Thailand’s military regime appears willing to give Pattaya officials time to bring order to the city’s beaches, but remain poised to move in should the effort go the way of so many other crackdowns.
While the National Council for Peace and Order sent soldiers to remove beach vendors and dismantle illegal structures in Phuket, the military so far has taken a hands-off approach to umbrella-dotted Pattaya and Jomtien beaches. The NCPO ordered city officials to clean up the beach and have assigned the Royal Thai Navy to keep tabs on their efforts. So, at least for now, the military has no plans to take direct action.
An example of what the NCPO wants: Only one row of beach chairs at the very back of the sandy area, arranged in a military-friendly orderly line with the rest of the sand clean and available for tourists.
Local leaders know that could change in a heartbeat, though, and are quickly moving to reshape the image of the beach, both on the sand and the footpath behind it.
“We must increase the number of police used in previous years to help eliminate prostitution on Pattaya Beach and to prevent other crimes, such as druggings, robberies and bag snatches so we create a better image for the city and attract more tourists,” said Pol. Col. Supathee Bungkhrung, who was hand-picked by the NCPO to be Pattaya’s police chief in late May.
Supathee on Aug. 19 launched the first in a series of sweeps of Pattaya Beach, rounding up transvestite loiterers suspected of being both prostitutes and thieves. Police are limited by current laws in what they can be charged with, so police have resorted to simply making it unprofitable for them to continue to hang out on Beach Road by repeatedly rounding them up and fining them 100 baht.
While curbing the world’s oldest profession will take time, the more-immediate concern for Pattaya officials are the beach chair and umbrella vendors who, during the best of times, can be a stubborn and even rancorous lot. But operators have been warned that if they fail to adhere to the latest set of rules laid down by city hall, the next authorities they will have to answer to wear fatigues and carry guns.
“Some tourists themselves actually pull the chairs and benches out in the open area where it is restricted,” one vendor said. “I try to warn them.”
“I’ve given notice to all beach vendors that they have to understand that they can’t be selfish and that reorganizing the beach will make it a more-pleasant and cleaner place,” said Deputy Mayor Ronakit Ekasingh. “This is not the first time we’ve laid out these policies and there has been progress, little by little. But it’s now necessary to clear out things that harm the image of the beach. It’s a must.”
The regulations at issue were laid out in detail for beach vendors Aug. 22 by Ekachai and Banglamung District Chief Sakchai Taengho. Vendors were told they can occupy no more than 50 percent of the sand and can only operate from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with a maximum 40 lounge chairs and 35 umbrellas in their 7-meter-wide plot.
Chairs must be neatly organized in off hours and no cooking will be allowed at any time. No pets or vehicle parking also is allowed. Soft drinks and cigarettes can be sold, but not advertised.
Sakchai was back at Dongtan Beach three days later where he said that popular stretch of shoreline would become Pattaya’s “pilot project” in cleaning up the beach. Jomtien Beach has 254 beach chair vendors and 47 of these are on Dongtan.
The idea is that only one row of beach chairs will be allowed at the very back of the sandy area. They will have to be arranged in a military-friendly orderly line and the rest of the sand clean and available for tourists.
One beach vendor noted it’s not always the operators who are to blame.
“Some tourists themselves actually pull the chairs and benches out in the open area where it is restricted,” he said. “I try to warn them.”
The same vendor said he has always tried to cooperate with city hall and thinks reorganization will improve the beach.
“I would like all the other beach vendors to cooperate and focus on this matter. Otherwise, I’m afraid soon that we will not be allowed to set up any chairs or umbrellas if we continue to violate the rules.”
Based on what happened in Phuket, where tourists now lie on towels if they want to sunbathe, that’s exactly what would happen in Pattaya in the military gets involved. And they’re watching closely from their perch in Sattahip to see if Pattaya officials come through.
Royal Thai Navy officials at the Sattahip Naval Base have reviewed Pattaya’s beach-cleanup plans after inspecting beaches themselves in July.
Capt. Khomsan Sonsupap, commander of naval security in Sattahip, said that following the NCPO’s directive to clean up Pattaya’s beaches he reviewed regulations and past efforts to enforce them.
For now, the military is giving Pattaya officials some leeway in cleaning up the beachfront. But troops are ready to take over if the politicians cannot handle it.