It is hard to imagine, but Pattaya’s near-deserted “Walking Street” used to teem with revellers, as pulsating music filled the air and neon lights flashed until the early hours.
Before the pandemic, the coastal city south-east of Bangkok was a buzzing party scene, and was once described by the Lonely Planet travel guidebook as “an eye-popping sensory explosion”.
Today, bar stools sit atop dusty tables, the odd light bulb flickers and “For Rent” signs hang on bars, nightclubs and restaurants up and down the infamous red light district.
Crowds of tourists from all over the world have vanished – the only people around are a few locals heading home before the COVID-19 curfew kicks in.
For 42-year-old sex worker Dao, Pattaya has never looked this depressing.
“Pattaya was a ‘never sleep city’. There used to be so many people here, there was almost no space to stand,” Dao told the ABC.
“Now it is so quiet, it is lonely and quiet.”
All entertainment venues in Thailand have been shut for most of the last two years.(ABC News: Mark Dobbin)
Pattaya offers a glimpse of what is happening in other cities around Thailand, where bustling red-light districts in Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai were shuttered during the pandemic too.
The steady stream of business for sex workers away from the go-go clubs and beer bars also dried up.
Thailand reopened to fully vaccinated foreign travellers from more than 60 low-risk countries, including Australia, on November 1. But bars and entertainment venues are still closed because the government is concerned about the virus spreading in them.
Sex workers worry it will be years before their industry recovers.
A billion-dollar industry that operates in the shadows
Dao is one of approximately 50,000 sex workers who made a living in Pattaya before COVID-19 hit. Experts suggest at least four times that number were operating across Thailand.
The mother-of-five now earns less in a week than she did in an hour.
“It is barely enough. I’ve had to spend from my savings money and it is almost finished, almost gone,” she said.
“My main goal …….