Photos by Sirachai Arunrugstichai
BANGKOK — When nightlife becomes as dark as the smog-filled sky, Bangkok’s after parties may have passed into the afterlife.
Red-light districts are now an eerie sight of deserted bars and shuttered strip clubs after the government declared an unprecedented lockdown of business venues in March. A 10pm curfew implemented in April was yet another nail in the coffin.
For nature photographer Sirachai “Shin” Arunrugstichai, it was an opportunity for art. His photographs captured the death of Bangkok’s once-bustling nightlife that made the city so famous.
“In Bangkok, usually there’s always something to do, go, and drink at whatever time. If the bar’s closed, go to the mom-and-pop shop,” Shin said. “But now instead of seeing farangs drink at Soi Cowboy, it’s a ghost town. And Khaosan is so dark and quiet, you can hear the wind blowing there.”
Khaosan Road used to see as many as 50,000 visitors per night during high season.
Sa-nga Ruangwattanakul, adviser for the Khaosan Road Business Association, said that even though restaurants were allowed to open this past Sunday, the survival of the entire road depends on tourist visits, especially Europeans which make up 70 percent of the visitors.
“Open-air shops and hotels are still closed because we’ve had no online bookings. It’s not worth it to open to run operations. Some shops opened for a couple of days and closed back down since there’s no people visiting at all,” Sa-nga said.
Business owners were forced to lay off employees – some go back to their homes in the provinces, while others have to find alternative sources of income. Many of those that own motorcycles become food delivery drivers, if not, they switch to selling boxed food.
“Everyone is scrambling to find ways to survive,” Sa-nga said.
Whether the nightlife can be resurrected after the pandemic blew over is still a matter of speculation. A recent report warned 10 million people could lose their jobs in Thailand if the virus does not subside by June.
Shin’s photography project is supported by the National Geographic Society’s Emergency Fund for Journalists.
Empty food carts are seen by the road around Ratchadamnoen Avenue, a major throughfare in the old city of Bangkok, Thailand, April 8, 2020.
A security guard is seen walking a round of patrol in the empty interior of Mulligan’s, a well-known Irish bar on Khaosan Road, which has been closed from operation due to the situation of the novel coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand, April 21, 2020.
Route 66, one of the most well-known and long-standing nightclubs in Thailand is seen on the empty street of Royal City Avenue, one of a major clubbing scene in Bangkok, Thailand, April 11. The club has been closed down since mid March in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Illuminated by the headlight from a passing motorcycle, an erotic mannequin and various posters are seen decorating a building in Patpong district, arguably the most famous entertainment and red-light district in Bangkok, Thailand, April 1, 2020.
Decal stickers from foreign military units are seen on a mirrored pillar inside an empty venue of a Go-Go bar in Soi Cowboy, one of the major red-light districts in Bangkok, which mainly caters for tourists and expatriates in Thailand, April 13, 2020. Pubs, bars and nightclubs have been closed down to limit the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus, which has significantly impact nightlife scene in Bangkok, while many workers in this red-light district have left for their hometown.
A sex worker waits for customers on the quiet street of Soi Nana, one of the major red-light districts and a prime destination of sex tourism in Bangkok, Thailand, April 13, 2020.
A massive sculpture of the Ancient Greek god of the sea and storm, Poseidon is seen through droplets of rain at Poseidon Entertainment Complex, arguably the most well-known massage parlor in Bangkok, Thailand, April 13, 2020.
A poster for cabaret shows with no illuminating light in Soi Patpong of Patpong district, possibly the most famous entertainment and red-light district in Bangkok, Thailand, March 29, 2020.
The closed down Talad Neon Night Market without people in downtown Bangkok, Thailand. To contain the situation of the novel coronavirus, places of gatherings such as night markets have been ordered to be closed down to limit the risk of viral transmission among the population, May 4, 2020.