An innocent-looking notice board has now appeared at the entrance to Pattaya’s most famous landmark: Walking Street. It carries the logo of the Provincial Electricity Authority with a Thai text which promises that underground cables will replace the splurge of overhead wires which have hitherto lit up the bars and clubs. The project will stretch into next year.
However, the accompanying futuristic drawing is devoid of any sign of nitery entertainment and encourages the idea of a wholesome and green future. The mega cash is being put up by a foreign and Thai consortium linked to the Eastern Economic Corridor, well-known for its preference for a neo or new Pattaya which will abandon the traditional sauciness and sex.
What we can expect as a long-term replacement will be a cruise ship terminal, a skytrain, a zoo, children’s rides, lots of restaurants, even a park. In other words, family entertainment aimed mostly at Thais and the new-generation of foreign tourists who will be largely Chinese, Japanese and Asean nationals. Of course, it won’t all happen tomorrow. The vision is a post-Covid one.
The traditional Walking Street has had its critics for decades. A Thai prime minister of the 1970s called it “shameful” before being ousted in a coup, and legions of western moralists have decried the debauchery in nightclubs which they had presumably seen for themselves before deciding. Meanwhile, attempts have frequently been made to knock down the seaward buildings as they were built illegally. Unsurprisingly, nothing much happened because of the huge profits made from the booze and flesh trades.
Walking Street started losing money a few years ago, but the coronavirus virus has seen it largely shuttered apart from two short-lived and half-hearted attempts at reopening in July 2020 and January 2021. Earlier this year, the local authority confirmed that no building which jutted into the sea –about half the total – would be allowed to renew their operating licences for 2022. This time the destruction is for real. The padlocks and chains will be removed by excavators.
City Hall has tried to burn the candle at both ends, proclaiming that Pattaya needs a vibrant nightlife but also wholesome activities for the daytime. Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome has backed calls for a transformed Walking Street more in tune with the ethos of the new decade. British expat Lee Sanders said he’s writing a book about the history of the Walking Street. “2019 was the last year of serious operation,” he said, “the writing is on the wall in big letters.”