Look past the politicians’ rhetoric and headlines about the need to clean up Pattaya Beach and you’ll find Auntie Tun, an uneducated 48-year-old Issan woman scratching out a living selling swimwear and sandals to tourists for 200 baht a day.
Rampai Kanyapok, as she is properly known, is just one of hundreds of people hawking clothing, trinkets and sometimes plain junk to anyone who’ll buy it. While the city – and many visitors – considers them a nuisance, vendors like her consider their jobs not only an honest day’s work, but the only work they can get.
Aunt Tun tries to sell her swimwear to passing tourists.
Rampai came to Pattaya from Roi Et seven years ago, starting her sales life with just 320 baht in her pocket. It was enough to buy four pairs of swim trunks. She earned 20 baht on each pair, then bought more, increasing her profit margin over time.
Now living in government housing in Huay Yai, she takes a baht bus at 6 a.m. every morning to the beach, where she scours the shoreline for buyers while trying to duck municipal enforcement officers. Most tourists ignore her offers of shorts and shoes – or worse – but on a good day she’ll sell about 900 baht in apparel, netting her a profit of 200-300 baht.
“I earn about the same if I worked in a factory,” she says, “But no one will hire me. I’m too old and have no school.” Even though she realizes selling clothes without a permit is illegal, Auntie Tun says she has little choice.
So she puts up with the periodic city crackdowns, writing off the occasional arrest as a cost of doing business. If caught, “I have to pay 400 baht (fine),” she says, which is more than she nets in a day. “But I can go back to the beach (the next day).”
For Auntie Tun, the return of tourists to Pattaya is a welcome sight. Even with the hassles of city security and the bad press vendors get, selling swimwear is how she puts food on the table, a fact she says many people forget.