PATONG'S nightlife will open until 5am and Phuket City's will go until 3am if the consensus reached yesterday at a big meeting on entertainment zoning on Phuket prevails.
The spotlight now shines on Phuket regulations dating back five years. The regulations appear to allow these hours to be legally acceptable. However the question remains whether Thailand's one law for all philosophy can be bent to embrace late drinking only for international passport holders.
Enforcement also became a big issue yesterday, with many of the audience at the Merlin Phuket Hotel in Phuket City pricking up their ears at the mention of corruption.
Chairing the meeting were Vice Governor Niwit Aroonrat and Major General Pekad Tantipong, Chief of Police on Phuket. Khun Niwit handed over to Major General Pekad to attend another meeting, saying that the aim was to establish an entertainment zone in Patong first, and then possibly create other zones as required elsewhere on Phuket.
Phuket Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob, who would like the situation to change, recognises that international visitors are used to drinking laws that run later than Thailand's 1am closing time and would like Phuket, as an international destination, to cater to the international audience.
Venue owner and Patong Municipality Council member Weerawit Kuresombut made the point that holidaymakers who enjoy nightlife usually eat late then move on to Phuket's night spots after 10pm.
To close just three hours later meant severely limiting the island's appeal for those who are used to 24-hour licencing laws in other countries.
''If you close suddenly at 1am or 2am, some of these people will end up drinking outside the 7-Eleven store or down on the beach in the dark,'' he said. ''What about crime? How can it be controlled?''
In 2006, Khun Weerawit said, he took a poll of tourists that indicated that tourists came to Patong knowing that the 1am or 2am closing laws were not being enforced, and that they could expect to drink to 4am.
''You can't do it just for overseas visitors, though,'' he said. ''People come from Bangkok and you can hardly expect to treat them, or locals, differently to other visitors.''
Assistant F&B manager Saijai Nuchai from JW Marriott said to have one law for visitors and another for Thais would make the role for staff at late-night venues extremely difficult. ''How far will these venues be from hospitals and temples?'' she asked. ''A lot of important aspects need to be considered.''
Phuket Tourist Association Vice President Sarayuth Mallam said that only 30 percent of tourists to Phuket visited Phuket's bars, so zoning needed to be very specific and avoid residential areas.
''Allow venues to open in the wrong areas and hundreds of people will be unable to sleep,'' he said. Addressing Khun Weerawit, he said: ''You have to take care of the local people who elected you as well, not just look to how to maximise the deal with tourists.
''Think about the future,'' Khun Sarayuth said. ''Do we really want drunks leaving venues just as monks are beginning to walk the streets, asking for alms? Will school children see these people falling about?
''The question of closing hours needs to take account of Thai culture and the normal daily lives of Thai people.''
He said the zoning regulations needed to be grounded in reality, not simply in the profit-taking potential.
Colonel Wanchai Eakpornpit, superintendent of Phuket City police station, said that a new approach was needed to tourism that ended the cycle of tourists coming from, say, Korea on a Korean airline, and only spending at Korean owned shops.
''They come to Phuket for its special qualities, but leave nothing here,'' he said. ''If we don't have zoning, crime and drugs are harder to control and eradicate. The big picture needs a reassessment.
''When they go home, what do we have in return? People say they want big numbers of tourists, but what about quality? It is not easy to to improve the quality.
''I don't know whether Dr Prab ['Prab' Keesin, who has Patong interests] will agree with me or not. For example in Phuket City, locals have communities that open shops early in the morning. If other people open late, that will cause confusion. Local communities need to be protected, too.''
He said that if everything was run according to the law, there would be no need for corruption.
The manager of the Icon Club in Rawai* See the clarification below said they were happy to pay taxes, but would really like to see the money put back into infrastructure. Too much money was asked in under-the-table payments, she said.
She also suggested a ''one-stop service'' so that corruption could be better organised.
Major General Pekad thanked her for the comment. ''Only a few bad police take money in that way,'' he said.
She added: ''Yesterday customers at my club said how beautiful Nai Harn used to be years ago, but now there are drug needles for people to step on. We picked up 25 yesterday.
''People don't want to jog or walk. Many people have been attacked. What are the police doing?''
She couldn't see any reason why Phuket could not open 24 hours, around the clock, like Spain or France.
Phuket Tourist Association Vice President Sarayuth Mallam responded: ''Let's not talk about other countries, or even other provinces. You should think about whether that idea would benefit everybody.
''We need to support tourism but we don't want to destroy the local culture or the local way of life.''
Colonel Wanchai said some thought should go into a ''Phuket model.'' Local people could be involved in the decision-making process and have their voices heard. ''The whole issue needs to be properly discussed on the island, not simply left to Bangkok to make the decision for people here.''
Zoning was reviewed five years ago under the Thaksin government, when each province had to opt to decide to zone or not, the meeting heard. Phuket decided then to zone - but had done nothing about it. Because Phuket opted in back then, though, the Vice Governor said, the opportunity still existed for zoning to go ahead without further regulation.
Khun Prab told Phuketwan outside the meeting that there were about 700 bars and other venues in Patong, and he estimated only about 200 were legal. Asked why prices were so high for all products in Patong, he said it was sometimes the case that businesses had a high number of ''partners'' who took a share or the business.
In one business, there could be as many as 14 behind-the-scenes ''partners'' who had not invested, but never-the-less would take a regular contribution from the income. It was not unusual for eight or nine ''partners'' to come every month asking for money.
The ''partners'' consisted not just of police but from every kind of local official. Under-the-table payments were greatest in the copy-sale industry, he said.
We Were Wrong Phuketwan named the female manager of Icon as a speaker at an entertainment zone meeting. Here's a correction, and a full account of what was said.
Phuket Entertainment Zoning: Clarifying Who Said What