BANGKOK — One of Bangkok’s most popular night markets is not only struggling with disappearance of Chinese tourists, but also the perception among some Thais that it is a place to avoid amid coronavirus fears.
Vendors at Ratchada Train Night Market said they witnessed a plunge in number of visitors from China after the Chinese government imposed a ban on overseas group tours and anxiety about the novel strain of coronavirus took hold in Thailand.
In a recent visit on Friday night – normally a peak time of business – the courtyard of a steakhouse popular with Chinese tourists was empty. A waiter said he has been asked not to show up for work for two days per week, instead of one as usual, for the past two weeks now.
“It used to be very crowded,” said Kaeng, 25, the waiter at 90s Steak House. “I hope things will improve within two to three months.”
He said even many Thai customers are also staying away because they fear they might contract the coronavirus at the crowded market, which has long been known as the favorite landmark of Chinese tourists.
“I hope something can be done about confidence in the market’s safety ,” Kaeng said. A shopping mall nextdoor, the Esplanade, recently posted photos of staff spraying disinfectant on the ground floor in order to reassure shoppers of their hygiene.
Kaeng’s assessment of drop in visitors is shared by others. A Chinese-styled pork bun vendor at the market said he usually sold 100 pieces of buns each night, now it’s down to 10.
About half of the stalls in the souvenir area called “Nai Dome” were closed. A vendor who identified herself as Joy kept her dried fruits shop open, but she said business is hard.
“There’s nobody now. I only made 300 baht so far tonight. I would be happy if I could sell 2,000 baht worth of goods tonight,” Joy said, while selling a pack of dried mango to two Western tourists.
She estimated that, if the situation does not improve, her shop will last for another 30 days. Then she will pack up and look for another location to sell. Many of her fellow vendors already gave up, she said, because the cost of electricity is simply not worth it. Stall owners are charged 10 baht per lightbulb each night.
“The profits may not cover even the electricity bill,” said Joy, who switched off three of the eight lightbulbs at her shop. “I have no hope for the government’s assistance.”
The coronavirus crisis is expected to hit the Thai tourism industry hard. The Tourism Authority of Thailand said the travel bans and health concerns would result in the loss of two million Chinese tourists this year, down from 10.9 million in 2019.
Not everyone is complaining about the loss of Chinese tourists, however.
A female employee running the market, who asked not to be named, insisted that they are seeing an increase in Korean and Japanese tourists. Asked about the market being listed on social media as a place to avoid for health safety, the employee said she has no comment but insisted the market is clean.
Some are downright nonchalant. A restaurant owner where all the 20 tables are empty said he accepted the turn of fortunes caused by the coronavirus scares because there’s nothing to be done anyway.
“Even a big country like China couldn’t do anything about it,” said the owner, who asked not to be named. “We must try to understand them. I do not expect any help from the government but we will keep fighting.”