Bangkok’s vibrant nightlife torn between normalcy, bankruptcy

By Noel Caballero

Bangkok, Dec 23 (efe-epa).- Bangkok’s vibrant nightlife, a benchmark in Asia, is reeling under the pandemic crisis and faced with two opposite realities: closed or deserted bars in tourist areas contrasting with the busy establishments frequented by locals.

The closure of international borders has drastically affected the sector that earned $5.5 billion in 2018, according to official figures, when Bangkok remained the world’s most visited city for the fourth year in a row.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists traveled each year to the country’s capital to enjoy endless revelry and unbridled nights any day of the week.

The entertainment venues that were a part of Bangkok’s famous nightlife in the tourist neighborhoods, and which were previously packed to the brim, find themselves in a state of slumber following the closure of international borders since March.

Meanwhile, other establishments, which were frequented mostly by locals, are witnessing routine business, after an initial period of loss between April and June, when a night curfew and alcohol ban was in force.

On Sep.3, the authorities confirmed that a disk jockey who worked in several establishments had tested positive for the Covid-19. However, no more infections were reported.

Although more than 1,000 cases have been detected in a recent outbreak at a wholesale market, Thailand continues to have relatively low numbers of infections, with a total of a little over 4,900 cases, including 60 deaths.

The hustle and bustle of Khao San, the neighborhood known for being a haven for backpackers, has disappeared as the arrival of avid party-loving tourists dried up.

The stalls on the streets have disappeared, dozens of hostels have closed down and only a few leisure venues survive with a regular clientele of local people.

Elle, the owner of the Moonshine restaurant and bar near Khao San, told EFE that this was the worst situation in more than 20 years since she established her business.

The business owner, whose premises are surrounded by establishments that closed during the pandemic, explained that her place continued to remain in business thanks “to the base of several generations of university students” who frequented the place during their studies and who sporadically continue to visit “along with the new generations”.

Although the government has been studying plans for a progressive opening of tourism, an industry responsible for about 20 percent of the country’s GDP and which accounted for 39,8 million visitors in 2019, the entrepreneur is skeptical about the authorities’ statements and remarked that foreign visitors will take a long time to return.

On the other side of the city, half a dozen luxury cars remain illegally parked along the affluent Thong Lor avenue, while its owners partied at some of the city’s trendiest venues that have practically gone back to normalcy.

Groups of revelers sit around small tables full of alcohol with loud electronic music in the background, providing an image similar to that seen months ago when the world was unaware of the dangers posed by Covid-19.

The situation is also returning to normal in the small bars and joints at Patpong, one of the several red-light districts in the city, even though a large number of brothels remain shut.

Michael Messner, who runs half a dozen bars in the area, told EFE that the impact of Covid-19 on Patpong is less than other areas, although the business in the area has been falling for several years.

The Austrian businessman underlined that the pandemic can eventually have a positive impact on the neighborhood by forcing changes that the area needs to reinvent itself and attract new ideas.

The decline in the number of customers has pushed several premises to close, either temporarily or permanently, although several entrepreneurs, such as the drag queen Pangina Heals, have opted to open new establishments despite the crisis.

“I wanted life to go on (…) I want people to still continue to survive and have the spirit of never giving up and the spirit of being able to dance, being able to touch the one you love, being able to come and enjoy your night like we used to (…) I really wanted to have a safe space for people so I decided it’s good to continue our journey to having my own business,” said the owner of the House of Heals.

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