With all the bars and clubs closed indefinitely, you might expect the beaches to be doing better. After all, Pattaya’s gay beach – actually in Jomtien – has been popular with male tourists, expats and locals for over 30 years. In 2015, the golden sands attracted over five thousand positive likes on Trip Advisor and Facebook. That particular year, to judge from social media, seems to have been the high spot.
These days it is hard to determine where the gay section of a two mile promenade actually is. “Somewhere in front of the Rabbit Resort,” I was told by a lottery-ticket seller. One deckchair renter has actually erected a Rainbow notice in the sand, emphasizing the compulsory free wi-fi, but his customers totaled just two elderly Germans sipping soda water and a breathless Liverpudlian attempting press-ups.
Some of the other beach concession operators were doing worse. At best, there were 20 customers competing for 500 or more deckchairs and loungers. Chit, a beach attendant of long standing, says the reasons for absenteeism are more diverse than the pesky virus. “Gay beaches and swimming zones have gone out of fashion,” he says. “The modern idea is social mixing with straights, families and gays all together under the sun.” He adds that older European gays, the mainstay of his business, didn’t like the trend and stopped coming.
Another problem, Chit feels, is the Pattaya local authority which has developed the whole Dongtan Beach area with car parks, a concrete road and mysterious open areas without any seating, shade or facilities. Not to mention the restrictions on food and drink consumption enforced by occasional police patrols or the men from the Food and Drugs Administration. “They call it progress,” claims Chit, “but the whole area has lost its sense of fun. They even chased away the manicure ladies and the beach massage boys.”
He could be right. A recently-erected hoarding in Thai, Chinese and English describes in 38 sections the latest austere regulations. You can’t drink or possess alcoholic drinks, mustn’t join a picnic or barbeque but must wear a mask at all times, must quit the area by 8 p.m. and resist the temptation to play music or make a loud noise. And so on. Nowhere in the exhaustive list does it say what you can do.
Certainly very little was going on. Two deviantly maskless Thais were playing that mysterious board game which looks like chess, but isn’t, on a table planted wobbily in the sand. An elderly Thai man was offering foot massages which he claimed were permitted as long as they took place in the open air. A lady was changing her baby’s nappy near an ice cream cart which was parked on the roadway where stalls are said to be legal.
A solo American retiree was keen to explain to all and sundry why he was not wearing the obligatory mask. “They fog up your glasses and breathing-in carbon monoxide can kill you,” he pronounced. He said he was thoroughly browned-off with Thailand and would be trying Cambodia next, apparently oblivious that Phnom Penh is in total lockdown and that all foreign tourists are strictly banned from entry.
Chit summed up the situation. “Gay people like busy places, so the scene here has collapsed.” But he produced his cell phone with all the popular gay hook-ups displayed there: Grindr, Hornet, Scruff and the rest. “I make my money these days translating messages for farang and arranging introductions,” he says. “There’s absolutely no future in beach umbrellas.”