Pattaya made the most of its new freedoms on day one of the government’s limited liberalization of red zone provinces. The barbers and salons did a roaring trade as men and women badly needed a haircut after six weeks of deprivation. The flashing and rotating red, white and blue poles – in the same nationalistic colours as the Thai flag – seemed to issue a defiant electronic message that Pattaya was still alive and kicking.
The restaurants were thankful too. In a last minute reprieve, the government withdrew its unrealistic demand for all customers and staff to be doubly-vaccinated and instead mandated strict health and safety rules. Koy, licensee of the popular Caddy Shack eatery, said, “Our customers are delighted to enjoy a dine-in British breakfast after a long period of take-outs and deliveries only.” Yupin, owner of the upscale Jomtien restaurant, added, “We can’t serve alcohol with the meals yet, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”
Not all restaurants decided to open. Minor Foods, which operates Sizzler branches amongst other favorites, closed 300 outlets nationally during the lockdown and is reopening 186. A spokesman pointed out that foreign tourists have yet to come back whilst rent, salaries and raw materials have to be paid for. The latest government rules restrict customers to 50-75 percent of capacity depending on whether the premises are air-conditioned or open air.
The green light was also given to massage parlors but for foot rubbing purposes only. In Pattaya, those which had survived the most recent lockdown opened on time, but about half of the 800 former businesses remain shuttered, either longterm or permanent. In Jomtien’s Soi Welcome an entrepreneurial lady Miss Visa said, “We have to close for curfew from 9 pm to 4 am, but we can offer you a foot massage upstairs for several hours until the morning.” She added that if you got bored, then there was a selection of videos from Hollywood. However, the DVD recorder needed repairing.
All the major malls and shopping centers reopened, although customers were thin on the ground. Every unit in Central Festival Pattaya Beach was open for business, with the solitary exception of spas which are still excluded by order of the provincial governor. But the busiest floor was number six where the Bangkok Hospital Pattaya is regularly hosting vaccinations for foreigners and Thais with appointments. At Terminal 21, the most recently-opened upscale mall, a manager said that business would pick up at the weekend as Bangkok residents flocked to the resort.
The beaches are back in business too. On Jomtien promenade, most of the deckchairs had been uncovered from their binding ropes, but Pattaya was less fortunate. Here, the alleged beautification of the main sand stretch means that bulldozers and tractors deter even the hardiest sun worshipper, whilst some sections are completely barricaded. At the south end of the beach area, the Walking Street is entirely blocked by the vehicles of the provincial electricity authority which is burying the overhead cables. Of course, the bars and clubs are closed by order. So it really doesn’t matter.