From 6pm on Saturday 22nd until midnight on Sunday 23rd December, bars will be closed and restaurants and hotels will not be allowed to serve alcohol. This is to prepare for the Thai election on the Sunday.
Due to media coverage, some tourists will already be aware of the ban, but it will still come as a shock to many.
The closure of bars in the entertainment districts of Bangkok and the tourist havens of Pattaya and Phuket will impact greatly on revenues. With the additional loss of income from the previous weekend’s two-day ban on alcohol sales, this will affect two major weekends during the peak holiday season.
Supermarkets are also banned from selling alcohol and even the ubiquitous 7-Eleven’s found on virtually every street corner, will remove their alcohol from sale.
For long-time visitors to Thailand, this is nothing new. An alcohol ban for both local and general Thai election days has been in force for 10 years now. A number of Buddhist holidays and auspicious Royal days throughout the Thai calendar are also alcohol-free.
However, this year differs in that “a new election law prohibits alcohol sales not only on election day, but during the two-day advance voting period the week before” according to Phuket Election Commission Director Supap Akkam (Phuket Gazette 12./12/07, Bars Must Close this weekend – and the next)
For tourists, this means stocking up before the ban for their own private party. Sadly the law seems to impact more on tourists as the locals know where to go for a drink.
As Bud Weiser puts it (Bangkok Post, Postbag, Where there’s a will), “a friend of mine noticed that many farangs had taken up drinking tea and coffee from large mugs all day at many bars in Pattaya.”
Whilst the timing of this ban is unfortunate for the tourist industry, this general election is, however, crucial for the future stability of the country. In the nation’s first general election since the military coup of September 2006, the idea of the alcohol ban is to ensure sobriety when Thais cast their vote.
For many Thais this involves a long journey home. They are required to return to their registered birth place, in order to vote. For the vast number of bar workers this means a trip back to northern Thailand, a long way from the beach resorts of Samui or Phuket.
In order to give Thais enough time to travel, Monday 24th December (Christmas Eve) has been declared a public holiday. Everyone will have chance to make up for the dry weekend and imbibe some Christmas spirit.
In the media the timing of the ban, just prior to Christmas, has proved an emotive subject. Bangkok Post reader, Paul Slack (Postbag,Why Ban Tourist fun? 12/17/02) described it as “shameful”, whilst Bud Weiser from Rayong, (PostBag,Where there’s a will 12/20.07) asked “whether the country was chosen for its cultural assets and natural charm or the chance of an extended overseas pub crawl.” He also questioned, “what type of people came to Thailand if they cannot abstain from alcohol for two days?”
However, one positive aspect is that for two days at least, there is likely to be fewer drunk-drivers on the roads.