Officials in Pattaya are working flat out to improve drastically Pattaya’s image rather than face direct intervention by the military junta’s NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order). The city’s acting Police Chief, Colonel Supatee Boonkrong said he wanted to eradicate prostitution in the interests of public safety and to restore “happiness” throughout the Eastern Seaboard resort. Teams of police, assisted by Thai and foreign volunteers, have rounded up hundreds of women and transgenders. Although they are usually fined 100 or 200 baht and released after being fingerprinted and checked on ID records, the sheer intensity of the crackdown has been a cause of general surprise. Some suspected prostitutes have been arrested several times in a week.
Many of those arrested, or rearrested, have been ladyboys who have long been a feature of Pattaya after dark, especially in beachfront areas. But there have been regular, ongoing complaints from foreign tourists about being robbed by transvestites working in gangs. Commonly, one member of the group pretends to show affection to a confused stranger while another with nimble fingers steals a wallet or pendant before making a quick escape on a waiting motorbike. “Although not all cross-dressing males are criminals,” said a Tourist Police officer on Walking Street, “those hanging around at night probably are up to no good.” He added that no other public order problem in Pattaya had been given higher priority by both the previous Yingluck Shinawatra government and by the coup-installed administration from last May.
Another subject of the anti-crime crackdown concerns the Pattaya and Jomtien beaches where, traditionally, the hundreds of operators have contravened local regulations by ignoring limitations of allocated space, cooking food for customers on the beach or failing to stack umbrellas and chairs overnight. Khun Nat, a beach vendor for 20 years, said “Everyone is cooperating as they want to avoid the army directly enforcing the regulations as happened in Phuket and Koh Samui.” According to local media, the condition of the beaches in Phuket has improved dramatically since the army took the responsibility to clear obstructions and to enforce by-laws which has led to some operators losing their livelihood.
During a recent televised speech on Restoring Happiness to Thai People, the army commander and new Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha specifically referred to the evils of some seaside Jet Ski renters who seek to defraud the renting public by chronically overcharging for small dents and scratches or even by claiming compensation for accidents caused by a previous customer. He made it clear he wanted the problem, which has caused many complaints from foreign embassies, sorted out promptly. In Pattaya, the civic authorities have made several half-hearted attempts over the years to register and regulate Jet Ski operators and to try and arrange group insurance schemes for operators. But several Jet Ski operators admitted that the current crackdown was for real. Tourist police sources told Pattaya Today there had not been a case of harassment of foreigners since the coup leader made his televised speech.
Critics argue that cleaning up Pattaya, a resort which provides billions of baht of revenue annually, is a complex matter. They say that ordering prostitutes off the streets, cleaning up beaches and solving the Jet Ski crisis are all “low-hanging fruit”, in other words problems relatively easy to solve in a crackdown. The “high-hanging” fruit, such as endemic corruption among officials at all levels, will be a very different issue. There is also the point that street and nightclub prostitution has likely declined to make way for internet-based dating services which are growing in popularity. “Closing nightclubs and clearing streets doesn’t necessarily mean that casual pickups no longer occur,” as one city policeman delicately put it.