Sex tourism in Thailand – As if they were in my bed
When I look at the room on the first floor of the small guesthouse, I wonder a bit about the dimension of the bed. To be exact, the room actually consists only of a huge mattress, a narrow corridor to the right and to the left, a mirror at the front wall.
“As if they were in my bed”
I’m scared to death because I hear the sound of a key in the door. But I realize that it is not our door that is unlocked, but the door to the next room. The walls are thin and I hear the voice of a young European and the voice of an Asian. Now that I’m awake, I hear every word of the conversation: “Do want to have a drink?”, “No, thanks”, “Okay, than take your clothes off”.
I hear the creaking of the bed frame, the breathing of the man and thanks to the thin walls, it sounds as if they are right here on my mattress, in my bed. I feel uncomfortable, ashamed and when I hear the woman quietly say “No, that hurts”, I sit vertically in bed and don’t know what to do. After a few minutes I hear how the door falls into the lock and the two go down the stairs. I can’t sleep that night anymore and leave the hotel room at sunrise.
When clichés become reality
This little anecdote took place in a side street of the Khao San Road in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, the party and backpacker mile of Bangkok and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had hardly landed and was already in the middle of the Thailand cliché of sex tourism.
Already with the first nightly stroll by the party mile it becomes clear: Sex sells.
Lightly dressed ladies and ladyboys stand dancing in the shop windows. Illuminated advertisements for bars and massages flash constantly and the Khao San is not necessarily the first address for fast sex, but rather the ball man for backpackers.
Thailand has many sides – sex tourism is one of them
It’s not like you’re not prepared for something like this. Everyone to whom I told that I was travelling to Thailand for a few weeks first came to associate myself with the tsunami or sex tourism. Pulsating big cities, fantastic beaches, young, pretty women and low prices: Thailand fulfills many wishes and the business with sex seems to belong to tourism, like cocktails on the beach or elephant trekking.
But it is one thing to know about it, the other to experience it live. I avoided places like Pattaya during my journey, was on the road in places where one didn’t get much of prostitution, but nevertheless the topic occupied me incessantly. My little story is harmless to everything I’ve heard and yet it never got out of my head because I found it difficult and still find it difficult to have a clear opinion on the subject. The disgusting old German with the young Thai woman in her arms – it’s easy to condemn this. But it is just a small part of a complex field.
Sex tourism – the business with the body
Thailand and sex tourism, that’s what we call in one breath, but in Thailand there is officially no prostitution at all. The sex business is forbidden and so the Thais are inventive: massage centres, go-go bars and hourly hotels are usually nothing more than camouflaged brothels. The Thai massage with “happy end” is meanwhile probably everyone a term and does not come certainly from coincidence.
But why is Thailand so closely linked to sex tourism?
After love services had been offered against payment since the Middle Ages, it was above all the American soldiers who enjoyed a time-out in Thailand during the Vietnam War and who boosted the sex industry as it exists today. Since the 1980s, it has been the cheap air fares and political stability in the kingdom that have attracted tourists. Dazzled by the exotic beauty of the Thai women and the low prices, there was no stopping sex tourism.
However, contrary to appearances, it is not the European tourists who make up the majority of customers. First and foremost it’s the locals, followed by Malay people. Only then do Americans and Britons come, followed by Germans. In the 1990s the Thai authorities reacted to the number of child prostitutes and the increased number of HIV infections and finally declared prostitution illegal in 2001. Nevertheless, sex tourism centres have developed to this day, above all Pattaya, but also Bangkok, Phuket or Chiang Mai are known for their prostitution business.
Although prostitution is not only officially forbidden but also socially outlawed, it is often the only way for many men and women to earn enough money for themselves and their families. And, of course, the state also earns money: The turnover in tourism rises due to sex tourists and bribes often end up in the pockets of policemen and civil servants.
The business of love
Even more perhaps than the red light milieu for fast sex, Thailand is associated with another form of bought love: a “Farang”, as the Thais call the vacationers from the West, does not look for a woman for a short sexual satisfaction, but for a kind of relationship. The, let’s say, German and the twenty-year younger Thai spend a few weeks together, he gives her presents, from home the man regularly sends money for the family.
Maybe the German actually fell in love when he saw her at the bar or at the latest when they spend more time together, but it is a relationship that is tied to money. She may come from a poor area in the north of the country and sees Farang as a good source of money. He provides monthly income, thus a better status, and it makes him feel desirable and needed.
It is hard to condemn prostitutes or clients.
It’s easy to condemn the old German because he buys a relationship with money, it’s just as easy to condemn the Thai woman because she pretends feelings to a lonely man when it’s all about financial security.
One can take a clear position on child prostitution, human trafficking, unprotected sex, but what is it like if there is no black or white? When it comes to two adult people, each sacrificing things to get others he longs for. Where hope, naivety, calculation and lies prevail equally. And so I think twice when I meet an old man and a young Thai woman in a shopping mall somewhere in Germany.
As a backpacker, don’t repress the problem of sex tourism
I wanted to see more clearly what prostitution in a country means, what I experienced as one of the most beautiful holiday countries in the world. Did I get clarity? To be honest: Not at all. I am still undecided. Sway between my first impulsive remarks like “Of course, prostitution is forbidden” and disgusted by the fat-bellied old people on the plane to Pattaya, I disgust them.
But for Thailand it would probably be better to legalize prostitution in order to be able to guarantee the women more security and supply. But would the women really register and be stamped with this stamp? Until now, they have been working as waitresses or maids and are thus able to maintain social appearances. (Apparent) relationships with foreigners would not fall under prostitution anyway and women would not be helped by it.
Prostitution is a phenomenon in Thailand that you have to deal with, because you will encounter it. It’s the same in Amsterdam, Hamburg, the Philippines or Kenya. Don’t look away. Because that’s the mistake you make much too quickly when you’re unsure or overtaxed. Deal with the topic, because that’s the least you should do.