The idea of Pattaya becoming a special zone with booze available 24/7, except for public holidays, has been invigorated by Move Forward MP Jaras Kumkhainam, recently elected to serve Pattaya and parts of Banglamung in the Thai House of Representatives. His party won the most seats in the national poll and is currently the front-runner to take the reins of government. Jaras said at a post-election celebration that Pattaya was a party city, favored by millions of foreign tourists every year, and needed flexibility.
The 24/7 Pattaya campaign has a long history. It was suggested by the Tourist Association of Thailand in the aftermath of the 2010 street demonstrations in Bangkok, which closed international airports for several days, in an attempt to boost new tourist arrivals in a privileged Happy Zone. The notion cropped up again during the latter stages of the recent covid crisis as a way of quickening the tourist revival in Pattaya. “Pattaya clubs and bars are recouping their losses right now, but need later hours in order to please customers and make a decent profit,” said Khun Tan, who manages several gin palaces in Walking Street and elsewhere. He also stressed that the new generation of clubs catered for Russians, Chinese, Indians and South Koreans rather than Caucasians.
Yet the chances of any government agreeing to prioritize Pattaya seem remote. Every recent city police chief has talked about the need to stamp out prostitution here even if the actual moves have been half-hearted. It is not even self-evident that Pattaya needs a 24/7 licence as the number of traditional fun-hungry European, American and Australian male tourists appears to be in significant decline. Immigration data shows that Thailand has welcomed around 10 million foreign tourists in 2023 so far. But the vast majority have been Indians, Chinese, Malaysians and Russians. Another factor is that almost half the arrivals have been tourist women, a fact which erodes the quaint notion that Pattaya caters mainly to men on personal night owl crusades.
Pattaya is changing. So says everyone. It is no longer the total preserve of journalist Bernard Trink who may have invented the term Sin City 40 years ago and once said, “If I didn’t smoke a pipe, I’d smell sex in Pattaya”. Several bar areas, for example in North Pattaya and along Beach and Second Roads, have been cleared by demolition to make way for five star complexes or posh condominiums. Neo or New Pattaya may not have arrived yet, but it’s on the cards. Pattaya entertainment still can mean go go dancers and transvestite cabarets, but it also means golf courses, leisure enters to attract families with kids, five star malls and luxurious hotels. In a recent column, Bangkok Stickman even speculated when the sex industry in Pattaya might become largely a thing of the past.
The traditional Pattaya market, the economy farang, still flourishes along Soi Buakhao where the competition to find the best English breakfast for under 120 baht or a cold beer for 50 baht is razor sharp. But the clientele are mainly male expats from the UK and continental Europe in their sixties, seventies and beyond. Visa shops in the area, which specialize in obtaining their one year retirement extensions without “hassle” appear to be worried that, as these guys die, they are not being replaced. There are also concerns that if immigration rules were seriously tightened, for example by compulsory medical insurance, Soi Buakhao would become a ghost district.
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The international media, particularly in Britain, continue to label Pattaya as a 24-hour sex city even though the clubs close at 2 a.m. The Daily Mail, in its recent report on a missing British teen who inappropriately turned up in Pattaya, referred to claims that the city was a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. The reality is that the city certainly hosts sex tourists, but they are a rapidly falling percentage of the international market. If Thailand wants to update its licensing laws, best to introduce 24/7 across the whole country. No need to single out Pattaya.