One-Man Indian Boycott of Pattaya
Stick – long time reader and admirer, first time writer. Felt compelled to write tonight about Pattaya. But first some context — I am a very well-to-do and early 30's Indian-American living in the US and working a few months on and off in Bangkok over the last 15 months. Have spent about 100+ nights in Thailand — mostly in Bangkok and a few in Pattaya. My schedule has allowed me to really experience the Thai nightlife, with extensive time in go-go bars, g-clubs (where I've had several memberships, e.g. Sopranos, iKafe), beer bars and nightclubs (e.g. Q-Bar, Narcissus). I've worked with Thai people in my job and have gone out with many women from the nightlife — mostly for fun as I'm more into "the chase" than straight hooking up. I definitely do not claim to be any expert on Thai people or culture but feel that my time here and background has given me a unique experience and perspective.
I just spent a weekend in Pattaya — my fourth visit and a quick respite from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. I was particularly intrigued to go this time to experience Pattaya in the low season after the red shirts protest. The first time I went was last October — it was quite an eye opener as I was really surprised on Walking Street the outright attitudes against Indians when entering go-go bars. Intellectually I "get it" — when I am on Walking Street I definitely see hordes of Indians straight from India and am dismayed at some of their antics. I haven't seen the most egregious actions myself but I'm not surprised by some of the stories of 4 guys sipping one Coke and acting a little wanderlust at the ladies — if you've lived in India you would understand the liberation/attention that some of them feel when in Thailand — which is not to condone their actions at all but I understand how they may be awestruck and awkward.
So on to this weekend — I would say that about 50% of the tourists walking around were Indians. Low season and many bars were empty. I ended up barfining a girl from What's Up — not to have sex but actually to enjoy some company and watch the USA-England soccer match. The girl's attitude towards me was very revealing. She asked many questions to verify that I'm from the US and not India (why is it that Thai people don't understand there are many Indians living in America?!). Interestingly, she used to work at Peppermint (on Walking Street) as a girl holding up the signs in the front to allure customers inside. She was instructed to tell all Indians, Arabs, Muslims, Afghans, etc that the place is members only. I pushed as to why — and expected to hear the customary horror tales of cheap Indian actions. But the first words out of her mouth were actually "Indians are smelly". I asked if that was all — only then she added that they don't pay much money.
One of the bartenders at Hot Tuna — where we watched the soccer match — confided that she was "scared" of me until she saw that I was with a Thai girl. It was really then that it hit me that something is really amiss here in Pattaya. Bars are bleeding for money. Women are hungrier for baht than I've ever experienced before. But attitudes towards Indians — who are a significant chunk of potential customers — are quite negative and downright last century. Perhaps someone smarter than I can explain why this is still the case — and why can't smart bars remedy through other means — like asking Indians who want to come inside to place a drink order in the first few minutes or leave? Why throw out lines about "members only" and alienate customers forever?
If Thai bars in Pattaya wake up a bit, they may realize that at least some Indians aren't that bad at all. Whenever I enter Happy-a-Go-Go — a place that turns Indians away — I am enthusiastically welcomed by everyone inside because they know I buy drinks and tip well. It makes me want to go back — which I have now plenty of times. And honestly, some of the worst antics I've seen in Pattaya are not from Indians, but such behavior by others is tolerated and even laughed at — but if it came from an Indian you wouldn't see many smiles.
Until I see different attitudes in Pattaya, I just don't feel like spending my hard earned money in this town, and I'm very suspicious and wary of anyone who is "relieved" I'm from America. It reminds me of the 2008 presidential campaign in the US when supporters of Barack Obama had to "assure" Americans that Obama was not a Muslim. Lost in all of this assurance was a big "well, what if he were Muslim? Why would that be a problem?". Anyway, my weekend in Pattaya admittedly didn't end well and has probably contributed to my jaded perception. I ended up barfining the What's Up girl again the next night — paying 1200 baht since I took her out at 9:30pm, but she ended up making a lame excuse to "quickly visit a friend from out of town" at 12:30am and didn't return. I luckily saw her on Walking around 2am with another guy and when I confronted her she coldly gave me 600 baht of my barfine back and strolled off without a care. And this from a girl who I had a great evening with the night before, dinner the next night, many drinks, pictures, generous tipping to her and had built some seemingly great rapport with. I guess her attitude towards Indians never really changed. And my opinion of Pattaya clearly won't unless I read differently in a future column…
For sure, racism against Indians is inherent in Thai society. It is particularly bad in Isaan where there are few Indians – I have seen some in Korat but that is about it – and where the locals are not shy in saying what is on their mind.