This year, the back-to-back Buddhist holidays of Asarnha Bucha and Khao Pansaa fall on Thursday, July 30, and Friday, July 31.
Both are important public holidays, and government offices, the local immigration bureau, banks and many other businesses will be closed for two consecutive days.
As mandatory on the most important Buddha days, alcohol sales will be banned nationwide and bars and entertainment venues around Pattaya required to close for 48 hours.
Asarnha Bucha Day, one of the four most important holy days in the Thai Buddhist calendar, commemorates the historic Buddha’s first public sermon some 2,500 years ago and is considered to be the birth of Buddhism.
Khao Pansaa, also known as Buddhist Lent day, marks the beginning of the monks’ annual “rains retreat”, during which they are restricted to their temples for a period of three lunar months so as not to trample crops during the rainy season. Young Thai men, usually at the age of 20, may also take this opportunity to temporarily enter the monkhood for spiritual training. Devout Buddhists may also abstain from alcohol for three lunar months.
Throughout both days, devout Buddhists will turn out in the thousands at local temples to make merit (tham bun) and take part in religious ceremonies. The spiritual highlight comes after sunset when Thai Buddhists, young and old, gather at their local temples to listen to chants and sermons and join the traditional candlelight procession (wian thian). Holding flowers, incense and lighted candles, the monks and congregation members will walk clockwise three times around the temple’s ordination hall.
While that’s all fine and possibly great for your karma if you’re a Buddhist – there’s a catch:
As on the three other main Buddhist holidays (and as stipulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act of 2008), alcohol sales are prohibited by law and most bars in Pattaya will be closed for two days, i.e. from midnight to midnight.
While hotels are exempted from the ban, restaurants, department stores and supermarkets (including 7-Eleven convenience stores!) will not be allowed to sell alcohol either.
Anyone violating the law can be fined up to 10,000 Baht and/or receive a prison sentence of up to six months. Bar owners certainly also face the risk of having their venues shut down temporarily if they should be found to ignore the order. So as usual, you may need a bit of luck to find a watering hole which is at least halfway open and defies the law in a low-key manner by selling liquid intoxicants in alibi coffee mugs.
If you’re not bothered about your karma but prefer to maintain your standard level of daily intoxication, you are advised to stock up on beer and booze and have a private piss-up in your room or join fellow sinners on the beaches which are traditionally busy on Buddha days.
UPDATE (August 1) – As was to be expected, most bars around Pattaya complied with the two-day alcohol ban and “were in darkness” on both nights. Pattaya One reports (and we can only confirm it):
Whereas in previous years some bars would take a chance and open, this year saw an almost 100% compliance from entertainment venues across Pattaya (…)
Walking Street resembled a ghost town with very few lights on [and] many tourists wondering what had happened as information on the two-day closure was not widely available through local guest houses and hotels as expected.
Expected by who? It’s not really the job of “local hotels” to forewarn guests about these Buddha booze bans (why should they take a chance to deliberately ruin their business?) but that of the tourism authority, isn’t it, that should publish outright advance warnings to spare potential visitors the literally sobering experience of a ghost-town-cum (not just) Walking Street?
Then again, they won’t want to f**k up their tourism stats either (which they would if they did), would they?
Easy solution: Get rid of these uncalled-for alcohol bans – that most Thai Buddhists ignore anyway.