle East and Great Britain.
Skinheads and tattooed gangsters drink and plot at the many open-air beer bars, such as “The Dogs’ Bollocks,” or the go-go bars along Beach Road, a red-light district.
Last year, more than 40 foreigners were robbed and murdered by a gang of Thai prostitutes who smeared a drug on their breasts that knocked out their victims after oral contact.
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