The late July four-day holiday certainly brought a zombie Pattaya back to life. Traffic jams lay in wait for unwary drivers everywhere, hotels happily switched off their vacancy sign and many restaurants were packed out before their customers headed for various entertainment plazas. All that was a tribute to the government’s campaign to encourage domestic tourism by Thai citizens, sweetened by generous discounts and special offers.
But large slices of Pattaya are dependent on foreign clientele which, as everyone knows, is a scarce commodity right now. By mid-week the new-normal was back in stark reality. At Walking Street, the overhead neon sign at the main entrance is still turned off. And the kindest estimate would put the number of closed businesses there at 60 percent. Most, of course, had never reopened after the enforced closure last March.
There is fierce competition for the comparatively few wannabe customers. Happy hours are back in fashion and you can even buy an early beer for 39 baht in some venues. At the Pin Up club, the friendly female staff are lined up outside and are remarkably cheerful. Miss Moo seemed to speak for them all when she confided that they would persevere until the good times returned in the high season. She did ask if I knew why foreigners who were permanent residents could return to Thailand whilst mere residents could not. Her friend then queried why the government was allowing foreigners needing hospital operations to come back since the bedridden seldom dance the night away. Sorry, dunno I replied.
Nobody seems to have told the police that numbers are well down in Walking Street. A group of city policemen on motorbikes guarded the main entrance and exit on Beach Road, whilst at least six tourist police – three of them foreign volunteers – lolled on a vehicle further down the street chatting about football. Two hundred yards further on was a table reserved for another cop group, this time four Thais wearing insignia to indicate they were Special Affairs. One suspects they were heading for a distinctly uneventful night. However, the 7/11 store nearby had a merrily-ringing cash register.
Ten minutes walk away, Boyztown was doing its best. I sat at the Panorama open bar in sparse company and ordered a soda water for 90 baht. A nearby nightery sported a sign which stated that there was one show at 10.30 pm and that all drinks were 200 baht. By no means a full house, but full marks for effort. In a nearby street, almost as black as Dock Road in Liverpool during the nazi-era blitz, a young man from Mynamar asked me to check whether his passport was OK. Since the last two pages were marked “Void” in red ink, probably not. I wondered how many other nationals from neighboring countries had been caught out by the coronavirus travel restrictions. Probably more than we think.
To be fair, other areas were doing better. Jomtien in particular. The market area on Jomtien Two Road wasn’t humming, but is clearly favoured by the local expat population. One open bar had a snooker match in progress whilst at another there was even a mini quiz. The question reader was asking “What number lies between 4 and 6 on a dartboard?” which was unlikely to separate the brainy from the bewildered as a man was throwing his arrows at the bullseye just feet away. Five minutes walk from there is the Jomtien Complex, a street of gay bars, which was quite busy. It’s a likely surmise that the cheapness of the drinks in Jomtien, compared with downtown Pattaya, may be an explanation of the numbers game.
At the moment, most of the foreigners eligible under the government rules to return to Thailand are wealthy, or certainly well-heeled, individuals. But Pattaya’s nightlife can only be revived by open access at airports and borders which may in turn be dependent upon a mass vaccination program sometime next year. In the meantime, the low season is sadly and firmly in the driving seat.