Nationwide midnight-4 a.m. curfew lifted in many tourist destinations but not Bangkok
Many World Cup matches start between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. local time
Some bar owners say they'll air matches, hope curfew won't be strictly enforced
When Brazil and Croatia hit the pitch for the 2014 FIFA World Cup opener on Thursday, football fanatics in Bangkok will be forced to contend with more than an unfriendly time zone if they want to catch the action.
The nationwide midnight to 4 a.m curfew, imposed by the military three weeks ago when it took over the country in a coup after months of political and social unrest, has been lifted in more than 30 provinces and districts, including Thailand’s tourist hotspots such as Phuket, Pattaya, Krabi and Koh Samui.
But not Bangkok.
This poses a problem for the city’s notoriously diehard football fans who want to watch the games with friends and fellow revelers – many of the matches start between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. local time.
“I’m a bit worried about staying out late to watch the games, but it should be fine, as police and military aren’t that strict about the curfew,” says Wisit Konkratoke, a 33-year-old Bangkok graphic designer and a self-described huge football fan.
Wisit says he doubts bars will be airing all the matches due to the curfew so he’ll likely watch at a friend’s house.
“Solders have stopped me after midnight on the road to ask where I’m going, and when I tell them I’m going home it’s fine, they let me carry on,” he says.
Speaking to reporters last week, members of the ruling junta said they will not be lifting the curfew in the capital just so people can watch football, advising fans to go home early and cheer on their favorite teams with their families instead.
Bangkok bars work around curfew
During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Bangkok was filled with viewing parties, many offering fans giant LED screens and outdoor beer gardens.
Waves of supporters dressed in the colors of their teams. (Thailand has never qualified for a World Cup.)
But the time zone was friendlier then, with evening games the norm. And there was no curfew.
This time around, many sports pubs are trying to find ways around the midnight-4 a.m. curfew.
Some say they’re planning to push their luck.
Nick Wetzel, owner of The Pickled Liver, a downtown British pub frequented by Bangkok expats, says curfew enforcement varies widely from day to day, so he’s unsure how things will go during the month-long football event.
“I have every intention of showing as many games as possible, depending on public demand,” says Wetzel.
“Unfortunately, with the curfew still in place it’s hard to know what to expect, especially from the police. They came to my bar at 1 a.m. this morning to close it down, so I hope this will not set a precedent for the World Cup.
“I can only hope that given the importance of the matches coupled with Thailand’s love of the beautiful game, they will let us watch the tournament in peace. Only time will tell.”
Other Bangkok pubs have said they’ll allow patrons in only as late as midnight, then will let visitors watch behind locked doors.
“We will be open but due to the current curfew space will be limited to upstairs,” advertises the Clubhouse Sports Bar and Grill on its website.
“Customers will need to be in before 12 and can leave at their discretion (although we would not advise it).”
Some are keeping their fingers crossed that the junta will lift the curfew.
“At present we can only show 11 p.m. games and games starting at 5 a.m, but we are hoping the curfew will be lifted Thursday,” says a representative from Bangkok’s The Sportman Bar and Restaurant, another popular haunt among expats and visiting tourists.
READ: Curfews lifted in three Thai hot spots
Wichian Nunporntasak, who owns a restaurant and bar called “Cheek” on Bangkok’s Ratchaphruek Road, says the curfew has harmed his business, though he understands why the military is concerned about keeping the city safe.
“I’m not worried about the curfew for the games at 11 p.m., I’ll still air them and hope we don’t get shut down before the end,” he says.
“But I won’t be able to stay open for the later matches. I’ll probably have to go to a friend’s house to watch them.
“The army has been nice every time I’m stopped on the road after curfew, as I explain that I’m heading home from work.”
Khao San Road goes quiet
CNN visited Khao San Road this week to find out how bar owners and guest houses plan to deal with the curfew situation during the World Cup.
A popular stop for backpackers thanks to the high concentration of guest houses, tour agencies, bars and restaurants in the old part of the city, the strip is usually a favorite World Cup viewing spot for the local and international football crowd.
But this year, the consensus seems to be that while many bars will try to get away with airing the 11 p.m. games, that’s as hard as they’ll push it.
Multiple bar staff told CNN that police were strictly enforcing the curfew and making bars close promptly at midnight – though plenty of tourists continue to roam the strip after closing time.
Some bars said they hadn’t even bought the license to air the games, but will do so if the junta lifts the curfew soon.
A staff member at Nat Guest House, who didn’t want to be named, said the establishment will likely let people watch in the common area but will have to keep the noise down in consideration of guests.
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Junta tries to ‘return happiness’ with free World Cup broadcasts
On the sidelines of Thailand’s political drama, confusion over just how many of the World Cup games locals will be able to watch at home played out in the courts this week.
Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) tried to force RS International, the exclusive rights holder for the FIFA World Cup, to allow Thailand’s free TV channels to broadcast all of the World Cup matches.
Earlier, RS won the case in Thailand’s Central Administrative Court and announced it would televise only 22 World Cup matches on free TV. The rest could be viewed only through purchased TV boxes.
The NBTC appealed the court’s ruling but were shut down on Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, the NBTC hinted that they would subsidize the matches in line with the junta’s campaign to “return happiness to the Thai people” so that everyone could watch all the games on free cable at home.
No word on whether those who bothered to buy the boxes will be eligible for a refund.