The Nightlife Activities of Phuket
Exploring the sex industry in Thailand and Phuket in particular
She stared from the glass window, smiling. She had no clothes on her. Her shining bracelet and stilettos sent sparkles across the small glassed area that she walked in. Few stopped to admire her, tourists giggled as they moved on to the next glass window, another beautiful body in display.
The Red-light district of Amsterdam has always attracted tourists from all over the world. Amsterdam revolutionized the concept of sex tourism – make it classy, generate revenue and keep it legal.
Although the trend of sex tourism in Amsterdam has been followed by many countries across the globe, not many could actually replicate the success that the Dutch people had. Latest in the run to capturing foreign currency is the blooming sex tourism in Phuket, Thailand.
As you walk down the Bangla Road in Phuket, you will find road sides crowded with bars and pubs with beautiful, young Thai girls whose services can range from companionship to prostitution. At the onset of twenty-first century, neon lights dazzling the upcoming Asian world, you will still find the century-old profession at work. But before we delve into the details of the sex industry in Thailand, its outcome or its present scenario in modern-day Thailand, let’s first understand the Thai society – the delicate thread that keeps it all tied together.
Unlike western world, most Asian and South-Asian societies stand on family. Achievements of the family gain more importance over an individual. History states that Thai society had been polygamous in the early 16th and 17th centuries. This tradition had led to a general openness in the society towards sexual practices. However, most pockets in the society have always looked squarely at relationships that do not follow the norms of the society. For example, there is a famous old Thai saying: “The old bull with spring grass”, which refers to an old man with a young wife reflecting how the society looks at unfamiliar relationships.
However, post Vietnam War in the 60s, the influx of American soldiers has ironically brought back the old-saying into the center stage of Thai life. With beautiful Thai girls in their arms, tourists throng the sidewalks of modern-day Thailand, while the society struggles hard to turn a blind eye.
Why turn a blind eye?
“My daughter works in the city. She needs to support her two children”, this is what Tsing Siam tells when asked if he knows what his daughter’s profession is. He wouldn’t speak any more.
Unfortunately this is the story of most of the girls working in this industry in Thailand. They are young with the responsibilities of maintaining families and children and are suddenly thrust into a situation where they must earn in order to survive.
On the other side of the spectrum are tourists from all across the world, lured by the legendary stories of sex tourism in Thailand form steady demand that brings in foreign currency to the country. Thus although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, the money that it brings in coupled with the struggle for survival, society in general chooses to turn a blind eye towards it.
Let’s get the facts straight!
Exactly how big is sex tourism in Thailand? What are the facts and figures of this thriving industry? It’s important to learn about these figures to understand the industry better.
Rough estimates find that the sex trade in Thailand amounts to up to USD 5 billion.
Why wouldn’t this industry flourish?
About 10% of the revenue earned from tourism comes from the sex industry.
The ‘entertainment’ areas, as considered by Thai officials include Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok – the three major provinces of Thailand.
One of the cities less known for sex services, Koh Samui, is said to have over 10,000 prostitutes.
An average Thai household from which most of the women come barely reach USD 100 a month.
A girl may join this industry as early as fifteen.
The average income for a girl may range from 1000 Baht (30 USD) to 3000 (85 USD) Baht per night.
Prostitution in Thailand has been going on for ages, but it has taken bigger proportions since 1960s and the figures above show that the industry is only growing bigger.
From the legal standpoint:
Although the common perception amongst Thai population is that prostitution helps in maintaining the balance of the society, the laws and the government officials have revised their stands quite often than not. It is evident that a billion dollar industry cannot survive without a nod from the authorities, but how is the arrangement?
Reports in the media have many a times quoted the opinion of politicians and ‘godfathers’ regarding this industry, but there had never been an unanimous stand on the same.
Let’s explore some of the landmarks in the history of Thailand’s sex industry:
The ‘Entertainment places Act of 1966’ allowed sex services as part of entertainment to be offered to people wanting such services. The UNIFEM East and South Asia Regional office looks at the Act in the following way:
“This Act was designed to pave the way for brothels to be legalized in the guise of massage parlours, bars, night-clubs, tea-houses etc. It was enacted at a time when the Government sought to increase state revenue from the "Rest and Recreation" activities of the US armed forces stationed in Vietnam.”
The Thai Immigration Act of 1979
The Thai Immigration Act denies entry to Thailand to those who have engaged in prostitution, trading in girls and other immoral activities.
Then in 1992, Thailand acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC).
Finally, Prevention & Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996 came into force. Again, UNIFEM East and South Asia Regional office looks at the Act in the following way:
“The new Act defines prostitution "accept sexual act or accept other action or anything for the sexual satisfaction of other person for the benefit of pay or other interest", irrespective of the sex of the recipient or the prostitute. The Act continues make to prostitution illegal but considerably reduces the penalties for the prostitute.”
Money and politics play an important role in this industry. While profit makes a bigger statement today in shaping the country’s policies towards this industry, various human rights activists are also prominent in their struggle to make this industry legalized and ensure better protection for the girls in the business.
The marriage angle:
“The British embassy in Bangkok processes the wedding documents of up to 70 couples each week. The requests are almost exclusively from older British men - among 860,000 UK tourists each year - hoping to marry younger Thai women” reports the UK Guardian. Many elderly, socially awkward western men go to Thailand in search of love and marriage. They choose the girls, exchange mails and interact with them before setting foot on Thailand. However, not all goes well in paradise all the time.
There are reports where western tourists go and marry Thai bar girls and settle down in Thailand. They are however duped into buying lands and properties which they eventually learn are in the girl’s name. Incidents of getting beaten up by the local crowd or even murdered have also been reported on national newspapers.
Although the Government calls such arrangements as legal, where it is supposed to be a marital bond, no one can ignore the fact that most of these prospective brides are from the girl bars. They almost always have questionable background and are eventually contributing to the revenue generated through sex tourism in Thailand.
However it is not that such marital bonds always end up badly, there are stories where the Thai bride flies back to the country from where her groom came and do end up living happily together. On the other hand there are also reports where people come, marry girls and take them to foreign lands only to sell them off as part of human trafficking.
Phuket plays an important role:
Phuket is a tiny island sporting the blue waters, pristine beaches and excellent infrastructure. It has long been a tourist attraction and is considered the second wealthiest province after Bangkok in Thailand. This is also the reason why Phuket has of late been considered a prime location for the flourishing sex industry. You have a steady flow of tourists in this region which evidently translates to customer traffic.
Although Phuket’s sex tourism took off almost the same time as other prominent areas in Patong, the nightlife/’entertainment’ scenario in Phuket is more discrete than Patong. Girls don’t always through themselves on you and you can in fact enjoy your rounds of drinks with your friends without being approached by girls in one of the bars or pubs down the Bangla road.
The tourists/the customers:
While profiling the typical tourist interested in the Thai sex industry is simple, the general perception is that they fit a stereotype of elderly western men. However the truth is the tourists or the customers in Phuket are mainly from adjoining nations of Japan, Korea and Malaysia. You will definitely find a number of western tourists, from young to middle aged to the elderly ones. There are both men and women customers. Phuket offers a bouquet of services and men, women and transsexuals from different age group are in the market. The western tourists mainly come from Australia, Europe and America.
Although in earlier years it was mostly the Thai proverb of old men with young wife coming true, and most customers were old, unattractive men but today many young people from different strata of the society come to Phuket to seek pleasure.
There is considerable number of female tourists as well seeking men or women.
What are your options?
Once you are in Phuket, it is impossible to miss the bars and pubs established especially for ‘entertainment’. It is extremely unusual that a tourist in that part of the town is not approached by a girl or a pimp. Ranging from catcalls, to grabbing and pulling, there are many ways a tourist is offered the entertainment services. One American tourists says, “Walking by girlie bars ropers call out to you, usually with ‘where you going’ or ‘come on in’ but at times with ‘hey handsome.”
Whether you want to respond to that, whether you are particularly looking for sex or if you are plain inquisitive, there are some essential terms and service standards that you must know before you ‘entertain’ yourself in Phuket.
There are a number of bars and pubs. Given below are the types of bars and a brief description of each.
Girlie/Girly Bar mostly refers to the bars where alongside with a drink you can also have a girl as a companion. These will generally have tools spread around and poles on the bar around which the girls dance. These are mostly open-sided bars making it easier for the customers to choose the one he/she wants to go to. Once you are seated at the bar, you may just have a drink, enjoy a game of dice, block games with the girl or if you wish may have a girl for your pleasure.
Go-go Bars are indoor bars where the ladies dance for the customers. Once these girls used to dance topless, but these days they wear bikinis and dance on stages.
Resorts refer to living establishments where you have access and means to enjoy your sex life.
Coyote Bars are considered the latest fad in Phuket Nightlife
. Here girls dance to disco music and these performances are considered to be more lively and exciting.
Karaoke Bars with tinted windows and ladies sitting outside are mostly the bars where you can stop over for food, drink, singing songs and for some fun. There are traditional karaoke bars as well.
Soi 11 are the places where girls sit on benches in front of the shops in Hollywood Boulevard style. Customers choose someone of their liking and the girl is then paid either on an hourly basis or as per the services she provides.
Types of services:
The service offered in Phuket night life is varied. It may range from a one hour association to week-long contracts.
Lady Drink is a simple arrangement where a guy buys the girl a drink which usually goes upwards 30 Baht. They chat and play games. The bar pays the girl for helping in selling a drink.
In Short Time arrangement, the customer will get to take the girl to nearby private place and spend time with her. Generally all beer bars and go go bars have such a private place available within the bar complex for the customer and the girl to spend time together.
Long Time as the name suggests allows the customer to have the girl for the whole night. Generally the customer will take the girl back to his/her hotel room. Such services cost somewhere between 1000 and 2000 baht. Many hotels charge extra for overnight guests.
GFE or popularly known as Girl Friend Experience is an arrangement where the man can have the girl as a companion for the full length of his vacation. The girl is treated like a girlfriend. She acts as tourist guide for the man and also spends time with him. They go to places together, restaurants, beaches, games, bars, etc. The man generally pays for all the expenses over and above the payment for the girl. It is not uncommon that during this girl friend experience tenure that a tourist has actually fallen in love with the girl, gotten married and taken her back to his land.
But a ‘Pretty Woman’ experience does not happen to all and as it is said in Thailand many ‘Girlfriend Experience’ leads to a ‘Wife Experience’ and finally to the ‘Divorce Experience’.
Freelancer is a girl who is not associated with any bar or pub. Freelancer girls are usually quite confident of their good looks and pick up customers by themselves from in front of night clubs, side walks or even in shopping areas. They do not have a work base for example a bar or a pub to work from and usually charges more than usual. However they also bring with them the insecurity since these girls work from area to area and chances are one may not find that girl at the same place as the night before.
Butterfly is a term used to refer to the male or female, who generally move from one partner to another.
Gay sex is available in Soi Paradise off Rat-U-Thit Road. Gay bars, gay guesthouse and gay cabarets are available in this area north of Bangla road. There are gay bars, gay cabarets and gay guesthouses. The gay area is generally very colorful and extremely fun to be around. You get to observe quirkiest fashion in the town if you hang around for a while. Not all men and women working in gay bars are gay. Often guys working in gay bars go out with female customers as well.
Katoeys are men who dress like women. Some of them could be transgender as well. Most of them are at some stage of gender transform treatment taking hormones and going through surgical procedures. Many beautiful and stylish looking women has turned out to be a katoey as the local stories go!
Many people even hang around katoeys just to observe them, watch them and may be have a dance with them. It is important that katoeys are paid well by the customers or else their anger and spite is legendary. Near Soi Crocodile you will find Katoey cabaret and katoey bars as well.
The famous Thai Massage is available at almost every nook and corner of Phuket. Some are innocent massage parlors where all you get are body massages. However true to its name, most Thai massage parlors offer extra something as well along with the massage. Christin Massage located at the south end of Bangla road is quite known for the extra services that it provides. In local colloquial term it is massage with a ‘happy ending’!
Once the customer selects a girl, she takes him to a private room for a massage, a soap bath and extra services.
How does it work?
In most of the cases, the girls generally approach prospective customers. The girls all have numbers on them. So the customer would actually choose a girl and then request the bar owner by her number. Based on the service arrangements of a particular place, a customer may have to deal with a mamasan or a bar owner. Mamasan is the woman managing the girls who work in a bar. She generally recruits the girls, interacts with customers and looks after the general welfare of the deal. Many go go bars and beer bars have a mamasan appointed.
For every transaction that you have in a girly bar, the customer will have to pay a Bar Fine. Since the girls are parts of the establishment, in this case the beer bar or the go go bar, the customer needs to pay a certain fine to the bar for that. It may be 300 Baht or could be as high as 500 Baht. Many a times the bar may have an arrangement with the girls that they pay a certain percentage of the bar fine to the girl as well. It is not uncommon that go go bars charging as high as 3000 Bahts for a girl. This will however include the girl’s payment as well.
Finding the ‘entertainment’ locations:
As mentioned before, in Phuket most of the bars are found along the sides of Bangla road. It is the heart of tourist sex industry in Phuket. The most famous places are Soi Easy, Soi Eric, Soi Gonzo, Soi Lion Soi Crocodile and Tiger Complex. These are mostly beer bar complexes. Soi Seadragon is a go go bar that also host sex shows along with live music. Rock Hard, Flash-a-Go-Go in Soi Eric are quite famous too. Pnky Lady and Karaoke dancing are also making waves in Phuket nightlife.
The discos Tai Pan, Tiger, Banana and VIP although are not into sex tourism actively but many freelancer girls hang out in these joints to pick up customers. Once you are in Phuket, it is extremely easy to find a go go bar or a disc which has sex services in its menu.
How is it for the girls?
The silky hair, innocent faces, smooth skin and beautiful figures walk the streets for money to fulfill their needs. Tourists come, indulge in pleasure and leave. They walk the streets again. How safe is this industry for the girls? With prostitution being illegal in Thailand, these girls do not have legal rights and they do not have the necessary power to defend themselves.
This is the reason why there is a lot of flesh trading and human trafficking rampant in this industry. Incidents of forced sexual servitude and children being taken to other countries for sexual exploitations are not rare. The girls also carry a lot of sexually transmitted diseases owing to lack of hygiene and knowledge. Since there is no legal security for the girls, they often have to fend for themselves. Although many girls believe in the dream of meeting a foreigner and getting married – happily ever after story, the reality however is every single night they go out for work with no assurance on whether they will return unharmed.
'A bar girl in her early or mid-twenties has a 10-year window of opportunity to get out of poverty,' said John Burdett, a lawyer in the Guardian. This makes the life for the girls extremely difficult and competitive which in turn makes them do a number of desperate acts. In dire necessity they may try and strike a deal with a tourist who may end up beating them up.
So, yes dreaming of the Cinderella story, the ‘bar girls’ in Thailand walk out every night to face the reality and probably try and make it a little bit easier.
Keeping it safe:
The UK Guardian reported “Every year hundreds of Britons leave the UK to marry Thai brides. The perils of such liaisons were revealed last week when retired engineer Ian Beeston was murdered by his wife and her lover.”
Just as this journey may prove perilous for the girl, it may prove dangerous for the customers as well. As a tourist who is looking for a night’s fun or a long term relationship, you still have to be cautious about the dangers of this business.
Ensure that the girl whom you are bringing back to the hotel room has a valid ID.
There are stories of girls doping tourists. Keep your eyes open on what you drink or eat.
Bringing someone to your hotel room calls for more caution. Keep your valuables well-locked. Do not open doors to strangers. It is easy for a girl to rob you and then stay away from the area as long as you are visiting.
Do not leave your wallet, phones and cameras unattended. There are stories where a customer has reported that he had gone in for a shower and came out only to find all his things gone.
Keep it impersonal. It is always better not to share much details and future plans of your travels. Such discussions may lead to the girl informing other gangs about your whereabouts. Thus although you may think that the girl is your confidante, she may actually be in liaison with criminals.
There are instances of where a girl tells her sob story and arouses the sympathy in their customers. They promise that they will give up this work if the customers send them money regularly. Once the tourist goes back, they keep sending money to the girl, who however do not give up their professions and continues receiving the money from the tourists as well.
It is advisable that one must always use a condom. There is no guarantee on the health and well-being of the girl and it is for the safety of both the girl and the customer that one should use a condom. If you do not have one, ask the girl, she would mostly be carrying some.
While interacting with people in the bars, the owners, etc. avoid showing off your strength or your privileged background. You are here for some fleeting fun and it is wise to keep the interactions limited.
Whether you are genuinely interested in understanding the sex industry in Thailand or if you are a tourist planning a visit and explore the sex tourism in Phuket, this article is not meant to pass a judgment or an opinion. It is for you to decide how you want to experience sex tourism in Thailand or whether you want to learn more about it. To be indifferent towards it is also a choice for you to make. To say the least, an industry as thriving and as interesting as this, is always a great discussion point. As long as the customers are safe and so are the people involved in this business, as long as human rights are not violated and the government ensures minimum safety measures, this industry will keep on growing as there is a steady demand and supply equation.
So next time when you plan a visit to Thailand, keep Phuket in your list to experience its nightlife, the Cayote bars, the karaike discos, the go go bars and the pubs, for the food, the drink and a game with one of the bar girls. It is great to observe, watch and learn from people at any part of the world. Remember none of these places will ever force you into getting in an arrangement. The choice is always yours. So make the wise choice and enjoy Phuket to the fullest...
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