During better times, Sompong ‘Uncle Tor’ Noisit could drive his baht bus only two days a week and earn enough for a comfortable living. Now he’s behind the wheel every day and struggling to make ends meet.
Pattaya’s “brave new world” has changed life for everyone, including the ubiquitous songthaew drivers. In 2019, almost 700 converted pickup trucks clogged the streets, waiting in long queues to cherry-pick high-paying tourists and regularly arguing or even fighting tourists over 10 baht.
There currently are about 100 active songthaews now being driven around the city with better attitudes and service toward the few customers they get.
Sompong, 55, said many drivers have left Pattaya, either for their hometowns or to drive air-conditioned taxis in Bangkok or other cities. Others have switched careers.
He said he once earned up to 6,000 baht a day, enough to pay for the pickup rent, daily expenses, and his children’s lunch, and allowing him to take more time off than on. No more. Now he’s driving every day and earning only hundreds, not thousands, of baht.
But things have picked up, Sompong said. The government’s many subsidized-travel campaigns have brought more Thais and expats to Pattaya on weekends and holidays. The city definitely has a stronger heartbeat than it did after the lockdown ended, the Kalasin native said.
Sompong said he’s resigned to the fact life will not return to the way it was soon, or possibly ever. But he’ll keep working, as having a few hundred baht in his pocket at the end of the day is better than having none, he said.