Pattaya fruit vendors struggling to make ends meet during Covid-19 pandemic

Aunty Urai sells all sorts of fruits including langsat, papaya, watermelons, rambutans, oranges and grapes.

It was but only a few months ago when Pattaya was still swarming with tourists from all corners of the world. They came to Thailand and especially Pattaya to enjoy the weather, the sights, our beaches, our bustling night life and of course our exquisite Thai cuisine.

Thailand is also known for hundreds of varieties of fruits. A person of any culture with any taste would definitely fall in love with at least one if not all the different species of fruits so abundantly available here.

At this time of year, the Durian season is upon us again, as we notice throngs of people gathering around fruit stands around town admiring the thorny green beauties piled up on a table or arranged neatly in boxes on the pavement. People anxiously looking over each other’s shoulders to get a glimpse of the fruit, longing for their turn to just get close and touch it.

Aunty Urai arranges her Durians on the place of honour.

My favourite fruit vendor is Aunty Urai located on Central Road, where she rents space in front of a gold shop.

Aunty Urai is a happy-go-lucky person who loves the world. She loves to talk about her life, her children and her experiences selling fruits to the thousands of customers both locals and tourists at that very same location for the past few years. I always enjoy talking to her. I learn a lot about Thai fruits and the Thai way of life from her.

Aunty Urai said that Chonburi and the eastern region of Thailand are blessed as one of the finest fruit growing regions in Thailand. She boasted, “I have many friends who grow fruits and I get my supply directly from the farms and orchards. I choose my fruits carefully to make sure that I get the best quality to sell to my customers.

“I sell a variety of fruits such as langsat, papaya, watermelons, rambutans, oranges and grapes and many others. For the moment, it is high season for durians and mangoes. They are the best sellers. Durians sell for 80-120 baht per kilogram and the mangoes are 40 baht a kilogram.

Aunty Urai explained further, “The prices of fruits vary throughout the year. It varies on the crop yield and the supply and demand. A good and bountiful harvest can overwhelm the market and prices drop, much to the benefit and happiness of the consumers.”

On the day of my visit, she didn’t seem happy at all. I asked her the reason for her looking so glum.

Shaking her head and without even a smile she said, “Last year at this time, my business was doing unbelievably well. My stall was swarming with customers both Thai and foreign almost all evening and most especially late at night when they came by after shopping and dinner and were on their way back to their hotels.

She went on, “Things were so busy that I didn’t even have time to eat. I would have to put down my plate of rice, and spend hours peeling durian after durian for my customers. And mangoes too.” With a slight hint of a smile reminiscing the happy thought she added, “I actually enjoyed doing that so very much.”

“My biggest group of foreign customers were the Chinese. They make up 80% of my sales. They love Thai fruits. In those days I could easily make 5000 baht to 7000 baht a day. I was so happy and was making plans to send my children to a good school and save money for a better life in the future.

“Then the corona virus hit us. In the beginning, I didn’t understand what everyone was talking about. All I noticed was that tourists started to disappear and no new ones were coming. Even very few Thais were seen on the streets.

“My income dropped to only 800-1200 baht a day. I became very worried. Not so much for the virus, but for my business and my children. It is a scary feeling.”

Aunty Urai complained that nowadays the younger generation are selling fruits online and that is also taking away a lot of her business. “On a good day, I sell almost everything. But in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by the curfew, I unhappily have to pack most of my fruits and take them back home at night.

I want to see my people go back to work again, to earn money to look after their families. Our farmers break their backs working on their farms and orchards all year long and I would like to see that they can sell their produce at fair prices. The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt every level of society and professions but it’s the working class that is hurting the most.

“Thailand is a land of plenty and my heart breaks when I see thousands of people standing in line to get food and water. Thailand has never been, nor seen anything like this.”

“I pray to all that is holy to please put an end to this virus and that Thailand and everyone living here can go back to living our normal lives again. I really want to see tourists from Europe and Asia coming back to Thailand again.”