A new day is dawning in the City of Angels. Following the crushing blow of COVID-19, Bangkok has commenced the road to recovery. Restrictions are being eased in four stages, every 14 days, until all businesses open again. We’re now in a collective fight-back against the virus and its savage socio-economic impact.
Bangkok is reeling from the COVID-19 earthquake, and a tsunami of unemployment is sure to follow. Seven million Thais could be job-less by June, according to the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking (JSCCIB). Notwithstanding this crisis we face, spirit remains strong in the city.
Renewed confidence largely stems from a declining trend in infections. Perhaps even more, it’s the resilience of Thai people. Bangkokians are back on the streets and living their lives again.
Within two months, all Bangkok business could open again, in what will be a new normality for us all. Disease control measures are, and will be, prevalent in our lives. Increased cleaning, use of face masks, distancing and hand sanitisation – a present reality. Distancing will disrupt business in the short term, but there’s already evidence that distancing will fade quickly here, as the threat of the virus fades.
Bangkok, the sprawling metropolis, is alive again. Knowing the spirit of the city, and indeed Thai people, business could recover faster than we think. Thai people have an almost instinctive bounce-back-ability. I saw this first-hand in the 2011 floods, and their inspiring, collective response to that disaster.
It will take courage and a great collaborative effort to lead us through the post-COVID era. We are overcoming an unprecedented threat and we live in uncertain times. In a sense, we need to get comfortable with uncertainty in this new era.
Morning markets and street vendors are thriving again, bringing back a sense of community spirit. Chinatown is a hub for market activity and its re-opening was a win for Bangkok’s economy. Huge, bustling night markets like Talad Riep Duan in Rhamintra are back in business and attracting people in their droves.
There is a buoyant, cautious optimism in the air. It’s the beginning of a fight-back. The dent caused by Bangkok’s first wave of infections, and subsequent lock-down, can’t be understated. Millions of businesses are fighting for survival as I write these words and lives are in disarray. We’ve all seen the powerful images of low-income workers and their recent struggle. The city is hurting, and it needs to bounce back.
Public parks have been re-opened; a small, but significant win for the well-being of the city. It’s a great time to be outside, exercising in the roaring sun. Get out there and soak it up.
Selected sports-related businesses, such as tennis academy Le Smash, have been given the green light to open their doors. This is a result of the government welcoming back non-contact sporting activity. Golf, a popular sport in Bangkok, has returned and those keen on fishing can enjoy this calm, meditative sport once more.
The return of restaurants is key for the city. The eating-out experience, a social event for family and friends, has been partially re-introduced and psychologically lifts the spirits.
Hemingways, with its glorious outdoor seating area, is ready to open its doors as soon as people can sit and drink alcohol again, much like Beer Republic. Without the beer, there’s no Beer Republic. Food and soft drinks alone will not bring the customers in they need to justify opening.
Fattys Bar & Diner, once a hive of musical activity, has been relying on their outstanding food during this spell, much like Changwon Express. Both are take-away only at present, and would have been boosted by the recent lifting of the outright alcohol sales ban.
In fact, Changwon Express Owner, Ted Ahn, has reinvented his business by launching his new Kimchi project, a home-made recipe by Ted and his mother. The famous Korean dish is available at 140baht per 500g jar and has been selling very well, Ted tells me.
Alcohol sales remain problematic in the City of Angels, and although sales are currently permitted by the government, alcohol can’t be enjoyed in a pub or restaurant. The pleasure of drinking a beer out with friends may be compromised for now, but there are some silver linings for beer companies.
Beervana, one of Bangkok’s giant import craft beer distributors, are close to 50% of sales again, their partner told me. Shortly before the lock-down, they kicked off their Craft Beer Club delivery service, which is in operation now for those who enjoy a craft beer in the comfort of their home. It’s a seam-less service, which offers same-day delivery of ice cool imported and Thai craft beer. Smart move, and timely.
Live entertainment remains a major conundrum at present, and event organisers (including myself) are facing a big challenge in the post-COVID business era. Venues like Speakerbox will be forced to deal with distancing when live shows return. A partner at Speakerbox told me they’re in high spirits and working behind closed doors on venue improvements and online content. Venue closures are inevitable, and we can only hope that the majority hang tight and make it through.
Bangkok’s fight fraternity eagerly anticipate the return of shows like Full Metal Dojo, and owner Jon Nutt is working tirelessly with his team to try and get professional MMA and Muay Thai fighters back to work again – so they can earn some money – even if the show must adhere to stringent restrictions.
Bangkok musicians may not be on the stage, but in the mean time you can find many of your favourite bands and musicians doing studio sessions. Budda Bar are broadcasting live, online sessions at their bar. Speakerbox will be conducting a string of studio sessions for their new YouTube channel.
Bangkok’s long-standing spoken word community, Bangkok Lyrical Lunacy, have been hosting their live, online open mic every Wednesday, and the immediate future for hosting live events in front of an audience remains unclear.
When the times comes, it will require a collective effort from this great city, to drive us out of the doldrums, forward into the new era which beckons in the distance. The impact of the crisis will see far-reaching socio-economic casualties, but those businesses able to ride the storm will, eventually, live to see the era of a new boom in Bangkok.