For years now venue operators, particularly those in Bangla Rd in Patong, have been lobbying the government to extend their legal closing times, which currently sit at either midnight or 1am depending on the venue’s location.
As a major international tourist destination, it seems logical that Phuket should be keenly aware of tourist habits and preferences, and in turn, do its best to accommodate them – with the aim of increasing tourist spending and satisfaction. In many of the countries where Phuket’s tourists come from, an active nightlife scene is viewed as a sign that a city is prospering and some even pride themselves on being “24-hour” cities.
In turn, the social culture that has developed around nightlife often hinges on the expectation that bars/clubs will be open until the early hours. Accordingly, many tourists only begin their night out late in the evening around 10 or 11pm – a fact which is constantly asserted by venue owners seeking to extend their closing hours.
For many years Phuket’s nightlife scene has existed in a limbo, with many operators presumably paying local police “tea money” in exchange for them turning a blind eye to official closing times. On occasion, the police seem to feel need to remind owners what they are getting for their money and actually enforce the mandated closing times. Having been on Bangla Rd on one of these occasions, I can see why bar owners get frustrated with the law. Thousands of tourists, with pockets full of money, are tossed out on to the street desperately looking for somewhere to continue their fun.
When witnessing this it is hard not to ask the question – what is the purpose of a law that forces venues to close so early? It seems like a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. The businesses lose customers and the tourists are left wondering at the confused morals of officials who turn a blind eye to ping pong sex shows – unless of course, they refuse to close at a respectable hour.
In fact the only group that appears to benefit from the law appears to be the people collecting the “tea money” and that being the case, as with many similar laws affecting businesses in Phuket, it seems unlikely to change any time soon.