Thailand’s premier seaside resort these days is reminiscent of the once-famous urban sprawl of Bodie in California. After the gold-rush era of the 1870s came to an end, it became America’s most famous ghost city. Well, the only people left in Pattaya these days can’t think of any viable alternative.
The traditional pot of gold – sex to you and me – has obviously been knifed by the closure of all bars, clubs and massage shops. The oldest profession has switched almost entirely to the introduction bureaux of the internet if you know where to look. One foreign downloader said, “I’m getting used to all this now, so I doubt I’ll ever go back to meeting girls in Walking Street or wherever.” He added the choice on the app was amazing. “So many willing candidates.”
In a dark street off the Jomtien Beach Road, two young ladies sat sheepishly in dim light outside a semi-closed massage shop. “The business is finished,” they said with a twinkle, “but we are selling watermelon instead.” In a nearby abandoned gay area, an elderly British guy is walking with a swishy youth towards his parked car. “Don’t get the wrong idea,” he uttered, “I’m giving him a lift home.” The youth innocently blunders by pointing out he lives only 20 yards away.
Most restaurants are still open but they can supply only take-home food. Bored cook Jan said, “The trouble is people have got used to cooking at home now, so business is down.” He also criticized the home-delivery services for being too expensive. “People now are really scared of Covid so they don’t want contact with anybody.” Jan said he had applied to be a security guard. “You are not expected to do anything for your money except sit down.”
Some Pattaya restaurants are trying to diversify. Several are doing well supplying frozen products all over Thailand and using public transport and even domestic flights for delivery. Others are offering discounts and incentives. Some are even trying to bend the lockdown rules. A coffee shop on the Dark Side was serving non-alcoholic drinks to seated customers chatting merrily. The owner Khun Toy said, “I’m not a restaurant and don’t sell food or alcohol, so I’m OK as long as everyone wears a mask.” Whether the police would agree, if they knew, is a moot point.
A shuttered cabaret show on Thepprasit Road has turned its enormous promotional TV screen into an advertising medium with big-name customers. The caretaker on duty says, “The owners used to make money selling transvestite shows, but now they advertise the Siam Commercial Bank and the Provincial Electricity Authority.” Sign of the times, we agreed.
It is currently common practice to see ordinary householders selling goods at the garden gate. One enterprising Thai couple near the Land Office, made redundant when most hotels closed months ago, have a stall selling mangos and sticky rice at cheaper prices than any restaurant can offer. “We couldn’t give the fruit away before the pandemic, now we often have a queue.” It’s all about marketing.
Although Pattaya currently has a significant homeless issue, there are surprisingly few beggars actually on the streets. The free-food cabinets and no-charge meals in plastic bags, organized mostly by foreigners in an earlier Covid panic, have almost completely disappeared too. Some say the government cash handouts are easier to obtain this time around, others claim the opposite. Thailand is a confusing place.
A Pattaya City council member summed up, “Pattaya has been through grim times before, although not on this scale.” He predicted that Pattaya will have its own Sandbox (quarantine-free vacations) by October and a boom time next Christmas. “After all the publicity about ghost towns, foreign tourists will be desperate to see the Pattaya haunts for themselves.” Let’s hope he’s right.