BANGKOK (AP) — The generals who seized power in Thailand disrupted one of the country's most lucrative industries — the go-go bars that were forced to close early because of a curfew.
Now the junta has lifted the curfew, giving a green light for Bangkok's red-light districts and other evening activities to roar back to life. For the first time in a month, Saturday night freedom returned to the Thai capital.
"This is a party city, that's why we're here," said Dan Moore, a 40-year-old visitor from England who had arrived Saturday morning and planned to stay up all night to celebrate a friend's bachelor party. He had flown in, just like the 1980s pop song says, for "One Night in Bangkok."
Moore's group started the night on one of the capital's most infamous red-light streets, Soi Cowboy, where they toasted the curfew being lifted.
"As for what happens the rest of the night? Who knows. This is Bangkok," said the groom-to-be, another Englishman, who asked to be identified just by his first name, Darren, to save his future marriage.
Bars featuring pole dancers are by no stretch the only nightlife in Bangkok, but they are the most notorious. The lifting of the curfew on Friday was part of a more general campaign by the junta to "return happiness to the people" of this politically polarized country.
When the army staged the May 22 coup, saying it acted to end increasingly violent political turmoil, the generals' first order of business was to impose the curfew. Initially set at 10 p.m., it gradually was eased to midnight, and already had been lifted in several of Thailand's popular resort areas after complaints from the tourism industry.
Then the generals apparently realized that for many Thais and tourists in Bangkok, happiness means watching the World Cup.
On Thursday, the junta engineered a last-minute deal with the World Cup's exclusive broadcaster in Thailand to cancel its exclusivity on digital television and allow the country to watch the tournament's 64 matches for free. The grand gesture, however, was incompatible with a curfew that prevented people from leaving home to watch the matches, which due to the time difference take place overnight in Thailand.