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Sun, Sand, Sea, and Sex


An extract from one of the chapters of Thailand Take Two — a no holds barred and balanced account of today’s Thailand.

Sun, Sand, Sea, and Sex

It is not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on (Marilyn Monroe)

Walking along Phuket’s Soi Bangla or exploring the side streets of Bangkok’s Patpong district, you will see a lot of human flesh on display. Girls and lady-boys showing yards of thigh sit outside the bars and nightclubs. You may be invited to go inside. The pleasures will not include listening to the radio.

Let us put Marilyn Monroe’s famous wisecrack, although decades old, into a Thai context.

The country has had the label of sun, sand, sea, and sex for a long time and the slogan draws travellers from all over the globe every single year. Thailand benefits so much economically from being seen as a world centre of sex tourism that it is unlikely this perception will change anytime soon.

Thais accept most of what goes on in the sex industry and enjoy the knock on benefits that sex tourism brings. Many palms are greased along the way to ensure there is no interference in the practice of the world’s oldest profession. Hotels, restaurants, and other leisure and entertainment businesses benefit from the foreign currency brought in by visitors eager to see for themselves all that Thailand has to offer.

Provision of escort or massage services is not illegal. Pole dancing is considered a cultural art form by the authorities. Recruiting bargirls to drink with clients in a bar is not against the law. Scantily clad girls sitting in a row outside a karaoke club and smiling at potential punters are committing no offence. Calling out “Hey, you handsome man” is not soliciting but a mere expression of a man’s physical attraction. Young women wearing numbered tags and sitting in a “goldfish bowl” waiting to be chosen by men sitting in rows gazing at their sexy bodies is nothing to do with paid prostitution.

The girls sit behind the glass screen watching TV and gossiping amongst themselves. There can be a lot of bitchiness and jealousy with the girls and mood swings can result in aggression. Their obvious boredom is only relieved when their number is called and they rush to get towel and soap.

Away from the “goldfish bowl” venues and the flashier nightclubs in the big cities, you find many smaller bars in every Thai town where girls will congregate.

There are some horror stories regarding customers being tricked by bargirls and by those more interested in “draining the ATM” of their handsome man than anything else. Thai internet forums are replete with of such anecdotes. Some may be exaggerated. Some are not. Men who were conned into a long-term liaison have been scammed out of their life savings by being too trusting of some of the girls and their associates.

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