Prostitution is illegal and does not officially exist in Thailand but we all know it is out there. In Thailand these establishments take on interesting second identities. Thousands of coffee shops, karaoke bars, massage parlours, disco halls, and clubs offer much more than a song, a dance, or a drink. This can make figuring out which door to enter quite a difficult task at times. I was once in a proper massage parlour when a group of men came in asking how much a room and a woman would cost. How embarrassing, especially for them!
I have come to accept this side of Thailand as part of its landscape. It is what it is. Now that I am aware of all of the sexual activity happening in Thailand, I think the whole country should be bouncing up and down.
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone is going around doing it. But if you look at the basic law of supply and demand, there are enormous numbers of businesses providing this service and well, they are not going out of business. There are also numerous hotels that provide hourly rates. I once stayed at a hotel that provided hourly rooms in the front and daily rooms above the office. Returning to my room after a nice stroll, I was propositioned by a man. Now there’s a first!
Contrary to popular belief, Thailand’s recreational sex industry does not only exist for the tourists who come to Thailand looking for ‘a good time.’ Patpong, Soi Cowboy, Nana, Phuket, and Pattaya are some of the areas and towns that cater to this tourist industry. These are really just drops in the bucket. The rest of the country is chock full of businesses serving domestic clients. Recreational sex is a popular pastime in Thailand and so is having more than one wife. (See: http://www.bangkokpost.com/050201/050201_News03.html)
I have observed some of these establishments both intentionally and unintentionally, both within Bangkok and out in the countryside. The businesses that cater to tourists are definitely different from the local variety.
In the tourist spots the people for hire are usually much more aggressive and expensive. The entertainment provided usually consists of naked or almost-naked dancers and a variety of ‘props.’ It is much more of a ‘let’s just get down to business. I would like to order person number 17’ kind of atmosphere (Yes, the people for hire often wear numbers). There are fewer mating rituals involved and it is pretty much like you could imagine.
The venues for locals focus more on entertainment. Upon first arriving one could think that they have accidentally turned up at a bad Las Vegas nightclub. Karaoke machines, live bands, and poorly-synchronized dance routines with tacky matching outfits are common. It is much more possible to hang out at these venues without being harassed or grabbed.
At the local venues, plastic flower garlands can be purchased by the suitors and placed around the neck of the man or woman whom they are interested in. In some places this even allows the suitor to join in a dance on stage. When the person for hire gets enough garlands and also decides that he or she is interested, they go and join their suitor’s table. You can figure out the rest for yourself.
Prostitution is something you cannot escape. Some of Bangkok’s finest hotel lobbies have guests bringing their nightly companions through the doors. Expatriate bars have a side order of ‘working girls’ available. Thais who have a few extra bucks in their pockets know where to find what they may be looking for. Heterosexual, homosexual, transvestite, transgender, tall, short, thin, or heavy; something to suit everyone’s taste and wallet is available.
Prostitution is one of the world’s oldest professions. Although Thailand receives large amounts of criticism regarding this issue (and also large amounts of praise from those enjoying themselves within its circles), I have never been to a country where prostitution did not exist. Even in postcard Switzerland, red lights in windows really do mean something.
It can make it difficult for foreigners to visit Thailand and not be viewed as sex tourists. Non-sex tourists report receiving suspicious and knowing looks on the airplane and return home to get needled about their presumed adventures. I choose to believe that the majority of people still visit Thailand for its amazing non-sexual attractions.
Those that are here to enjoy the other side of the coin should remember that AIDS also exists in Thailand. It is also a good idea to bring your own condoms because they are very often improperly transported and stored in the blistering heat, rendering them ineffective.
Right or wrong, good or bad, what door you choose to open is up to you. Just remember that the words karaoke, massage or disco may mean more than you think. Having a good time in these places is possible without buying the goods. I just spent Friday night in a Laotian ‘disco’ and had a blast! Sometimes curiosity does get the best of this Kat.