Friday, September 26, 2014

Cleaning Up Sin City

Touts lure tourists into a bar on Pattaya's Walking Street.

Pattaya, the beach resort a couple of hours from Bangkok, is infamous as the best known destination in Thailand for sex tourism. Go-go bars line "Walking Street," a kilometer stretch of road that's closed to vehicles from about 6:00PM until at least 2:00AM. 

There's a sort of "Casablanca - ish" vibe to Thailand in general and Walking Street in particular. 

Tourists from around the world come to Pattaya to sample the sins of the flesh. Israeli tourists walk the same streets that Arab tourists do. Indians and Pakistanis frequent the same bars, Christians and Muslims also. 

There are some businesses that cater to specific nationalities. There are a lot of Russian restaurants and several go-go bars advertise that they have Russian women but in general it's very much a live and let live atmosphere. 
Tourists in the neon jungle of Walking Street

Walking Street, along with Thailand's tourism industry, though has fallen on hard times. Largely because of the political violence of the last year and the subsequent military coup, tourist arrivals are down by double digits over last year. Thailand is more peaceful now than it's been in years, but the travel industry seems unconvinced. 

Tourist police told me that the crowds on Walking Street are a fraction of what they used to be. Many bars are empty, the women who work in them standing in front dressed as flight attendants or school girls (the bars have themes) trying with little luck to draw men in. 
A Muay Thai demonstration in a beer bar near Walking Street. There were no tourists in the beer bar. I don't know why the men bothered boxing. 

Thailand's beach resorts, not just Pattaya but also Phuket and Hua Hin, have gotten a lot of bad publicity in the last couple of years because of scams directed against tourists and despoilment of beautiful beaches. 

After the coup, the Thai army started cleaning up the tourist beaches, first in Phuket and then in Hua Hin. They shut down unlicensed businesses that set up on the beach and brought order to an unruly mass transit systems that were allegedly run by "taxi mafias." 
A defense volunteer, a sort of paramilitary militia, checks out businesses that rent space under beach umbrellas to tourists. The beach umbrella business brings in billions of Baht. 

City officials in Pattaya saw what was happening in Phuket and Hua Hin. They decided that they wanted to take control of their own destiny and approached the military government about cleaning up Pattaya on their own, without military involvement. The military agreed and city officials are trying to spiff up their city's image. 

They're regulating the beach umbrella rentals, bringing order to the chaotic transportation system and most surprising, promised to change Pattaya from Sin City to Sun City and make it Asia's leading "family friendly" destination. 
Foreign volunteers who help the Tourist Police are a common sight on Walking Street. These volunteers stopped to chat with an Italian tourist. The foreign volunteers cannot make arrests. They help foreign tourists and assist Thai police. 

The national government is giving city officials time to clean up Pattaya, but they're not saying how much time they have. The army changes in Phuket and Hua Hin came fast. The army announced they were going to clean up the beaches and the next day the beaches were clean. The clean up in Pattaya is taking much longer. 
Tourists on the beach just after sunset. 

There are more photos from Pattaya's Walking Street in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
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