The sky over Pattaya beach in Chon Buri was cloudy. The wind was mild and pleasant. At midday, the sunshine was not that strong. Out in the sea, kids screamed and laughed while playing with waves. A few banana boats and jet skis waited for customers.
Some adults dipped themselves in the water while others sunbathed or strolled along the sandy beaches. Most of them did not wear masks. The atmosphere was like the time before the Covid-19 outbreak. The major difference was that there were no Chinese visitors or tourists from abroad. The beaches were not crowded.
"We were a bit anxious before coming to Pattaya. But now we are here, it seems things are okay," said a Bangkokian who visited Pattaya with his family.
"People are relaxed and the weather is nice. We feel refreshed. This is our first vacation during the past three months," he added. Not far from him, masseurs offered services to two female beachgoers while snack vendors walked along the shoreline looking for customers.
Beach chairs were set in groups of two to five chairs with one or two tables in the middle. Each group was about 1m away from others.
Having delicious fresh seafood is the thing I look forward to when visiting the seaside city. preecha seafood on na Jomtien beach is one of my favourite restaurants. I like its steamed crab, grilled prawn among several others. another seaside restaurant recommended by locals is Je Juk 3 (third branch) in Bang Lamung district. I liked the steamed grouper fish in sour and spicy sauce. the fish is fresh and the taste is very nice.
"We are allowed to offer up to 24 beach chairs. We try to have social distancing as required by the city," said a beach chair provider on Jomtien Beach.
When asked for the rental price, she said the fee remained the same at 40 baht per chair. "It is hard to find customers. We don't want to raise the price and scare them away."
Restaurants including popular beachfront eateries have reopened. Some of them strictly followed the guidelines from the Centre of Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
They arranged tables at least 1m apart. They provided hand sanitiser, checked body temperatures and asked customers to check-in via the Thai Chana platform before entering their restaurants. Wait staff always wore masks.
Some other restaurants, however, did not follow the rules. They even provided alcoholic beverages in their restaurants despite the prohibition. Only a few staff members wore masks.
During the third phase of easing the Covid-19 restrictions, pubs and bars can't yet be opened. As a result, Pattaya's famous Walking Street was quiet.
Hotel service has gradually resumed. Based on Life's rough survey, four out of 10 luxury hotels and resorts have reopened since the beginning of June — Cape Dara Resort Pattaya; Centara Grand Mirage Resort; Dusit Thani Pattaya Hotel; and X2 Pattaya Oceanphere Residence. All are offering promotions to attract customers.
When you reach the top of Khao Phra Tamnak hill, there are three spots to visit. First is the viewpoint closer to the parking area. The second stop is another viewpoint next to the sculpture of HRH Prince Chumphon Khet Udomsakdi, who made a great contribution to the development of the Royal Thai Navy during the reign of King Rama V. The viewpoint at the statue offers a better view of Pattaya beach. However, you will come across an eyesore of an unfinished 53-storey condominium at Laem Bali Hai. The construction was suspended in 2014 due to strong protests by locals that the building blocked the beautiful view from the hilltop. The last stop is Wat Phrabat where locals pay respect to the footprint of Buddha.
Hotels that are about to open soon include U Pattaya, which will reopen on June 15, while Hard Rock Hotel, InterContinental Hotel Pattaya and Pullman Pattaya Hotel G will reopen on July 1. Movenpick Siam Na Jomtien Pattaya is scheduled to reopen in August while Hilton Hotel Pattaya has not yet set a reopening date.
Only a handful of Pattaya's famous attractions are open.
"Out of our 56 members, five attractions were closed down [during the Covid-19 epidemic] and only 12 attractions have resumed their business," said Thitipat Siranutsrikul, president of the Association of Chonburi Attractions (ACA). She is also the president of Tuxedo Illusion Hall.
The businesses that have reopened include Art in Paradise 3D Art Museum, Nongnooch Garden Pattaya and Pattaya Elephant Village. Sriracha Tiger Zoo and Khao Kheow Open Zoo will resume operations on June 12 and June 15 respectively.
Other top attractions such as Ripley's Believe It or Not! Pattaya, Mini Siam, Ramayana Water Park Pattaya, Tiffany's Show Pattaya and Tuxedo Illusion Hall remain closed.
"Our ACA members are ready to welcome visitors. However, we are all concerned that the earnings will not be enough to cover our fixed spending costs," Thitipat said.
Na Kluea old market or Talat Kao Na Kluea is a short drive from Pattaya beach. The market is also known as Talat Lan Pho. The market is a popular place for locals and tourists to shop for fresh and cheap seafood. You can find lobsters with a starting price from 400 baht each or 500 baht a kilogramme for giant mud crab. There are large sizes of prawn and squid, and many types of fish and shellfish. The market also has a section for dry seafood, vegetables and fruits. The market doesn’t have any Covid-19 screening process or hand sanitiser available.
Prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, about 80% of Pattaya tourists came from abroad. The largest groups of visitors came from China, Russia and India. Since the outbreak, the government has banned all foreign visitors from entering the country. In addition, the worldwide economic slowdown is another factor tourism-driven areas like Pattaya will have to consider once foreign visitors are allowed to return. People are not yet in the mood for travelling, let alone going abroad or coming to Thailand.
"Until the end of this year, the main visitors to Pattaya will be people living in the country. We are willing to welcome them, but Thais are weekend travellers unlike foreign tourists," she said.
To encourage weekday travelling, the association urges the government to ease the measures for Meeting, Incentive, Conference, Exhibition (MICE) travellers. They want the government to expand the number of participants from 50 to 100 or even 200 per meeting. They also need more support from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau to promote MICE activities including incentives for companies or government agencies to organise MICE events not only within the same province but also in other regions.
"If it is possible, we want government agencies to start organising MICE activities in the third quarter of this year. The MICE tourists will help stimulate the economy especially during weekdays," she noted.
Stage performers in Pattaya also want the government to loosen restrictions. Take Tiffany's Show Pattaya as an example. The theatre show, which has been established for 45 years, remains closed during the Covid-19 epidemic. Once reopened, it can welcome a maximum of 200 guests out of 1,000 seats, as requested by the government's social distancing measures. (Concerts are still banned.)
Tourists relax on Pattaya beach. According to the Beach New Normal measures issued by the Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) of Chon Buri, about 60% of the sandy shores of Pattaya are reserved for public use while the remaining 40% are for business purposes such as for setting up beach chairs and umbrellas. Although the rules state that those who offer beach chairs must check the body temperature of visitors and have the Thai Chana platform or a log book for guests to check in and out, I didn’t see any chair providers implement the order. The PAO also states that tourists should wear masks while in public areas but only a few complied.
People social distance while resting in Lan Pho public park. The park is located close to Na Kluea old market. It has a small lawn not far from the entrance gate and a large open concrete space next to the shoreline.
"We are ready to host our shows, but I'm afraid that my staff will lose their confidence when they see a small audience," said chief executive Alisa Phanthusak.
The short plan for Tiffany's Show Pattaya is to turn the facility into a meeting venue or a museum.
"I don't think our shows will resume this year. I think it's best to make use of our facilities," she said, adding that her business with about 180 staff including 100 performers is still active. They stay creative by preparing for new shows expected to launch next year.
Tourism in Pattaya is similar to other parts of the country; it has not yet picked up. The situation may be like the cloudy sky during monsoon season. After the rain cometh the beautiful sky.
As a gesture to welcome visitors to its beaches, Pattaya City has recently worked with the Pattaya Cultural Council, local artists and local people in Pattaya to paint colourful pictures on coconuts. The painted coconuts were tied together by a wire and hung like a curtain on the beach.
Street art is painted on old shophouses and buildings in the century-old Na Kluea Community, located next to the Na Kluea old market. You can wander along small alleys in the community to see seven pieces of art. Along the way, you can find delicious food and snacks like tod man (fish cake) and khao nieo mamuang (sticky rice with ripe mango).