Maybe the city has grown weary of successive entertainment shutdowns, lockdowns and evasive tactics such as drinking wine in tea cups to avoid occasional police surveillance. But the most recent reopening of niteries on February 1 – with closure at 11 pm sharp – was hardly A Night to Remember, except perhaps in the forlorn sense of the 1958 Titanic film.
The most famous centers did not even try. Walking Street did not bother to switch on its latest and brightest neo-Pattaya entrance sign which is hardly surprising. The diggers are already there, making huge holes in preparation for the six months’ program of burying overhead cables. The only music to be heard in a deserted street came from a TV in a 24-hour convenience store which was appropriately playing the horror movie Frankenhooker.
In nearby Boyztown, once the hub of Pattaya’s gay scene until it shot itself in the foot with overpriced drinks, there is a total blackout reminiscent of the Liverpool dock road during the Blitz. In an area which houses several hotels and umpteen bars and clubs, there was only one lit up on opening night: X Boys had a skeleton staff but no customers. “If nobody turns up by 10.00 pm we’re going home,” the pessimistic doorman told me.
Sexy Soi 6 in North Pattaya was doing rather better. Most of the bars were open even though staff outnumbered customers by 10 to one, 20 to one in some places. This was once the street where angels feared to tread, but tonight it would have been safe to bring along your maiden aunt. The hostesses at the Corner Bar confided that they were expecting a boom in European visitors soon as people over there wanted to escape the virus. Sadly, they don’t take their news from the BBC or CNN.
Onwards to the Jomtien Complex, which has replaced Boyztown as the gay mecca, which was the busiest of all the venues visited. Virtually all 15 or so open air bars were operational (nightclubs are not permitted there) for the first time since Christmas. The customers were mostly elderly European retirees engrossed in deep conversation with their fellow nationals. The main onsite restaurant, the popular Yupins, was quite busy and the immaculate transvestite stars at The Venue cabaret show were arriving in style on the back of motorbikes.
Perhaps the main beneficiaries of the reopening will be the small bars in residential neighborhoods all over Greater Pattaya where expats and Thais living locally like to gather to chat and eat cheaply after dark. The long winding road known as Soi Khao Thalo stretches from central Pattaya to the outer reaches of what is still called The Dark Side. About half the 100 or so bars and cafes were open and the total number of customers far exceeded those in the more famous nitery districts.
It is certainly the expats who are keeping Pattaya alive at the moment. With many European countries limiting flights to within the European Union, the UK deeming it “illegal” to take a vacation for fear of spreading the virus and monitored quarantine at both ends of a journey fast becoming the norm worldwide, there will be no triumphant cavalry of international holidaymakers arriving in Thailand for many months. There might be 15,000 expats in Greater Pattaya at the moment, mostly retirees and work permit holders, but ignoring the multitude of local guest workers from Myanmar and Cambodia on minimum wages. It’s a sobering business fact that the number of international arrivals and big spenders won’t be swelling any time soon.