Businesses in Bangkok tourist hotspot anxiously waiting for visitors’ return

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Bangkok’s once bustling Khaosan Road has been a shadow of its former self since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but business owners are hoping Thailand’s reopening to tourism this week will soon restore its buzz.

The early signs, however, are that they may need to wait a little longer.

Thailand, one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, has enforced strict entry curbs during the past 18 months, but from Monday allowed vaccinated travellers from more than 60 countries to visit without having to quarantine.

“Khaosan Road is Bangkok’s landmark for foreign visitors. For us all business owners, they are our hope,” Thapanee Pansodsaicharoenkit, owner of the ‘Rocco’ restaurant, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Before the pandemic, Khaosan Road was heaving with people on weekends and at night with cheap beer bars, tattoo parlours, street vendors, hostels and buzzing nightlife drawing budget travellers and tour groups alike.

When Reuters visited on Tuesday evening there were a few people visiting the restaurants and bars, but the street remained quiet, with around 90% of shops closed indefinitely.

“Yeah, we’ve been sitting and waiting for (foreign) visitors,” said 38-year-old waitress Walaiporn Roemthong, who has been working along the popular street for eight years. “It’s not like before, where we didn’t have to wait for them, they’d just arrive and take their seats.”

Business along the Khaosan Road has been on pause for the past 18 months, Prasit Singhdamrong, president of Khaosan Business Association, told Reuters by phone, with only 10% of businesses able to remain open.

Despite this week’s relaxation, some restrictions remain.

Restaurants certified by the tourism authorities can serve alcohol until 9 p.m. but bars will remain closed, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority said in a statement Saturday.

That means many will still struggle, said Prasit, because some make only 1-5% of their sales on food with the bulk of their business coming from alcohol sales.

“Khaosan is not a place where people come to eat, because we’re not Michelin-star eateries,” said Prasit.

For some, however, there is still hope.

“I think it won’t be long for tourists to fill the street again, unless there’s another outbreak,” said 36-year-old Papot Meecharoen, as he waited for customers at his hair braiding stall.

(Reporting by Vorasit Satienlerk and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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