The coronavirus is the only story in town. As I am not there on the ground in Bangkok to see what is happening with my own eyes, I reached out to a bunch of friends and contacts in Bangkok & Pattaya, and asked them to comment on what they see and where they think things are at. Do people need to be concerned about coronavirus in Bangkok? Should those of us in the West visit Thailand at this time? Here’s what they had to say:
It’s a strange one for sure. There’s a lot less Asian tourists around but life goes on as normal, so it’s potentially a great time to visit and would be even better if the strength of the Thai baht was curtailed. (Whisper it, but I’m hearing some girls are becoming more financially-flexible too!). I’m actually staggered by the stupidity in some people panic-buying face masks. They may help against air pollution but as for this virus, I’m not so sure. We’re told to wash our hands frequently which, as a species is something we should be doing regularly anyway, right? It’s a pity this level of public and media panic isn’t aimed at clearing the world of plastic pollution, which is a far bigger threat to the world’s ecosystem and life on earth than a new flu strain in my humble opinion.
Gav, The Gaffer, Stumble Inn, Soi Nana
The current situation is that Thailand is much less crowded overall, due to the distinct lack of Asian visitors. Thailand is less crowded particularly in places such as airports, shopping malls, tourist attractions, beach resorts, restaurants and certain nightlife areas. If you don’t like crowds, it is an ideal time to visit. Remember that 14 million people live in Bangkok, so you certainly won’t be flying into a ghost town. You don’t see many people wearing masks around the nightlife areas such as Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy. I did not see any people wearing masks inside the bars at all. I have spotted a few Asian tourists wearing masks around lower Sukhumvit but they are in the vast minority. What we are seeing is considerably fewer customers in the Bangkok bars during weekdays but the popular bars remain busy at weekends. When it all blows over like a passing storm, we will see the media machine was causing the hype. Furthermore, bear in mind that Thailand remains a low-risk country. My advice is you do not need to cancel your trip because it’s not a zombie apocalypse!
Dave The Rave, DaveTheRaveBangkok.com
Corona = clickbait and it is driving me mad reading all the scaremongering and sensationalism day in, day out as the mainstream media and influential figures on social media milk it like a dairy cow.
I have conducted several polls on the topic that have accumulated thousands of votes and the general consensus is people aren’t afraid, they don’t plan to cancel their already booked holidays and don’t feel any sense of panic.
However, this past week the Bangkok bar areas have been noticeably quieter than normal which comes soon after what was a quiet “high season” and I feel there will be casualties in the entertainment industry in general if the situation continues like this for a few more weeks.
Juergen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool FC would say “My opinion on the topic should not matter.” I agree, however, as I’m asked and since I shaved this morning and don’t wear a baseball cap, here are my feelings. It’s mass hysteria right now around the world and looks to be heading for an economic crisis as 0.00001 % of the planet’s population falls ill with the virus. It’s unknown but the hope is like other viruses – that it won’t cope well in the summer. It’s summer here now and it’s only going to get hotter. If I were one of the people concerned then let’s look at the numbers. The recovery of 31 people versus 16 active cases in Thailand is the same high ratio as other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore with 82 fully recovered and 48 active cases unlike the West where the ratio is the opposite; the United States has 15 recovered and 280 active or Germany with 17 recovered versus 653 active cases.
In the unlikely event, I did get COVID -19, the healthcare here is one of the best in the world and if you have a work permit, you can buy a million baht insurance policy for the virus now at a cost of only 799 baht.
If I’m over 60 and concerned, why would I be in Chicago or Berlin, waiting for summer or be there in November when the second wave of the virus is expected? Thailand may be one of the best places to live now. The temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius (86° Fahrenheit) every day throughout the year and the healthcare is great.
If you want to stay inside, it’s very easy to order some of the best food in the world online by Grab Food or Food Panda. Now they have great promotions of 50% off and additional discounts. The delivery service has grown 300% this year. If you want to go outside, enjoy Thailand’s year round 30 degree temperatures. Let’s get the vaccine for the world so everyone gets back to enjoying life. Personally, I think foreigners in Thailand are concerned less about the virus here and it’s more on the smog issue or will Liverpool be able to complete the season and win the Premier League.
Greg Lange, Owner and Founder, Sunrise Tacos
I personally feel COVID-19 will be handled by the WHO and relevant agencies. I’ve lived through Zika, Ebola, SARS, Bird and Swine flu, not to mention the AIDS epidemic and too many annual flu seasons.
So, I’m not panicking… But I AM taking precautions. I’m washing my hands much more frequently and I’m not shaking hands with all my guests.
I expected business to take a hit, but February was our best ever, and March has had a very good start. So fingers crossed that continues.
Bangkokians are a resilient crowd. Through floods, riots, curfews and coups, the show goes on.
What I observe while out and about is a strange mix of behaviours. I see people wearing face masks to get to a nightclub and then taking them off to breathe with and talk to dozens of other people.
At the restaurant, I put notices on the bathroom mirrors, reminding people to wash their hands thoroughly. And I put bottles of hand sanitiser throughout. I’d estimate that only about 10% of guests use them when they arrive or when they leave.
Regarding visiting Thailand, I’d say, ‘Go for it.’ I’m paraphrasing, but there are a million ways to die in the East and COVID-19 looks to me to be way down on the list. If the ticket prices and hotel costs are cheaper, why not? The risk here doesn’t seem disproportionately high.
I don’t have a conclusion. I’m not even sure if my level of concern is proportionate or not.
I’ll continue to take precautions and not panic… Until I feel the situation warrants panicking.
Manager, Charley Brown’s Mexicana, Sukhumvit soi 19
I feel that the world has gone crazy with a huge over-reaction to this flu. I see our Pattaya news team is getting incoming messages about events being cancelled, a bank being closed for 2 weeks, schools cancelling summer holidays, Songkran events are being cancelled, but the biggest thing I fear is them closing down businesses or cancelling flights. I feel that the media is creating a mass hysteria which fuels panic. I think that the virus will spread to every country and added to the other strains of flu, the problem is the world is trying to fight it because they are scared of the unknown. Our news team has done its best to try and help people not panic.
It will be interesting to see how this effects Pattaya, but I feel our bar businesses are pretty resilient to economic problems. Guys always find money to party and have fun. I feel most of our regular customers will simply postpone their trips, but one-time visitors might just go elsewhere. Pattaya is much better to drive around without the hundreds of tour buses which add little value to the local economy.
I would say our sales are doing ok. Anytime sales are low in Pattaya people always find something to blame such as visa issues, the police, currency exchange rates etc. Now they will blame the virus! The true comparison is to compare last year’s figures – but as we improve our businesses year after year, that data will show an increase anyway!
Bryan Flowers, Night Wish Group, Pattaya
I think it’s mainly media hype. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand it’s a serious issue. But if people take general precautions there’s not going to be any problem.
I just flew from Pattaya to Udon Thani. I was probably the only one without a mask on the whole plane. It was ridiculous.
There’s no question in my mind that this is going to blow over. I hate to say this as it’s been said many times but more people die of the flu than of this new virus.
I have been contacted by old customers who ask my thoughts on whether they should cancel their trip. I tell them there’s no way I would ever cancel a trip based on this.
Larry, former manager of Secrets and Babydolls, Pattaya
This week I would say that the numbers of Western visitors is way down on last month, or even last week.
Many regulars are cancelling their holidays because of the fear of either catching the virus or, more probably, being quarantined on their return to their home country.
There are no cases that I know of anyone catching the virus here in Pattaya, or anyone even infected.
There were rumours that somebody had contracted it on soi 6, but this was denied by local health officials.
City Hall is organising teams of cleaners to follow water trucks and wash the streets and sidewalks. More of a visual reassurance really, as I don’t know how it could be caught off the road.
Walking around town you see one or two face masks and several stores and restaurants are providing hand sanitising gel to customers, but other than that you wouldn’t really notice any difference.
Many locals are saying they prefer the streets free of tour busses and crowds of Chinese tourists.
Certainly Walking Street is pretty quiet, with most bars pretty threadbare of customers and many girls choosing to go home whilst it’s quiet. Experienced and avid Pattaya holidaymakers won’t let media hysteria spoil their two weeks in the sun.
Mister Egg, Owner, Le Pub, Soi Diamond, Pattaya
Last week’s photo was taken in the Took Lae Dee restaurant a Foodland in Sukhumvit soi 16. This week’s photo was taken by reader David earlier this week. It’s tricky, particularly for visitors, but expats should know it.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Glad to have returned home early.
I reckon you made the right decision to postpone your Bangkok trip. Following a two month holiday in Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia I’ve returned home to the UK three weeks early. At no point could I properly relax. My smartphone was both a blessing and a curse. News and information about the virus spreading was available, but messages from worried family members pleading for me to return home were the clincher to me bailing out. The situation keeps changing and the constant anxiety about being stranded or quarantined spoiled the holiday. As my sister pointed out to me on a text, “Don’t forget, governments can do anything they want, including closing airports, closing borders and putting whole towns into lockdown.” All these potential negative scenarios made for a stressful time particularly whilst one is a long way from home. For those that accuse me of paranoia – fair enough, I could be over-reacting, but all I know right now is I’m glad to be home safe and sound.
The only thing certain is uncertainty.
My guess is that those who have yet to book flights / holidays to Thailand are postponing so Thailand may be yet to feel the worst. Especially as we are unsure if we have had or are near peak infection / fatality. It is a long trek to Thailand for most of us when fit and well. I would dread a return trip being very ill.
Murphy’s Law knows no borders.
I took an intra-Asia flight a few days ago, and everyone on the plane, including flight staff, wore masks, except for the guy next to me in Business Class, who was coughing. Murphy’s Law knows no borders.
Enjoying a quieter Bangkok.
Bangkok is great right now. Foot traffic is off, way off. A majority of people wear face masks. Few or no Chinese tourists, or Korean tourists. Went to Big C at Rachaprasong which is typically a madhouse. You can browse now, no lines at the two cashiers who were open. I don’t know about road traffic, other parts of town, or the girlie-bar scene but people seem to be just staying home for the most part. Oh and the air’s cleaner (not clean) because China factories still aren’t up to speed.
What was once far-fetched may not seem that way today.
I see the powers that be in Thailand have officially designated Covid-19 a dangerous communicable disease, which means compulsory testing and quarantine for anyone suspected of having it. What happens when one or more people test positive in a Sukhumvit area hotel? Could we see the same? It seems far-fetched to imagine it happening in Bangkok, but there’s a lot of things becoming the norm at the moment that seemed far-fetched a few months ago.
Winter in London, Bangkok can wait.
I also postponed my intended visit to Thailand. As an old-timer with an artificial heart valve (very prone to infection), I decided it was just not worth looking for trouble. On reflection I’m certainly glad not be travelling at this time. It’s the long plane journey and the buggering around at the airport with the close proximity of all the potential carriers that is probably the most daunting part of a holiday currently. I think Pattaya and Bangkok are possibly not a whole lot more risky than London. However, as you very rightly point out, there is also the danger of being put in quarantine to add to all the other drawbacks.
EmQuartier this week.
I went to EmQuartier this afternoon. At every entrance, they have a guy dispensing hand sanitizer and a woman with a body temperature camera. At the main entrance, they had a weird, hi-tech tunnel about six feet long, full of blue lights which (allegedly) sanitized everyone walking through it.
Coronavirus the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I should have flown to Bangkok about ten days ago for a short break but I cancelled a few days before I was due to fly. My reasons for cancelling were a combination of circumstances, but I must admit that Coronavirus was certainly a major consideration. Not that I thought it particularly likely that I would become infected in Thailand. But rather like yourself, the unpredictability of the situation concerned me. If things had flared up I might have had to self-isolate upon my return or even be taken to quarantine. Would my employer pay me? Losing two weeks salary on top of the cost of the trip would have made it a very expensive holiday. And when my other personal issues were taken into consideration, it was just not worth it in my view. I still love it in Bangkok and there was a time 15+ years ago when I’d have probably crawled there over broken glass! But the changes in attitudes, increased prices and crummy exchange rate mean not at any cost anymore.
Bangkok not currently at its best.
I am currently in Thailand, having arrived on February 15. If people told you that Bangkok is just as normal then I don’t agree. You are wise to postpone your trip. In Bangkok it might be sparse with tourists but in the lobbies of good hotels you notice many Chinese wearing masks and you worry when in a crowded lift. Walking around Terminal 21 resembles a kind of apocalyptic zombie movie scene with all the masks. It’s an unpleasant feeling. I am currently in Udon which is quite ok and I am enjoying the empty feeling of malls. Hotel prices have dropped. The flight back is the worry. You are right in that booking a flight back is a problem. You can’t get direct flights and I need to change planes at Singapore to get to Melbourne. If you were planning to come here now, don’t. Your hunch that you wouldn’t enjoy it is mostly right unless you’re planning an extended stay somewhere in the middle of Isaan. Bangkok is not a good place to be right now.
Coronavirus has hit the bar industry hard. Word from Nana Plaza is that the likes of Spanky’s and Billboard are holding up ok while many of the, shall we say, uninventive gogo bars are not faring so well.
Customers entering Billboard have to accept a squirt of hand sanitiser before being allowed to enter. Seldom do punters pay attention to the guys on the door but anyone trying to enter Billboard who does not put their hands out for a squirt of sanitiser is not allowed inside.
Some nightspots popular with Thais are taking customers’ temperature at the door. If their temperature is high (37.5 has been mentioned), entry is refused. Think the likes of Tawan Dang. I’ve not heard of temperatures being recorded in any farang nightspots. Yet.
Bars in what are still generally thought of as the farang bar areas, but popular with Asian men, are feeling the pinch as visitor numbers from the wealthier Asian countries have fallen off a cliff. I’m talking bars like Baccara in Soi Cowboy and the Rainbow bars in Nana Plaza. Caucasians might just find themselves more well-received in those bars than usual.
Speaking of bars popular with Asian men, the mamasan at Rainbow 4 has gone back to her hometown as she is scared of getting the virus – and that has sent panic amongst the flock.
In last week’s column I mentioned that the lights were out at London Calling in Nana Plaza. Word is that it has closed for good. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did – it was one bar you never heard much about.
Down in Pattaya, once supremely popular gogo bar Heaven Above on Soi Diamond has closed its doors for the last time. An announcement was made out of the blue earlier this week that Friday would be the closing party and the bar’s last night in business.
And in Pattaya’s Soi LK Metro where observations are that trade is down on a week ago, security at many bars is doing the same as they are at Billboard – squirting sanitiser on to the hands of punters as they enter.
With trade so bad for some venues, rather than close, Bar-Su at the Sheraton Grande on Sukhumvit is open 3 days a week for the time being – Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On a positive note, word is that on each of those 3 days the bar is busy.
The opening date for Red Lion from the Shenanigans Group – to be the newest British pub on Sukhumvit – has been pushed back from mid-March until April.
A friend was in Spanky’s a week ago. Amongst the customers was a bubbly farang girl with her boyfriend. The dancers did a show and invited her on stage for a mock lesbian show. At least that’s what the dancers thought. The farang girl went all out or is that all in? Said friend is a long-time expat for whom it takes a lot to raise his eyebrows these days – but that did!
The photo below was taken one night earlier this week at 9:00 PM. OK, so that’s reasonably early on Soi Cowboy – but you’d still expect it to be much busier at that time.
This week’s column feels like a coronavirus special. Little of the column is about much else. I know that plenty of readers tune in for nightlife news and something positive, a break away from their everyday life….so let’s take a break from coronavirus for a moment and find out what’s happening at the best gogo bar in Bangkok, Billboard.
Despite their position as at the top of Thailand’s gogo bar mountain, Billboard and its owners are never satisfied and don’t rest on their laurels. Both Billboard and Butterflies are always “works in progress”, with more and more money invested to improve. Literally millions of baht have been spent on sound and lighting – including an entirely new computerised lighting system in Butterflies that rivals that of Insanity and Levels.
For Billboard, something never seen in any Thai gogo bar was turned on last month: A huge, high-resolution LED video board. Measuring more than 12 feet wide and four feet tall, the screen has a resolution of 3,328 x 1,024 pixels. Right now, it cycles through 3D video screens with flames, explosions, palm trees and other patterns under an animated Billboard Bangkok logo. Future plans call for showing big-name sporting events live and promotions for parties and drinks.
The screen can also be frozen and serve as a great background for photos.
Rival bar owners have scoffed and questioned how an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of baht on a video screen adds to the bottom line. What’s the ROI? What’s the purpose? These, of course, are the same bar owners who think spending millions of baht on sound systems and computerised lighting doesn’t help the bottom line either.
And these are the same bars that are struggling, making a 10th or even a 20th of what Billboard makes in a night.
ArtBox, the increasingly popular eating and drinking spot at Chuwit Park, was rammed with customers and doing a roaring trade.
For the average Thai, coronavirus has come at exactly the wrong time – not that there ever is a right time, mind you! Next month is the biggest holiday of the year in Thailand, Songkran, also known as the Thai New Year. Millions of Thais will return to their family home in the provinces with their expectation. Traditionally, gifts and money are presented to family members who stay at the family home year-round. Those who have lost their jobs or earned less due to the virus still have bills to pay, food to buy and returning home without cash for parents and other family members will make some feel very awkward. Gold will be sold, loans will be requested from friends and some who are desperate not to return home empty-handed may do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. As Songkran gets closer, don’t be surprised if there’s a spike in petty crime as some people get desperate. Keep your wits about you.
For those of you in to internet dating, Tahug.com is a new dating app and chat messenger, and an easy way to find and make new friends and communicate. It is 100% free to sign up with no restrictions on chats and messaging.
The new skywalk from Robinson’s and Times Square to Sukhumvit soi 10 and the Sofitel opened this week. There remains a gap of around 200 metres between the Sofitel and the Hyatt Regency where there is another skywalk. Not connecting the two up does seem rather short-sighted.
St Paddy’s Day is the week after next. It’s always a fun day and this year it can’t come soon enough. Scruffy Murphy’s, just around the corner from Soi Cowboy, would be a great place to celebrate.
Temperature checks are being taken everywhere, including at the entrances to many office buildings, hospitals, shopping malls, underground train stations and even some residential buildings. These temperature checks are carried out by …. Somchai the security guard! I wonder if he is as efficient with the infrared thermometer as his cohorts on the underground train are checking the bags of passengers?
Some business owners say they may go under because of declining trade due to the coronavirus. The speed at which some businesses in Thailand go under makes me wonder. Yes, I know things really are bad for some businesses at the moment, but the downturn has only been what 5, maybe 6 weeks? That some businesses have already closed seems awfully fast. Maybe there were other reasons.
Last weekend there were rumours that a lady who works in a bar on Pattaya’s soi 6 had contracted coronavirus. Potentially a big story, in the age of fake news it’s not the sort of thing you want to go anywhere near unless you are absolutely certain it’s true i.e. you have proof. Even with this column’s relatively limited readership, a story like that could get picked up by larger mainstream news organisations and go viral. And if it turned out to be fake news the Thais would be furious with the person who broke the story. So was it fake news? Those who scoured the net looking for details would have come across a YouTube video and some photos of a pickup truck going down soi 6, and then later along Walking Street, with what appeared to be a large bottle on the back, spraying disinfectant which – so the mayor of Pattaya claimed – would keep Pattaya safe for everyone <cough, splutter, cough>. The rumour was never substantiated and word is that the rumours of a lady in a soi 6 bar contracting coronavirus were just that, rumours.
Last week’s opener generated a lot of responses from readers, plenty of whom said that they too had postponed or cancelled their trip. What I found interesting is that some of those who cancelled are self-confessed sex tourists. Why is that so interesting? When Thailand had troubles in the past (think the other flu pandemics, coups, floods, political issues etc.) sex tourists have proven to be the hardiest of all visitors to Thailand and didn’t cancel their trip. If my inbox is anything to go by, that’s not the case this time around.
For those who do visit Bangkok at this time, there are some great hotel deals to be had. A long-time reader mentioned getting a room at the JW Marriott for just a tick over $100 / night. Hotel booking sites currently have all sorts of good deals for bookings over the next couple of months. (As an aside, wouldn’t it piss you off if you had made a non-refundable hotel booking months ago only to discover the rates have plummeted since.)
At an international supermarket in Chiang Mai, the cashiers wear a sticker that shows the time their temperature was last taken. Terminal 21 also has signs up saying that the temperature of staff is taken regularly. There are signs all over announcing ways to keep the virus at bay.
We’re told the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to wash our hands regularly (and not touch things that other people may have touched). With this in mind, would it not be appropriate for the Immigration Department to turn off the fingerprint scanners at airports / border points? With people from all over the world touching them, they would appear to present a risk. Turning the fingerprint scanners off would show that the Thais are aware of the risk they pose and are willing to make a dispensation for the wider good. But no, the fingerprint scanners remain in operation. In fairness, Thais who go through the electronic passport lanes for Thai nationals also have to scan their fingerprints so it’s not like it’s just for foreigners.
In Chiang Mai, a reader paid for his stay at a guesthouse and the owner insisted on taking the cash from his hand with a tissue covering her own hand so their skin did not touch. You can’t be too careful!
Over the last couple of years the Super Rich exchange booth at the Asoke BTS station has typically had a long, snaking queue. Not at the moment. The photo below, taken by a reader, shows just how quiet things are on the ground in Bangkok.
The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing in Thailand this week. An announcement was made earlier this week by the Ministry of Health causing great stress to those who were planning to visit Thailand. The announcement stated that travellers from 9 countries (including China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea and others) were required to self-isolate in Thailand for 14 days. Just what that meant from a practicality point of view, I have no idea. Unless someone actually lived in Thailand, I imagine it would not be practical to do so – and given that many would have been on a trip of less than 14 days, it would essentially mean they were not welcome. The announcement also said that any traveller at the airport with a high temperature would be taken away for testing and treatment at their own expense. This announcement was soon removed, but not before it had been picked up and gone viral. The health minister later denied it. The Thai authorities have struggled to balance health concerns along with fears of the hit the economy could take as visitor numbers plummet. This has resulted in muddled messages that change by the hour.
As things currently stand (and, admittedly, this could change at a moment’s notice), arrivals from a country considered high-risk (China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Iran, Italy) has to join the queue at Health Control and complete a health questionnaire in addition to the usual arrivals form. For arrivals from everywhere else it’s business as usual. All passengers must pass through a thermal scanner and if anyone’s temperature is above a certain level they are taken aside for a few questions. Worst case scenario, you will be taken to hospital and tested for the virus.
Reader’s story of the week was to be the anonymous submission, “No Fool Like An Old Fool, Am I Just Another Stupid John?” but then it was trumped by the reply, “You Are Not The Victim“.
Quote of the week comes from a reader who tells me this is something that some Vietnamese say, “Russians are Americans with no money.”
Used face masks are being washed, repackaged and sold as new in Thailand.
The Thai minister of parliament who previously pleaded guilty to importing heroin in to Australia now says what he imported was flour!
Panic-buying hits Bangkok as stores sell out of some lines of products.
After declining over the past few decades, Thailand’s poverty rate is on the rise.
Windsor Suites in Sukhumvit soi 20 is bringing forward renovation plans following a massive slump in business attributed to the coronavirus.
A Grab Bike rider is attacked by a group of Sukhumvit motorcycle taxi riders.
Take a stroll down memory lane with a Pattaya photo special spanning 1968 – 1984.
I like to mix things up in this column and don’t like to run openers back to back on the same topic if it can be helped. With that said, the coronavirus is pretty much the only story at the moment, hence it totally dominated this week’s edition. I’ll try and mix things up more next week. Obviously the content of the column is largely dependent on what’s going on. Stay safe out there!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]