Now in his sixties, “Pope”, a Belgian tourist who has been coming to Pattaya for 30 years, is literally one of a dying breed.
Most of the friends the former miner came to party with in Pattaya starting in 1990 have passed on. And Pope doesn’t do the go-go and beer bars anymore. He’s content to relax on the beach with a former bargirl he met way back when and returns to visit her every year.
“I come here for love,” Pope said in a Feb. 11 interview on Jomtien Beach, glancing over to the middle-aged ex-hostess he calls his girlfriend for a month each year. “I like sitting on the beach to see the sea while drinking beers with the person I love. This is my happiness.”
Europeans coming to Pattaya and staying with one woman for a month are hard to find anymore. Today, Pattaya has transitioned into a destination for Chinese and Indian tour groups and stay-by-themselves Russians who forgo the bars and spend little money once they’ve arrived. Their revenue goes to agents and brokers back home, not to bar hostesses, beach vendors and small hotel owners.
Pattaya also has gotten a lot more expensive, Pope said. In the 90s, the Belgian franc bought a lot in Thailand and the euro – which started out in 2002 at virtually the same exchange rate it is today – jumped from 37 to 52 euros to the baht by 2006.
“Back then, with less than 10,000 euros, you could live comfortably,” he said. Now he spends about 200,000 baht over a month’s time, including airfare.
“If I had enough money, I would stay in Thailand forever. But it’s impossible due to high expenses. I have no money to pay for private health insurance here. In my homeland, the government is responsible for that. Although we pay high taxes, it’s worth it.”
Pope started working in the mines at age 15 and eventually started working offshore, earning higher wages than he could at home. It was dangerous work, but it paid well. Now he lives off corporate and government pensions.
He comes to Thailand not only for love, but the weather. He said it’s simply too cold at home.
But he acknowledges that Pattaya is not the same for him as it was.
“The friends who visited Pattaya together 30 years ago have already died and I’m old and want to have comfort and a peaceful vacation in the style I like,” Pope said. “Although the new generations visit Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos or other places because they are less expensive, I have good memories here and Thailand and Pattaya are heaven for me.”