Readers' Submissions

Midnight Closing

  • Written by Phil Ross
  • February 23rd, 2004
  • 14 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok



Thailand certainly is changing right before our very eyes. Is it for better or for worse? Who can say at this early stage? My own personal gut feeling is that the conservative, draconian, heavy handed policies of the current government is probably not in the long term interests of the people of Thailand, nor are these conformist policies sustainable for any great length of time.

Thailand is gaining economic wealth at a rapid rate and with the general rise in Thai standards of living has come a rise in social problems. It is said that the social development is not keeping up with economic development in Thailand.

Developing countries such as Thailand look towards Europe and America and see many social ills. They like to think of this moral decay as a Western problem but in actual fact it is a problem of any modern society that gains economic wealth and also offers its citizens personal freedoms. Singapore for example is wealthy but with tight controls on individual’s rights and freedoms it does not suffer the social decay that other wealthy societies encounter. The only problem is that for most people Singapore is a completely un-livable, sterile city with no soul.

Thai people certainly have shown a great deal of apathy in recent days. If a government of any Western nation engaged in a questionable war on drugs which resulted in the murders of thousands of suspected drug dealers, there would undoubtedly be a national outcry. If a government of any Western nation chose to close all forms entertainment at midnight there would be intense protest at the infringement on people’s freedoms. If a government of any Western nation imposed an across the board 10pm curfew on it’s under 18 citizens there would be uproar. All theses things have recently happened in Thailand and yet the apathetic citizens have so far responded with great indifference.

I don’t know if I am amazed more by the authoritarian government’s short sighted approach to the so called social decay of Thailand or the Thai people’s indifference to the restrictions of their personal freedoms and liberties. I am certain of one thing ­ we have still only touched the tip of the iceberg. This government has many more plans formulating up its sleeve and we are likely to see even more draconian measures than midnight closings and 10pm curfews for the youth.

I can see the cost of bar, gogo bar and nightclub licenses skyrocket in the future making many businesses ventures unviable. I can see 7-11s and food stalls prohibited from selling alcohol and limited numbers of licensed alcohol bottle shops sprouting up. I can see the minimum age for drinking raised higher. I can see heavy penalties for drink driving being implemented. I can see increased taxes on alcohol. I can see gogo bars and full body massage parlors outlawed. I can see a bigger tightening of visa laws in order to only allow “Quality Tourists” to enter the kingdom. I can see a general government policy aimed at controlling Thai citizens under the age of 30 years manifest itself in many insidious ways.

In typical Thai political fashion the new closing time policy was rushed thru Thai parliament with little consideration of the consequences of the long-term side effects. Suspicious paranoid observers will say the government was simply trying to draw attention away from the militant Islamic problems down South and to a lesser extent the Chicken Flu crisis. In any event the restricted operating hours are now government policy and that is the way it will stay. It would be very difficult for the government to withdraw the policy without loosing face. If the government feels that the negative consequences of the policy are too great then it will discreetly instruct the police force to ignore the law and Thailand will quietly revert back to extended operating hours and the poor deprived police will start getting their kick backs again.

It is obvious to all concerned that the shortened hours of operation will likely spell the death of the Sukumvit area. The 6pm opening will do as much damage as the midnight closing. Sukumvit is home away from home to many senior citizens from America and Europe. These gentlemen do not often see the other side of midnight, so the closing time is not an issue for them but opening times most certainly are an issue. These guys will be sitting on the lounge suites in the foyers of Nana Hotel, Dynasty Inn and many other Sukumvit hotels formulating plans to shift to greener pastures. These fellows have seen it all in their time, they will initially ride out the storm and play the waiting game but eventually they know they will have to move on in search of a comfortable living area out the back of Patpong or perhaps head down the coast to Pattaya. In the meantime Nana Disco may as well close its doors now for it is doomed. The Nana gogo bars will still get the occasional titillated patron checking it all out for the first time, oblivious to how good the Plaza was in its heyday. But the numbers of customers will not nearly support the 30 odd bars in the Plaza and the majority will close their doors due to the fact that the girls will not hang around with no customers in sight. And we all know no female entertainment equals no male customers.

Patpong on the other hand will obviously thrive and many new businesses will open there if new license applications are granted by the government. This will invariably lead to problems from all the tourists, sex tourists, expats and everyone else converging on the area. Already traffic is a nightmare and safety and security is an issue. This can only get far, far worse. Future demand and supply in the Patpong area is hard to gauge at this early stage but one could expect the general prices in the area to soar. Somebody is going to clean up from the new social order policies.

Many sex tourists will be forced to head to Pattaya where closing times have had little effect. It seems they haven’t heard about the social order policies down that part of the coast. Given that the resort is solely centered around entertainment, it is a bit too risky for even the government to dare mess with the operating hours down there for fear of upsetting the status quo.

Overall the new restrictions to the operating hours of entertainment venues will probably not affect how many sex tourists visit Thailand, how much money they spend or Thailand’s notorious international reputation. Sex tourists are very much hung up on Thailand and the alternatives are not appealing enough to warrant a change. Sex tourists will grumble and complain but they will still keep coming back. They will certainly have to change and modify their behavior somewhat but they will be back. Thailand’s notorious international reputation is based on Patpong Road and Pattaya so it is difficult to see how Thailand could shake the unwanted image when these areas are set to thrive even stronger than before.

The new restrictions to the operating hours of entertainment venues will certainly affect how many regular 20-30 year old backpacker / tourists visit Thailand. This demographic of people actually has plenty of money to spend and has no interest whatsoever in the naughty nightlife. Certainly a small proportion of this demographic has an interest in mind-altering substances, particularly if they are attending full moon parties. This group of people wants to visit temples and lie on the beach by day and they want to party and drink past 12:00 AM by night. Koh Sarn Road, Phi Phi, Krabi and The East Coast Islands will suffer very badly from the new social order policies. The back packer group of people has many number of alternative destinations around the world to choose from and they will vote with their feet. In Asia alone they have many alternatives such as The Philippine islands, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysian islands, Bali, Guam, Goa, etc. Thailand can very easily loose the custom of this group of people and if for example a number of good islands in The Philippines such as Boarcay get their act together, promote tourism and invest in infrastructure then Thailand will have a difficult time getting the back packers to come back because it is no longer the “trendy” place to go. (I wonder if this backpacker demographic falls inside or outside of the government’s idea of a “Quality Tourist?)

Finally there are the honeymooners and couples demographic. Some of these kinds of people will be affected by new operating hours and choose alternative destinations and others will not. A midnight closing time will probably see a small decline in the numbers of these people visiting the kingdom. Many affluent couples I know will be hesitant to visit the kingdom due to the new operating times and they will weigh up their options and alternatives. The new opening times will be as much of deterrence as the new closing times. They want to lie in the hotel pool in the afternoon and sip on a glass of wine after a buffet lunch. These people are liberal minded and are used to having their freedom. Thailand could conceivably loose a lot of this market with its social order policies.

RCA is already a mess, spend a Saturday night down there and you will quickly realize why the government is on a moral crusade to save its youth. All the social ills of Thailand are present at RCA. Drug abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity, violent assault, crime and other associated vice are all part of RCA. So why the hell then has the government given special zoning to RCA to open late when this is just going to attract more customers to an already over run problematic area? I guess it’s just another case of Thailand defying any reasonable Western logic. Why do I even bother to try and comprehend such bizarre reasoning?

Much has been said about the government’s desire to attract a “Quality Tourist” to the kingdom. The idea of a “Quality Tourist” is simply a myth. They want to promote Thailand as a family destination but families from Europe and America do not have as much disposable income as he likes to think. How can families afford to fly 10,000km to Thailand, service the mortgage repayments, car loans, school fees, doctors, dentists, etc? Many families are looking after kids on one income and have no disposable cash until they get on top of the home loan and the kids start to leave school and are less dependent. There are other non financial considerations to take into account. Families do not want to put their kids on a plane for 10 hours and go to countries with SARS, chicken flu, Muslim uprisings in the South and International terrorism always present. It is safer to holiday domestically with the family. I came from a wealthy background and nobody I knew ever took the family regularly overseas for holidays. We generally went down the coast or interstate for our school holidays. If any family went overseas it may have been once in our lifetime and it was usually through Europe or America. Midnight closings will not bring about a better quality traveler to Thailand.

The current government enjoys an unprecedented control of 40% of the seats around the country. This has given it somewhat of a mandate to implement its social order policies which are both visionary and popularist. Make no mistake, Thai middle to upper class society is far more conservative than you might think and the government has the strong support of this group of people. The social order policies are very much aimed at appealing to middle and upper class Thai society who really do control Thai society from business to banking to education to health to military and to the courts. These people are thrilled with the work the government is doing and have no reservations about removing the freedoms and liberties of the Thai citizens.

The government has many objectives on its agenda with the social order policies. Some are clearly stated and others are somewhat shrouded. Certainly the government is obsessed with protecting the “purity” of its youth. They often use the term “youth” and we mistake it to mean Thai citizens under the age of 18 years but in fact the government is actually referring to people below the age of 30 years. Inside the conservative middle and upper class families parents have no hesitation in trying to control and modify the activities of the family members below 30 years of age (particularly the females) and they are having trouble keeping control of their sons and daughters. They are happy to look to the government to assist them with controlling their son and daughters and keep them locked up safely in bed at night.

The government is also genuinely concerned with the road toll and the inherent tendencies of Thais to drink drive. One would assume that restricting the supply of alcohol would limit the number of road fatalities from drink driving.

The government also has the aim of creating headlines with its midnight closings and wants to send a message to the rest of the world that it is not Sin City anymore but it is a morally righteous city to be proud of. Much the same as the Taliban wanted to make Afghanistan the perfect example of pure Islam. This would result in great amounts of face for Thailand. It is doubtful as to weather the government will achieve this aim.

Ultimately the government’s visionary agenda is to turn Thailand into a thriving industrious hard working prosperous society. This goal is certainly admirable and we as Westerners should support and commend the government’s ambitions. We certainly should not support the way that the government is removing its citizen’s freedoms and liberties in order to achieve its goals. The basic logic is that if Thai people do not have the opportunity to consume alcohol for very great periods of time then they will go home to bed, get up early in the morning and work hard. This is good for the country.

We will sit back and watch how this social order policy unfolds and what effects it has on the Thai society, its cultural and social values, its moral fiber and its general way of life. The government’s policies may prove to be in the long term best interests of the country and Thailand may become a shining example of moral virtues. From a Western point of view I would say that the government is taking a heavy handed approach to the problem but it is not ready to deal with the cause of the problems. Restricting people’s freedoms and liberties does not cause them to gain moral virtues. Although I must admit it is hard to say just what effect it will have on the under 30 year age group in Thailand and how they will respond to the removal of the freedoms they once enjoyed. In all probability they will be driven “underground” in search of their freedom to engage in entertainment. There will be more Thai people driving down Pattaya to attend all night discoth?ques and parties. We will also see a lot of inventive parties in homes and other improvised makeshift venues. It is illogical to think that you can remove the desire to “go out and have fun” from these people.

In the case of the drug problem in Thailand, the government has temporarily removed the supply segment of the chain. They have not removed the production and they have not removed the demand. Eventually the drug problem will resurface and will keep coming back unless it is properly dealt with. The government must face the question of why people use drugs if it is to solve the drug problem in Thailand.

Thailand has changed in 30 years and the older conservative generation does not like what they see. The younger generation is more promiscuous and more adventurous than ever before (but the girls are generally not all that promiscuous). The genie is out of the bottle and you cannot turn back the hands of time. Thailand’s economic development and rises in standards of livings has given many Thais new freedom to share in the riches that the modern world has to offer. It seems extraordinary that at the same time wealth is granting Thais freedom, the conservative and fearful government is hell bent on removing Thai’s freedoms.

Stickman says:

Never before have I seen an issue in Thailand get so many Westerners talking. It is hard to say how this will play itself out, and we probably won’t know for some time. If the government is to succeed in their goals, I think there needs to be an ideological change on certain issues in Thailand ­ and to me, that is something that they will struggle to ever achieve.