Monday, June 20, 2011

Getting Deep in to Thailand's Sex Culture

One of the main streets in Patong
I spent three weeks in Thailand in September last year during my round the world trip. For a traveller, the country is paradisiacal. It's cheap, the food is delicious, the people are friendly, there are many beautiful tourist spots and the weather is great. It's got everything you could want from a travel destination including... sex.

I don't wish to adorn a moral superiority hat but a theme that dominated my trip to Thailand was the sexual culture that is everywhere you go. I should say that I think prostitution should be legal but it's not for me.

  First of all - the stunningly obvious: many, many men come to South East Asia and particularly Thailand for sex.

My first couple of days were spent in perhaps one of the sleaziest places on earth: Patong Beach, Phuket.
I'm told that only Pattaya in Northern Thailand rivals Patong for lady boys, prostituion and general in-your-face sleaze.

To give you a picture of an average night on the streets of Patong beach; strolling down a road packed with neon-lit bars and restaurants.There are extremely confident lady boys strutting their stuff up and down the road. Sometimes it's completely obvious they are packing a dong under their skirts, other times you're not so sure which is a bit disconcerting. You are approached by dozens of Thai's thursting leaflets with lurid photos and telling you "Want to see a ping pong show Mister?"

I didn't have any desire to attend nor did my girlfriend but I was told by a German guy that it was pretty disgusting. The girl on stage (who didn't look to be enjoying herself, said the German) will use live fish, birds and cigarettes in her nether regions for the presumed entertainment of the crowd.

You see stuff like this all the time
Patong is a 24 hour party destination so people  from age 18 up to 70 are strolling the streets, often dressed in costume, with painted faces and often utterly pissed.

It's not that I overtly dissaprove of a bit of debauchery - I'm pretty liberal when it comes to people doing what they want.

I guess what I didn't like was the sense of entitlement that a lot of Westerners who travel to South East Asia have. It's like "I have money so I can do whatever the hell I want."

Some Western men will brag to you about how easily they can land girls and most times I would be thinking: 'Well it's not for your looks or personality, buddy.'

I spoke to a British guy who ran a bar in Patong and he said that recently a number of drunk Irishman had entered his bar. One of them started groping his bar staff without hesitation and said to his mates: "This ones only got small tits." (The bar owner also told me that American sailors and Italians had an unusually strong liking for lady boys).

On the train to Chang Mai I got speaking to an old Texan who had been in Thailand for ten years. He still had a distinct drawl and said that he can find women in his home town of Pai "like that" (with a click of his fingers)..

I went to Tiger Bar with a group of people and there would have been five prostitutes to every one guy. I was with my girlfriend but still mobbed by girls asking did I want a good time.There was a grotty old Spanish guy, around 65 with his belly hanging out of his shirt and a very young Thai girl on one of his arms.

Patong also offers beaches like this, but it's not the primary pull for tourists
Somebody tried to explain the way things work in Thailand: "You have to look at the way things are as a mutually beneficial arrangement.. the girls get paid good money and the guys have a good time. It works out for everyone."

My girlfriend and I stayed with a cool Mexican guy who had been running his own business in Patong Beach for a couple of years.. He had really enjoyed the lifestyle and a cousin of his who was staying with Jose at the same time as us said: "Jose wouldn't have stayed in Thailand for as long as he has if he wasn't fucking his dick off with so many different women"..

Jose told us that he preferred to go with Thai girls who had Western boyfriend over in Europe. "They are less jealous than other Thai girls" he told us. "They don't get crazy when I sleep with other girls".
Patong Beach

One of his short flings had ended with him nearly getting stabbed by a woman and her friend. They turned up at his house in a howling rage and brandishing a sizable knife.. Jose and his cousin had to manhandle the women from the property and barricade the door.

Among many Thai people, there seemed to be an attitude that prostitution has always been, and will always be, a part of the social fabric of Thailand. It's officially illegal but in practice it's nearly everywhere you look.


I guess I took the view that the power dynamic is so stacked in favour of Westerners who visit Thailand. By virtue of being born in a Western Country, we have more money that the average Thai and a life of prostitution is an easy choice for a lot of Thai woman. The woman who enter the trade seem to know what it involves and it's not my place to say they shouldn't be doing that. I don't like to see people as commodities but the same can't be said for a lot of travelers that frequent that part of the world. If you can buy cheap food, why not have a cheap lay on the side? Prostitution is much the same in every country - it's never a very glamorous business.

I had a chat with one Thai "party girl" who said that some of the time she enjoyed her work. Just the previous night she had been partying with an Australian couple in their mid thirties. She had showered with the wife while the husband watched and said of the experience: "It was a bit weird"..

Lady boys - kind of disturbing huh?
Thailand has a different atmosphere to Indonesia (which also has sex tourism). I think a big part of that comes from Thailand being a Buddhist rather than a Muslim country. It's not that Muslims are any less sexual, it's that the religion constrains the impulsues to a large extent. The sexual culture of Indonesia is a bit more hidden. Plus plus massages are big here but you don't have people handing you flyers and encouraging you to get there.

If people want to party and have a good time, I totally encourage them to do so. I just think that there should be a bit more respect in the whole dynamic between SEA and Western countries so that countries like Thailand don't serve as a sort of country-wide sexual maid service to satisfy the sexual cravings of Westerners.

A question I have is would so many woman be working in the sex industry if there were plenty of good paying jobs available in fields like hospitality or retail?  I'm not so sure..
Rates of prostitution are certainly lower in New Zealand and Australia than in Thailand or Cambodia. 

For the moment - Thailand is serving as a fantastic place for tourists and a favorite spot for hedonists the world over.


2 comments:

  1. In New Zealand, prostitution and/or stripping is still the highest paying job for an unskilled/unqualified girl. If you can pull down $500 on a good night why would you slog away a 52 hour week, that is if you can even get a job?

    This is a sticky issue, but it is not just a Thai one (as you said). A lot of this is a feminist issue I think, and there is a sadness to how women in these cases are priced according to their body and what they are willing to do with it, rather than any skill or intelligence or goals they may have.

    And we must remember that if there was no demand for sex workers, they would not exist!

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  2. Harry
    I am married to a beautiful Thai woman and she becomes quite angry with the stigma attached to Thai woman as being prostitutes. But in the same breath of air I am married to a Thai woman because they are very beautiful and intelligent woman and if they in there country that has a number of levels of class people where there is no support if you don't work they are making there living how they know best, as in all countries there is the sex industry just in Thailand there all very sexy not like else where.

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