BANGKOK — Even the gods in Bangkok are hit hard by the coronavirus – or at least those making money out of the gods.
Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine, a site immensely popular among Thais and Chinese tourists alike, saw as much as 80 percent drop in the number of worshippers over the past month, according to vendors in the area.
Those selling flower garlands and offering dances to supplicate the gilt-gold four-faced statue of Brahma, known to Thais as Thao Maha Phrom, also said they want the government to help them cope with the loss of tourists, especially from mainland China.
“Perhaps the government can stage some events to promote the shrine and get government officials to come and pay respect at the shrine,” Achitphon Nianthatsot, a clerk issuing tickets for worshippers to hire traditional Thai dancers and musicians to perform a two-minute dance for winning favors from the Hindu god.
Achitphon, who has been working at the shrine for eight years, said the impact from the fear of coronavirus has been severe and doesn’t predict that the situation will improve in the next two months.
“Even the number of Thai worshippers has fallen,” Achitphon said.
The virus wasn’t the first calamity to strike the shrine. In August 2015, a bomb went off at the Erawan Shrine. Twenty people were killed, mostly Chinese tourists, in what was considered to be Bangkok’s worst terror attack. Yet visitors soon returned to the site, partly thanks to the government’s PR campaigns.
But during a visit to the shrine on a Friday afternoon – which would have been a “peak time” for the site in the past – there was neither a large crowd nor the usual cloud of incense smoke.
While there is no fee for entering and praying at Erawan Shrine, there is a lot of money to be made from the experience. Garlands are sold from 20 to 100 baht, while traditional dances to curry favor with the Indian deity range from 260 to 710 baht, and that’s not counting incense sticks, candles, water bottles, and other commodities.
“How can I survive on 10,000 baht a month when I have three kids?” said a female vendor, Rudeewan Sabjun, 32.
Kongkaew Wongmitr, 56, said she’s been selling flowers just outside the entrance of the shrine since she was 8. She said the blow caused by the coronavirus is “dire” in her long experience working there.
Profits have dropped from 700–800 baht to 200–300 baht per day in recent weeks, according to Kongkaew.
There’s also another problem, Kongkaew said. Due to the fresh attempts to enforce regulations on public cleanliness, the City Hall reportedly forced a dozen vendors outside the shrine to leave and banned others from selling flowers on the sidewalks.
The rest who stayed have to play mouse and cat games with the city code enforcers, or tessakit, and on some unlucky days they were also caught and fined, Kongkaew said.