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Pattaya is evolving – embrace it and move on

I was on a Facetime call with the editor the other day when he said words to the effect that “the Pattaya of old will never return”.

I confess that my initial reaction was one of sadness. But I knew what he meant.

The Prince song encouraged us to “party like it’s 1999” but, for me, the Pattaya “party” began a year later in 2000. Perhaps you are familiar with the time. The Di Caprio film, The Beach, had just come out. If people had previously been unaware of the backpacking lure of Thailand, that film helped them to learn quickly.

Free love (well, cheap love), a ready supply of dodgy substances to sniff or inject, beer at a quarter of the price “back home” (wherever home was), what wasn’t to like? I wasn’t into the dodgy substances by the way, but I did pay a fair bit of attention to the other diversions listed.

Thailand was in recovery mode. The country had experienced a financial crisis in 1997-8. Condo blocks had been left half-finished and the baht had shrunk against all major currencies. As a new kid in town in 2000 the exchange rate against the pound was hovering around the 70 mark – just under, I seem to recall. It was a warm “paradise” far away from cold British winters. Young people seeking to sow wild oats and folks approaching retirement were making a beeline for Thailand. The youngsters were able to make their money last longer; the older group was happy that their pension would stretch further.

For outsiders, It was a good time to be in Thailand.

But, since the turn of the millennium, the “Pattaya of old” has been gradually disappearing. Well, for two decades, the change had been gradual. With a current exchange rate against the pound of about 40 baht, the “cheap as chips” tag no longer applies. In many respects, Thailand has grown stronger as the Western world has declined.

Now the changes are more akin to a revolution than an evolution thanks to COVID-19. The pandemic has shaken up the old order, maybe never to return. Even before coronavirus reached the country’s shores the bar scene in Pattaya, for example, was in decline. Not a sharp decline, but a decline. Time was that a bar complex would spring up on any bare patch of land. Not any more. I read within the past few days that one of the bar scene stalwarts, the Tahitian Queen (TQ Bar) on Beach Road was closing for good. I’m not distraught at the news, but it does mark the end of an era.

How you react to these COVID-induced changes that probably depends on how long you have been in the city. Little time, then you wouldn’t have known Pattaya at its peak so you aren’t “missing” anything. A long time, then maybe you will have had your fill of the bar scene and are glad that you put down roots on the Dark Side.

When I eventually get back to the Land of Smiles I think I will find myself in the latter group – a bit bored with some aspects of the city’s nightlife, but glad at the thought that they’re still there should the mood take me.

Older, wiser or just plain tired? I’ll leave you to speculate.

Pattaya has moved from being mainly a place for the young or old to party. It has become more of a family destination thanks to amenities such as water parks.

Indeed, it has become more of a Thai destination. A weird thing to say? I’ll explain my thinking. At the turn of the millennium, Bangkok Thais would turn their noses up at the mere mention of Pattaya. It was full of drunken farangs behaving badly. Those farangs still exist but not in such large numbers thanks to the strong baht making a drinking session a lot more expensive.

Over the past two decades the Thais seem to have become more well disposed to Pattaya and the villages to the north and south of it. It has become an acceptable (dare I say, desirable) place to spend a weekend and maybe longer. I expect this trend to continue. If the high-speed railway comes (note, I don’t say when) I expect an explosion of interest in the Pattaya property market from Thai buyers. Think about it. Thais working in Bangkok will be able to buy full-time homes in Pattaya as opposed to ones just for the weekend. They will be able to commute to the capital in less than an hour and when 5 o’clock comes on a Friday they know they will be heading home for a weekend close to the beach with quality time spent at places such as their favourite fish restaurant.

Yes, the make-up of the city’s population is changing – hence this magazine is producing Thai and Chinese language editions. When this magazine started it was aimed at expat English-speakers – Brits, Americans, Aussies. That readership is still here (happily) but the demographic of today’s tourists, tomorrow’s property buyers, is evolving. A decade or so ago the city went through a spell of high popularity with Russians seeking warm holiday destinations when it became difficult or dangerous to travel to their favourite north African hot spots. They haven’t stopped coming, but now we see more people from the Indian sub-continent and China. Pattaya has become a real melting pot of nations.

I don’t think that the “old Pattaya” can, or will, return. Many businesses of all types, not just bars, will not survive these pandemic lockdowns. I must say that, looking on from Britain, I thought the Thais had managed to contain COVID well. But, it seems not. It comes as little surprise that immigrant workers from Myanmar are being blamed for the current problems. True or not, the Burmese always seem to get the blame.

It may seem a little trite to say this, but the adage about the “survival of the fittest” is almost certain to prevail. Is that such a bad thing? I see a lot of Facebook activity from people trying to encourage others to support certain restaurants, the better ones, I hope.

If the pandemic means Pattaya will rid itself of the so-so offerings and only see the best survive, is that totally bad? The “party” isn’t over but, once the COVID problem is contained, you might just find that different types of parties will be held.

Things may change dramatically, post-pandemic, and not necessarily for the best. But I have no doubt whatsoever that Pattaya will come back strongly. In recent history, the Thai people have shown wonderful resilience and bouncebackability (if that’s a word). I have no reason to think it won’t happen again.

Embrace the changes… and move on! The “new” Pattaya will turn out well. I just hope it doesn’t take too long to get there.

 

By Dave Buckley

Photography:

Samart Thongserm (ช่างภาพพัทยา รับถ่ายภาพ)

Ross Photography Photography facebook.com/Ross.Photographers