Goodbye for now: bars shut down with return uncertain
Dancers carried bags and hugged friends goodbye. Wide-eyed tourists wandered aimlessly. And bar owners cried into their 7-Eleven beers as Walking Street turned off the lights for at least two weeks as Pattaya combats the coronavirus.
Chonburi Gov. Phakhathorn Thienchai on March 18 signed the order shutting down the province’s bars, pubs, massage parlors, stadiums and other entertainment venues. In the eyes of Pattaya beer and go-go bar owners, he might as well have been signing their death warrants.
Reeling since the emergence of Covid-19 in China in January and Beijing’s subsequent banning of overseas tours to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Pattaya saw the last nail hammered into the coffin of this year’s high season with Wednesday’s order.
While bar owners grudgingly agreed the move was necessary as the virus takes hold in Thailand – there are now nearly 200 reported cases – it didn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Bar owners surveyed said they wanted the government to take strong action to wipe out Covid-19 in Thailand and conduct more high-profile cleaning exercises so tourists will feel safe and come back as soon as possible.
While the shutdown applied to all of Pattaya, it was most obvious on Walking Street, which fell into near darkness with only some of the signature neon illuminated.
Many of the thousands of dancers and service staff employed on the street came to clean out their lockers and say goodbye to friends and coworkers, unsure when they will meet again. The shutdown officially lasts only until March 31, but many believe the same as the owners of Infinity a-Go-Go, who hung a sign on the door saying they would be closed for two months, not two weeks.
On the street, tourists – already shell-shocked by the news buffeting their home countries and worries over whether they can even get home at all – looked even more haggard, watching the last bit of fun sucked from their vacations.
Convenience stores remained open and brave food vendors rolled out looking for customers. Sex workers – mostly transvestites – lurked in the dark shadows that draped Walking Street’s side sois, leaving even 20-year residents feeling more uneasy than they could recall. The vibe was palpably tense, with an emotional mix of sadness, anger and dread over what the uncertain future holds.
Indeed, while the government announced that the shutdown will last just two weeks, officials quickly added that it would be extended if needed. With many predicting that Thailand is just now only seeing the crest of infections, a prolonged shutdown seems a safe bet.