On Pattaya And The Future Of Bardom
I had a brief trip down to Moscow-by-Sea last week and on a walk along Soi Buakhao in the last rainy remnants of a savage storm, I had cause to reflect upon the future of the town and of the bar industry itself.
I was wandering along, walking away from the market and toward Soi Diana, passing a few dingy bars which were bereft of customers, save for a smattering of pasty alcoholics with their trademark fixed stare into the middle distance. It was then that I happened upon a new bar area, misleadingly called Action Street. Among the 20 or so beer bars, there wouldn't have been 10 customers. A wet night in low season is not the best time to judge the success of a bar area, but this looked pretty dismal. Still, the bar manager I talked to sounded pretty bullish about the prospects for Action Street. The reason? The bare patch of dirt behind the beer bars, which has been slated as the home of a new complex of gogo bars, having already supposedly received clearance for such from the authorities. Apparently this was the basis for investment for several of the beer-bar owners, giving promise of riches to an area that is at the moment very much off the beaten track.
Having left Action Street behind, just a few strides up the road I came across another large bar area I'd never previously known about. It housed another 20 or so beerbars, but is incongruously placed behind two shopfront stores which mean you only really glimpse a view of these bars from a side entrance. This complex had even less customers than Action Street, perhaps because each bar was playing its own music at vibrational volume, creating an utter cacophany.
All told, that's 40 or so bars, plus the supposed arrival of gogos in a bar area that I doubt 5 percent of Pattaya punters would have even known about, let alone visited.
The bar manager at Action Street said the whole bar scene is gradually retreating back beyond 2nd road, as the real estate between Beach and 2nd is now too valuable to be taken up by low-revenue bars. Soi 6, 7, 8 and the others from 13/1 up toward Walking Street are all supposedly under threat. How true that is I'm not sure, as there seem to be plenty of stores right on Beach Road and its sois which have long survived on the smell of an oily rag, from tatty restaurants to shops selling cheap tourist crap and knockoffs.
I reckon the retreat of the bar scene beyond 2nd road has less to do with rents than with a desire for the old-school Anglosphere punters to separate themselves from the tourist hordes – the Russians, Arabs, Indians and Chinese – who now dominate the place but who are not there for the bars. To extrapolate existing trends, the Buakhao / LK Metro / Diana bars seem like the future home for the traditional Pattaya punters.
So where does that leave Walking Street? The vibe of the place is seriously unpleasant, with packs of tourists strolling up and down taking photos of any bargirl they see, aggressive touts pushing pingpong show brochures in your face, bars blaring out music at full blast. However it remains the best place if you want to visit a few gogos in close proximity. The gogos on the street itself are pretty ordinary, but some of the bars on the side sois are of a quality that puts most of the Bangkok gogos to shame. The next time a bar owner tells you its impossible to get good-looking staff these days, point them in the direction of What's Up on Soi 15. On my visit they had about 30 dancers in, most of whom were genuine quality. Heaven Above also had a very tidy selection. If those bars can consistently find good-looking girls, why can't others? Methinks they need a better recruiting plan across Isaan rather than just sticking up the odd flyer around bar areas. Despite its unpleasant early-evening vibe, Walking Street will survive and perhaps thrive for some time yet.
You've sounded a bit bearish about the future of the bar industry in Thailand, and while I follow your reasoning, I tend to disagree. Bars continue to open on a regular basis, money continues to be pumped in, all in the expectation of a return. The supply certainly isn't diminishing, nor the demand. True, on a macro-basis Thailand is less reliant upon bars as a source of tourist revenue, but business and political decision making in this country is not done on a macro but a micro-basis; individual businessmen making assessments of how to make a baht and politicians assessing what is expedient and profitable. If Pattaya's continued addition of bars is any indication, the bar industry is not going away any time soon.
Interesting observations and thoughts.