Pattaya is not as busy as it used to be. Or so I am told, as I sit down at the bar Bryghuset in Jomtien for a drink. Mind you, it is low season and the rain has been trickling down all day.
However, the street, Soi White House, is usually packed with people in search of a cold beer and good company regardless of the weather forecast, allegedly.
But it’s 8pm and I only see a handful of people. Most of them are at Bryghuset and the neighbouring bar, Hønsehuset. Across the street at Mama’s Bar and Drop In Bar, Thai women sit outside on chairs and chat.
When someone strolls by, the women yell compliments and try to attract them to the bar. Tonight, they are unsuccessful. They turn to each other to continue their conversation.
Cheap beer but no buyers
Looking up and down the street, colourful flags meet the eye. Mostly Danish, Norwegian and Thai flags. Red, white and dark blue.
Among the locals I meet, the street is known as Soi Denmark due to an extensive amount of Danish-owned bars and restaurants. To top it all off Hotel Danmark marks the end of the street.
To my left sits a man. I will call him Thomas*.
Thomas arrived Thailand that same morning.
He tells me that at 50 Baht, the beer is cheapest here at Bryghuset. I can only agree that the pleasant atmosphere is another plus.
Thomas is from Denmark and fell in love with Pattaya many years ago, when he and his Danish girlfriend, at the time, came for a vacation. His current girlfriend is from Thailand and they met a year ago.
Thomas visits her as often as possible, but he tells me that fewer people have been coming every year.
Without me asking, he eagerly tells me about relationships between Thai women and Scandinavian men. People are too judgemental without having seen Pattaya for themselves, he says. Sure, you can find prostitutes, if you wish to, but it is just as easy to avoid them.
I order an Irish Coffee. Thomas is drinking Rum and Coke.
Don’t believe all you read
Danish music is playing in the background. Dodo and the Dodos sing about insomnia caused by a heartbreak in Vågner om natten before Kim Larsen’s melancholic song about appreciating the short periods of happiness in a long lifetime in Papirsklip comes on.
We are sitting on bar stools at a long table parallel to the street.
A drunk Norwegian on the right side of me interrupts my conversation with Thomas. Unrelated to the ongoing conversation, Roland* wants to tell me that climate change is a hoax and that scientists have not been able to prove the occurrence of it.
It is an issue that people bluntly believe what they read instead of being critical. Because Roland read, that global warming is a lie.
I order another drink – this time I go for a beer.
A possibly even more drunk Norwegian man shows up. Let’s call him Svend*. He has lived in Denmark and starts speaking a drunken mix between Norwegian, Danish and English. I can’t tell if it’s a result of good or bad language skills. Or maybe just of too much beer.
Meanwhile, street vendors come and go, trying to sell cigarettes, grilled chicken, noodle soups, wrist watches and even clothes. It appears they outnumber the guests in Soi White House.
Eventually, the two Norwegian men start arguing, in English, about education in Germany. I would like to report the context, but I’m not sure there ever was one. Thomas and his girlfriend leave, Svend bets Roland one million (currency unknown) that he is right, I lean back and enjoy the show.
I doubt they will ever settle the bet. But most of all, I doubt that either of them will remember the argument in the morning.
Flirt and fries
Soi White House is just the tip of the ice berg of Scandinavian bars.
Back in the city, in the other end of Pattaya at Cafe Kronborg, Danish owner Bjarne Nielsen tells me about Soi Buakhao or Nørrebrogade (which is a busy street running from central Copenhagen through the Northern part of the city) as he and his friends call it.
Like the culturally diverse Nørrebrogade in Denmark, the Pattaya-version does not only have Danish bars. It is a busy street with many nationalities, bars and street food vendors.
The vibrant vibe at Kåres Party Bar attracts me. I spot mostly middle-aged to older Norwegian men and Thai waitresses. One of them brings out a plate of french fries, and I ask to order some. But I am told to go inside, where I can get them myself. There is a cold buffet with cold fries and some salat.
I meet Bjørn* from Norway. He is busy flirting with the Thai waitresses, but he manages to somewhat keep a conversation going with me about the weather in Thailand. I guess Scandinavian small talk does not change much, just because the climate does.
The same story
I leave Bjørn to the waitresses and make my way to the other end of the street. I pass by Hotel Dania, Smile Bar and Swiss Bar to name a few of the bars that have either the Danish or Norwegian flag decorating the front. And the Thai flag, always the Thai flag next to a Scandinavian flag.
In this part of the street, there are barely any people even though it’s 1am on a Saturday.
Outside, at Valhalla, I find a few Danish men, among them the Danish owner. A couple of the other guests look like they are ready for bed.
I get the same story here: The streets and bars used to be full of people, but over the past 10 years the population and tourism has decreased.
Several articles reveal, that many bars have had to close. I have heard people blame it on everything – from the strength of the Thai Baht to the immigration rules and Pattaya’s negative reputation in the international media. Most people blame all three factors.
Common for all the people I have talked to – the owner of The Residence Garden and Jomtien Boathouse, the owner of Cafe Kronborg, the owner of Valhalla and various Scandinavians in bars and restaurants – they all remain positive and wait patiently or impatiently for better times.
I have a soda water while I wait for my taxi home.
Now, you may wonder why there are no direct quotes in the article. It’s not because I’m a bad listener, or I can’t remember what my bar companions said. The simple explanation is that while drunk people can be very fun to be around, they rarely say a whole lot, when they talk.
*All names have been changed for the sake of keeping the more or less drunk gentlemen anonymous.