There was a time when Tukta thought she’d work in a Pattaya bar only long enough to earn money for university. Now she wonders if she’ll even make enough to survive.
The 20-year-old Phitsanulok native is one of tens of thousands of young women who supported their families, themselves and their futures by working in go-go and beer bars, catering to foreign tourists in a profession looked down upon by most Thais.
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Tukta said she never hid what she did for a living. She comes from a family of rice farmers in central Thailand. Each year her parents have to borrow the money to buy the seed, fertilizer and pesticides they needed to grow rice on their 20 rai of farmland. When the crop was good, they could pay back the loan and turn a profit. But not always.
So she came to Pattaya, as the money from the bars and her European customers supported her family. And, maybe one day, she’d also save enough to go to school and get a proper education.
That all ended in March.
The country’s four-month lockdown and eight-month recession have been especially hard on women like Tukta.
She mourned the loss of this year’s Songkran holiday. She said many of her friends from her village wanted to experience Pattaya’s crazy water festival, but it was canceled.
She was out of work and stuck in Pattaya. As a bargirl, she didn’t qualify for the government’s 5,000 baht-a-month pandemic compensation scheme and at one point had only a few thousand baht left in her bank account.
In May, she finally could go home after interprovincial bus services resumed. Now that the growing season is over, and bars are allowed to reopen, she’s back in Pattaya, but the prospects remain grim.
She now watches the television, eagerly looking for any sign the government is going to relax its strict border control and the ban on foreign tourists.
She was heartened by news that quarantine times could be cut from 14 to 10 days and has seen some business at her bar from both Thai and foreign domestic tourists on holidays and weekends.
But Tukta said that the only way beer bars in Pattaya and other tourist cities can survive is for the government to allow European visitors in soon. Otherwise, bars will close permanently and Pattaya will not be a lively city ever again.