With the Christmas and New Year booze free-for-all firmly behind us, Pattaya is facing up to a sober alcohol prohibition starting at nine o’clock prompt. Health officials, police and even the army have been out and about in the last 48 hours advising imbibing customers and “restaurant” staff to call it a day as the doom clock strikes. No arrests or closures to date.
In true Thai tradition, the latest rules are tinged with ambiguity. The Bangkok governor maintains that drinking alcohol (as well as serving) must stop at nine and suggests that customers could carry home any dregs in a plastic bag for home consumption. Others have maintained that there should be a “drinking up” period lasting, say, half an hour after serving ceases. The jury is still out debating this scary subject.
Bars and clubs are supposed to be firmly closed 24/7, but some have found a way of transforming themselves into eateries, notwithstanding the total absence of kitchenware or even of knives and forks. One enterprising bar on Beach Road can provide you with chicken-rice or even a plate of chips, but customers must wait for 15 minutes whilst a motorbike taxi man brings them from an unknown destination.
The provincial health authority has proclaimed that “restaurants” must specifically test all customers (as well as staff) with an ATK kit to ensure they are virus-free. A Pattaya radio station carries an impassioned exhortation to avoid like the plague any eatery which declines to enforce the rule. In practice, only a tiny number of prestigious dining outlets are cooperating. The rest point out that the whole enterprise is expensive, unpopular and means nothing. One cafe abandoned the idea in haste after two staff who were in charge of testing customers turned out to have Covid-19.
For these reasons, law enforcement is concentrating on the nine o’clock booze-curfew which is relatively easy to police. The more difficult subjects such as checking whether an eatery is well-stocked with ATK self-test kits, or is fully licensed under the complex Safety and Health Authority Plus regulations, are secondary matters. Whether you are a proper restaurant or a bar specializing in peanuts and crisps pales into insignificance compared with the all-important matter of ceasing booze sales at nine in the evening.
Some districts haven’t even bothered to try. Boyztown is in total darkness apart from one bar with customers in short supply to say the least. Most of Walking Street is still barred and bolted with only a small number of businesses open in the middle section of the street. “It’s just not worth opening at all,” says Zac who is currently a doorman at a music club. “A good night out needs to start at nine, not end there.”
There are certainly some busier spots, mainly in Sexy Soi Six and Soi Buakhao, where the fun-seeking, budget-conscious Europeans tend to congregate. But these are prime target areas for police action if alcohol is indeed served past nine o’clock. A bar girl Porn frankly summed up, “I used to make good money after midnight, now I must hope my customer is drunk by nine o’clock.” Then she winks and bets this crackdown will be as short-lived as its historical predecessors. That’s the gamble.