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.

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