If you are a tourist in Thailand then one of the main things you will expect to see is the country’s avid nightlife. After all, Thailand is known as a “rainbow country” for a reason! Not only does it have a thriving party culture during the evening hours, but it is well known for its escorts in Bangkok and open-minded attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.
However, recent action from Thailand’s Military Government has seen that the party has certainly ended earlier than both tourists and local businesses have preferred. Some bars and clubs have even been notified that they will have to close down indefinitely. The main question that is on everybody’s mind is why this has happened and what sort of effect will it have on the country’s economy. With over 30,000 people traveling to the country for beach parties and bars alike, there are bound to be financial repercussions for the country as a whole.
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What has caused this Crackdown on Bangkok’s Nightlife?
The last time a serious crackdown of this magnitude occurred in Thailand, it was 2014, where the army jumped into power in a bloodless coup. This was when the army began to try and enforce curfews and dictate party regulations to try and control the city’s crazy nightlife. Over the last few years, these rules have become stricter. Therefore, when a potential election was announced for February 2019, this campaign appears to be a last-ditch effort imposed by the government to try and enforce social order, regulate nightlife and create a positive impact from its time in government.
However, this has certainly not been the case, as it is seriously impacting the livelihood of the local bar trade. Bar owners have reported that military officials are moving in on their businesses, barging in their bars and demanding to see licenses for their trade. Most of the bars have never heard of these licenses, or have been in operation with ever needing one previously. This has been mostly occurring in Pattaya, where officials have even invaded bars to ask for a license about the businesses owning a dartboard.
What is the Crackdown?
Not only does the crackdown entail that licenses are held for all bars within the area, but it has also imposed curfew regulations. Whilst the government does maintain that it is only enforcing regulations that were already set in motion before they came to power, now it is imposing that all bars and clubs must close by 2 am.
However, despite these rules being enforced since 2004, there is evidence that suggests that these rules have long been ignored by the police, some of them even allowing bars to remain open in return for bribes. With high taxes now being enforced on both imported food and alcohol, this crackdown has had a severe impact on after-hour venues and new bar businesses alike.
What is the Purpose behind the Crackdown?
The main reason behind the crackdown is for the government in order to restore order to Thailand’s city streets. They are trying to enforce businesses to comply with the law, forcing businesses owners and Thailand’s youth (who indulge in the party scene) to a higher moral standard.
Already it is evident that larger bars and clubs have been harshly affected by this imposed curfew and license. A beloved club, Wong’s place is an example of an older drinking ground that has brought in a number of tourists to smoke inside and drink till dawn, has now had its main “selling point” removed, as the 2 am ban has been forced upon it. The bar owner (Sam Wong) has even said, in an interview with “The Independent”, after the bar was raided by army officers to check that he had an appropriate music license, that “It is the first time in 40 years something like this has happened.”. Previously, Mr. Wong claimed he would leverage his ties with the police for a little leeway on the curfew rules. However, in this case, he has claimed that the military simply is not budging on their policies.
This truly puts the thriving nightlife scene of Thailand, and Bangkok, in danger of being quelled. Anders Svensson, a Dj and corporation music events owner of a company named 52Hz Bangkok, even said that the military puts the full Thai music scene at risk of becoming stale. He has claimed that “Bangkok has become a much less spontaneous city and in many ways a more boring city than it was five years ago.”
Thai residents are truly worried about their own freedom of speech and choices due to this campaign. Whilst this militarised regime is honestly nothing new, the fact that there is no leeway for residents and the government’s own loss-ridden rice subsidy programme has only destabilized the military’s primary reason behind its hold on power. According to a poll in 2016, the Bangkok University Research Center has shown that the approval rating of the government has dropped from 62% (after its first six months in office) to 56% in February 2019. This is also due to the fact that an election has not yet been announced for the government, despite there being promises that it would be announced in 2015.
The fact that the government is now trying to make a strong show of power through the imposition of social order, through its policies against the bar and party culture, could be taken as a distraction from the recent scandal of deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan and his “vast collection of undeclared luxury watches.”
Whilst some locals believe that they are losing tourists as a result of this, others believe that they are now heading to cheaper vacation spots, like Vietnam and Cambodia. Although regulations do need to be enforced, there is a difference between militarism and a strict regime.
Right now, whilst the regulations are imposed, the city still continues on with its party life. You are still welcome to visit the country for its fantastic culture, just keep in mind that the party may have to end when 2 am arrives!