Although famous nitery districts such as Walking Street and Boyztown have attracted most of the sympathy for shuttered premises and mass redundancy, there are other casualties. At the Pattaya Beach Road end of Soi Yamato, or Soi 13/1, the once-popular tourist assistance centre stands empty and dilapidated. The management at the city’s police station closed it almost a year ago. Serving and protecting is pointless when the tourists have vanished.
Soi Yamato is a faint shadow of its former self. All the nightclubs and bars are closed including the once-notorious Dog’s Bollocks where hardened British drinkers used to gather and where a “Liverpool kiss” wasn’t out of the question. The expression refers to a sudden head butt when you are least expecting it. Although the venue in practice never remotely lived up to its nefarious reputation, there were a couple of occasions when the street outside was littered with broken beer bottles and even misused furniture. A tongue-in-cheek British travel guide of 1998 described it as one of the Seven Wonders of Pattaya alongside a nearby fish and chip shop (Your Plaice or Mine?) and the first cafe offering “the best breakfast in town” (for which title there are currently dozens of contenders).
Now, even the Starbucks has gone, the only reminders being a couple of paper cups blowing around outside and a superfluous notice stating “Now Closed”. The massage parlours are also formally shut and, following a recent police raid, hardly any dare to entice customers with the allure of half-closed shutters and a dim interior light.
A couple of hotels are still open and the restaurants too. The Swan still offers hearty meals to what remains of the local British expat population, whilst The Bistro is very well regarded by the Pattaya food-related social media. The former British hold on South Pattaya is still reflected in the names of now closed bars such as The George and Dragon and the Jolly Roger.
The street is named after a popular Japanese restaurant which has operated since the 1980s, reflecting a former Thai tradition to label thoroughfares after a dominant or early business arrival. In its heyday, at the turn of the century, Soi Yamato hosted a dozen or so pubs – many with the Union Jack hanging outside next to the Thai flag – which offered darts, snooker and quizzes to enthusiastic vacationers and indulgent expats. Not to mention golf expeditions on a near daily basis.
Can those days ever return? “Not on that scale,” says Jack Pierce, who has lived in the area more than 20 years. “The British presence in Pattaya had slumped long before the coronavirus pandemic. History never repeats itself. But ageing expats such as myself continue to live on the fond memories.”