Is This The End For The Yellow Shirts?
I am back in Pattaya for my first visit since February. The last time I was here, there was no real hint of the turmoil that was to erupt in April and May, but if you are a frequent visitor, the changes are easy to spot.
I always stay at the Eastiny 7 on Soi 7, and once the sun sets it becomes one of the noisiest streets in the world as the various bars declare that they are open for business via their sound systems. Usually as soon as you walk out of the hotel lobby, you are hit by a wall of noise and you have to shout if you are talking to somebody. Though it is still noisy, it is a lot quieter now.
For breakfast, I usually go to Rosie O’Grady’s which is just opposite the hotel, and watch the world go by from the balcony. There are about ten tables on the balcony, and I am used to seeing half of them occupied by the time I get there. In two out of the five days, I have been here, I was the only customer. Yes, I know this is the off-season, but that is usually when I am here.
Looking across the street from the balcony, there are three shops. Two of these are empty and have closed since my last visit. There are quite a few empty former bars to be seen, especially in the complexes. I know that there have always been empty bars in the complexes, but the current picture includes bars that have closed down and are likely to stay vacant for the foreseeable future.
Please don’t misunderstand me because there are still thousands of bars open, but you can see the difference if you are a frequent visitor. Some of those that have remained open, and you might drop into at 10.00 am, now may not open until 2 or 3 pm.
Another place that has closed that I patronised is Bosco’s Irish bar on Central Road. It only opened in the latter part of last year, and the business model was that it was the only authentic Irish bar in Pattaya, I remember at the time, talking with Bosco, and thinking to myself, that there can’t be that many people who come to Pattaya who want to drink in an authentic Irish bar, especially when there were no bargirls working there. When I came back in February, I was pleased to see that it was still there, though I was convinced, that it would not be. Bosco told me then that business was great, but I never saw that many customers in there. Sadly, it has now gone, and didn’t even last a year.
Something that most of us will have seen is the Farang with the very unattractive Thai girlfriend, handholding as they stroll down the streets. I know it is not a very nice thing to say, but on my first few visits, I used to think to myself whenever I saw this, “Is that the best you can do”? I now have (I think) a more mature view of this, and think, “Well if that’s what makes you happy…” To be honest, I think that there is a co-relation between ugliness and beauty that is almost unique to Thailand. The uglier the man, and the more beautiful the Thai girlfriend, the handsomer the wallet. I can almost imagine the conversation between the girls in the bar the morning after. “Lek very lucky last night. She get really ugly Farang. He must give lots of money”. I suppose if I had to describe my best feature, it would be my wallet, though I do believe that most of the girls have good fun when they are with me. So far on this trip, as Darwin might have predicted, it looks like the fittest are surviving, and I have yet to see the Farang holding hands with a cast member from a George Romero horror film.
So far, I have not spoken to one American since I have been here, and the clientele seems to be all Europeans and Antipodeans. Somehow this does not surprise me. I recall in the 1980’s when the IRA were bombing London, there was one particular American superstar who was famous for his macho man roles, that refused to come to London for the opening of his latest blockbuster because of the bombings. Again in the 1990’s, tourism for Britain was hit hard by Americans refusing to visit because of the Foot and Mouth epidemic. From my point of view, this was particularly funny, because there has only ever been one report of a human with the disease, and the experts are divided as to whether this was a genuine case. What were the Americans thinking at the time? “If I go to Britain, is it safe if I don’t kiss a cow”?
I am sure there are those who might want to blame the world economy, but when I was here in October, the exchange rate was €1 = 50THB. In February, it was reduced to 44 THB and now it is 38THB. During the meantime, the $USD has fluctuated between 31-33 THB. I am sure there must be Americans here, but so far, I have yet to meet any. For those who are thinking about it, come on down, because there is still plenty of fun to be had.
A couple of days into my trip, I was having a late night drinking session and playing pool with an Irishman. About 4.30 in the morning, I get a call from the girlfriend who is sleeping in the hotel asking where I am. I tell her I am just about to leave the bar. No sooner do I finish talking to her, and the heavens open, and it rains like it only can in Thailand. I turn to the Irishman and tell him “I can’t go home in this weather”. He tells me that he has the same problem. I ask him where he is staying, and he tells me he has a room above the bar. The Irish do know how to party!
I also heard what I thought was a very funny joke. As we all know, humour doesn’t always travel, and when you try to tell a Thai girl a joke, they laugh politely, though you can tell they haven’t a clue what you are talking about. However, every time I have told this joke to a Thai girl, I have had a genuine laugh. I should warn the readers, that if you have never picked up a girl in a bar in Thailand, you may not understand it.
A man is sitting in a bar talking to his TGF, when she tells him “I love you”.
The man asks, “How much do you love me”?
The girl answers “Up to you”.
Something that frequent visitors to Thailand will know about, is that on Mondays, many Thais wear yellow shirts, as a patriotic gesture. I bought a couple myself in the past as a gesture of solidarity and always made sure I had a fresh one for Monday. When my wife was packing my suitcase, I told her not to pack my yellow shirts due to the recent problems that there have been here.
Today is Monday, and I had a stroll around Soi 7 and 8, and along Beach Road as far as Walking Street. I couldn’t see anybody wearing a yellow shirt. I don’t know whether this is a political statement, or perhaps it is because of the number of people from Isaan, where the Redshirts have their core support, that are working in Pattaya. Tomorrow, the tradition is for women to wear pink shirts. It will be interesting to see whether this is just an anomaly, or whether we are seeing the end of the yellow shirts because of recent problems.
And so life goes on in Pattaya. Where many of the bars have closed in a cluster, the developers are moving in and building new hotels. I am not convinced of the wisdom of this. Phuket had a building boom following the Tsunami, but I noticed on one particular website that specialises in selling Thai businesses to Farangs, that there were a lot of places for sale in Phuket, for as little as one year's profits, if you can believe the figures they are quoting. Phuket regulars have told me that the place has never been the same since the Tsunami, and I suspect that this why the businesses are being offered so relatively cheap.
I am a great believer in starting a business in an economic downturn, because that is when the bargains are there to be had. More importantly, if you survive the recession, then you will boom once the economy turns around. Personally, I have moral problems with myself owning a bar, so it is not something that I would want to do, but if Europe gets past its latest banking problems, then there is unlikely to be a better time to buy than today.
One place that has really thrived is the Beer Garden on Beach Road. I am pleased about that, because I have always liked it as place to chill out. For those of you who know it, it is one of the biggest bars in Pattaya. In the past when I have been there, I never saw more than a dozen customers at any time. On two of my three visits this time, I saw between sixty and one hundred customers. The concept behind the bar, was to encourage freelancers, and charge normal bar prices without barfines. I though it was a good concept, but in the past, I thought that it would have to close due to lack of business based on my visits there. I am glad to be wrong.
I think you can use Walking Street as a barometer for the P4P trade in Pattaya, and Walking Street has been quiet every night I have been here so far, so it is all the more surprising that the Beer Garden is doing so well.
Nice collection of Pattaya observations and anecdotes.