Photo essay for the Special Initiative “From Fear to Resilience: Visual Storytelling of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia” by SEA Junction and Partners.
|Youth Night is Gone?
The recent photos of crowded Khaosan Road, a well-known tourist destination and nightclub area, during Songkran holidays recalls me the completely different landscape back at the end of 2021. I was given the assignment during the EU4Youth workshops, by the EU in ASEAN and PannaFoto Institute, to reflect on youth in the times of pandemic. I started with the simple question, where the youths are. Before the pandemic, I often hung out with friends after class or work at Khaosan Road. Staying under restrictive lockdown and curfew for months, I missed the cheerful moments of our youthful life back then.
Bangkok had been under quasi-lockdown since around June 2021. Even though it was later eased gradually, the night curfew remained in place and sale of alcohol was prohibited. Thailand was set to open its border and welcome tourists with quarantine-free measures in November. However, toward the end of October, we still saw lonely nights at Khaosan Road. Despite the music playing, the area remained quiet. The area had been quiet not only for the past few months, but ever since the pandemic. The entertainment venues are always among the first ordered to close during the outbreak and yet the last to reopen. The businesses as well as musicians and entertainers struggle to sustain their lives. Even when they are back to work, their incomes are not as high as before. People from time to time are too anxious with the outbreaks to go out and the restrictions make it difficult for businesses to comply with. Social distancing, for example, seems impossible in the night clubs whose nature is based upon close-up social interaction.
I visited Khaosan Road about twice a week at night, mostly in October. I began taking photos of the silent scene with very few people. I chatted with a few vendors while trying to support their businesses. Some of them were closed until further notice depending on the COVID-19 restriction whereas some remained open and relied on selling food instead of alcohol. Once the restrictions are fully eased, the vendors hope more people will show up. They are nevertheless aware that not all seats will be filled instantly and that Khaosan Road will not be as crowded as it used to be. At the beginning of November, this proved to be true. The reopening of bars added more colorful and vibrant hope but the loud silence continued.
This area holds a lot of my youth memories. The pandemic has changed everything. It seems that the youths are gone. Even when I met some young people there, the atmosphere seemed to be less cheerful. Our youth night will never be the same, I thought. But I was wrong, proven recently by the packed visitors both locals and tourists. Over time, particularly from the end of 2021, there have been more and more visitors at Khaosan Road. Although we can never be certain due to the uncertain nature of the pandemic and unknown regulations for night clubs in the future, we remain optimistic about the return of youth nights and the recovery of the industry that once contributed significantly to the Thai economy.
Lattapol “Bom” Jirapathomsakul is Program and Communication Officer at SEA Junction. He enjoys street photography as a hobby, capturing candid moments of random subjects or objects, often from a distance.
This photo story was originally developed during the EU4Youth mentorship program, held by the Delegation of the European Union to ASEAN in partnership with PannaFoto Institute.