Thais Not Forced Into Prostitution

I ran across this story about Thais who enter into prostitution to fund an affluent lifestyle and it hit home with me because I have often been frustrated with people who know nothing about Thailand claiming that women are “forced” into the profession.  The same could be said for a drug user and drugs; no one is forcing you. Although, depending on your persistence, you may be pressured into becoming a resident of The Canyon.

As the article points out many of these girls are university students who do it simply so they can have the latest fashions or the coolest new mobile phone. None of them are “forced” into because of poverty. Rather it’s a choice based on greed and materialism.

In my experience prostitution in Thailand is has more to do with quick bucks than it does forcing someone to do something against their will.  The common argument is that while the girls may not be forced into the profession by pimps or the mafia they are forced into the industry by poverty.

There’s no doubt that Thailand is a poor country but at what point does wealth become a deciding factor in terms of “forcing” someone into a life of prostitution?  As the article points out some girls obviously feel that not having an iPhone has forced them to sell their bodies.  So where do you draw the line and say that poverty is a legitimate excuse?

Personally, I think you draw the line at being able to sustain yourself.  When it’s the difference between eating and not eating.  When it means you don’t have a roof over your head if you don’t sleep with someone.

But is your average go-go dancer in Bangkok or bar girl in Pattaya or Phuket sleeping with guys to sustain herself?  For the vast, vast majority the answer is no.  Many of these girls make many, many times the average working wage that other Thais make.  Working in the bars finances a lifestyle.

Certainly there are plenty of girls who get by customer to customer but they tend to be poor at financial management rather than forced into doing it.  In other words; if the money wasn’t so easy for them to make they would do a much better job at managing their money so not to always be in a broke state.  They might say “no” to friends and family who pester them for money.  They may not buy that expensive new mobile.  They might not blow a week’s salary on getting their hair done.

I don’t think there’s really any way to compare western prostitution to Thai prostitution which is, unfortunately, where most people go wrong when trying to understand the issue.  We can’t view it through our cultural filters.  It’s something completely different.

In Thai culture the man’s ability to provide and take of his family is held very highly.  In some families I would speculate that it’s held above even love.  A Thai girl who marries a man who can take care of her and provide for her family brings her merit and her family gains face within her village.

This mindset is characterized in sin sod where the groom makes a large gift to the bride’s family as a gesture designed to demonstrate that he can financially care for his new wife.  It would not be entirely unheard of if the family refused their approval if the groom was unable to offer an amount deemed to be appropriate.

So if you’ve been raised from birth to believe that money is an integral part of marriage or a long-term relationship then it becomes very easy for the lines between love and money to blur.

Not every Thai girl thinks like this but I believe that it points to an underlying cultural issue that is seldom taken into account when people write (or talk) about prostitution in Thailand.  Many Thai women are pragmatic when it comes to what in western culture we would call love.

Many Thai women will make a decision about a marrying partner based on his ability to provide and be a good husband and father.  While it would be nice, she doesn’t need to be head over heels in love to marry a guy and spend the rest of her life with him.  For her it’s a fair exchange which will guarantee her security and gain her family face within their community.

With that sort of mindset it becomes easy to understand the allure of prostitution for poor women in Isaan.  One day young Lek is sitting in her village and her cousin comes home from working in Bangkok with fancy clothes, a new mobile, and lots of money.  Everyone in the village pays Lek’s cousin respect because she has money and many nice things.  Lek’s cousin also sends money back to her parents who have used it to buy a new house which has gained much face for her parents.

When Lek asks her cousin how she too can have all these nice things and gain face for her family the cousin tells her about this fantasy world where farangs spend more money in one night partying than Lek’s parents make in an entire month.  The cousin tells her how rich the farangs are – which she’s heard over and over again growing up – and how most of them want Thai girlfriends.

When the cousin offers to help Lek get a job in her bar Lek can’t pack her suitcase fast enough.  Soon she’s off to Bangkok with her cousin who introduces her to the bar mamasan who tells her how to get a man.  She’s not entirely comfortable with dancing up on stage or having sex with customers but her cousin says it’s easy and they’ll give her 2000 baht!

Besides, it’s only a matter of time before some white knight comes in, sweeps her off her feet, and takes her away from all of this.  He’ll shower Lek with money, build her family a mansion, and Lek will have gained much merit for being such a good daughter and providing for her parents.

Of course the white knight never comes.  Or maybe she thinks she’s found a white knight but like all men he has his flaws and she discovers that the fantasy world where she became the Isaan queen to her farang king is just that; a fantasy.

Over time she’ll harden up a bit.  The endless nights of drinking and having sex with anonymous strangers will wear on her.  She’ll start looking to make the big cash before her looks run out so she’ll go on the hunt for sponsors who will send her large sums of money while they pine away for her affections back in their home countries.

When you meet Lek in her bar and ask her how she got into this life she’ll tell you she was forced into it because she was poor and needed to support her family.

And thus the myth of being forced into prostitution is born.

44 thoughts on “Thais Not Forced Into Prostitution”

  1. Ruai,

    The article you refer to is only a drop in the bucket. Educated, entrepreneurial, Thai women are only a small fraction of the prostitution industry in Thailand. Many of them are just part-time workers. It’s estimated that there are 200-300 thousand prostitutes engaged in the sex industry in Thailand in any one year period. Less than 5,000 are in the category of materialistic school-girls this article speaks of.

    The sex industry in Thailand is not a legitimate business; it is technically illegal under Thai law. And prostitution for most of the women who practice it in Thailand is not a matter of choice. Around a third of them are women brought from Burma, China, Cambodia, and hill tribes. They have no money and in many cases, no protected political rights. They are trafficked and exploited for the profit of brothel owners across Thailand. Furthermore, Thailand’s own Health Ministry admits there are about 30,000 child prostitutes in Thailand (which is a conservative estimate).

    Your argument that Thai women are drawn into the business of sex only for the glamour and materialism ignores the structural inequities in Thai society. When agriculture became mechanized and the country shifted towards an industry & service-based economy in the 1980s, those in the rural regions were ignored and marginalized. Today, 42% of Thailand is employed in agriculture, which is only worth 11% of its GDP.

    Much of Thailand, especially in Isaan, was traditionally matrilineal. Before inheritance laws in the 20th century gave equal terms to all children, the youngest daughter would receive all the lands and the house because it was her duty to take care of the parents. Despite the former, the latter remained in force. And so when everyone started losing their jobs in agriculture women had to find work in urban areas. Often these were in low-skilled jobs with often abysmal working conditions that paid very little.

    With little education or training there was no hope for many to break out of a cycle of poverty or make enough money for their parents. Prostitution was a quick way out of it. Or it so seemed. Prostitution is not a life time job and does not teach a woman useful skills outside the profession. Instead, it drains them of their potential and exposes them to HIV/AIDS and all sorts of exploitation by pimps and clients. Many of the men they have to go with are unpleasant at the least and disgusting at the extreme. Do you think that a woman, given relatively equal alternatives, would choose to become a prostitute?

    It is downright racist and orientalist to presume from all your “experience” that prostitution in Thailand is somehow different than in the West and that Thai women are somehow fundamentally different from Western women. Your description of the ‘pragmatic Thai woman’ as one who takes into account money over love is applicable to women of all societies. It’s in fact rooted in evolutionary psychology. To presume Western women are the only ones who marry for love is ridiculous. How would you know anyways?

    Your views on prostitution in Thailand, which are unfortunately shared by many men, blame women for being prostitutes and merely attempt to morally justify an illegal and exploitative industry.

  2. Daren,

    I think you’ve written a thorough response but like so many people who discuss this topic you’ve allowed your emotions cloud facts which caused you to throw every data point you have at the topic – whether it was relevant or not – into one big blender.

    For instance, the whole part about women being shipped in from China, Burma, and Cambodia really is nothing more than intellectual chaff. Most of the imported Chinese, Burmese, and Cambodians are for the Thai brothels – places where farangs are not invited nor are they usually welcomed. All those Chinese, Burmese, and so on are not selling their asses on chrome poles on Soi Cowboy. Those girls are chained to a bed in the back of some rundown Thai brothel. While revolting it really has nothing to do with my post and the only reason you included the reference in your response seems to be to lump to completely unrelated things together in the hopes that one emotionally charged topic would spill over to the other.

    You called me racist or orientalist (not even sure what that is) but I dare say that I’m quite the opposite. I celebrate our diversity. Being different isn’t bad despite what PC doctrine teaches. I find it hard to believe that anybody with a shred of common sense wouldn’t at least acknowledge that a society rooted in Buddhism is going to have some societal norms and customs that differ from those in a Judea-Christian based society. And I’m not entirely convinced that western society is better so I would make a terrible racist thinking that my own race may be the ones who got it wrong.

    I think the point that you missed in my post was that Thai society teaches a different set of values than does most western cultures. Not better or worse; just different. So right off the bat I have to say that you taking me to task for saying that there are differences between western women and Thai women seems off base to me. Of course there are differences. They come from two entirely different cultures.

    And how can you make an apples to apples comparison between a girl who looks poverty in the face every single day to one who lives in a country where they have things like unemployment benefits, disability, access to healthcare, food stamps, and all sorts of other government programs? Yes, at the core all human beings are driven by some common themes like food, shelter, and procreation. Throw in the Pandora’s box of things like lust, greed, etc and it may seem like we’re all the same but a level or two up from the base elements there is a thing called culture. Those ideals, thoughts, and beliefs that are passed down to us.

    But all of that is secondary to the fact that the argument in my post was that women are not being forced into prostitution in Thailand. Unlike their trafficked sisters your typical Thai prostitute has no pimp, no debt to pay off to a brothel owner, the ability to choose which customers she will and won’t sleep with, and the freedom to quit at any time she likes. Westerners like to use the word “force” a lot when discussing Thai prostitution and in reality all we’re really talking about is choice. Force implies no options. Force conjures up thoughts of coercion. And if we use that definition of force then your average bar girl sitting in Patpong was not forced into the profession.

    So when we dispense with that myth then we hear about the girls being forced into the profession because of poverty. But that falls apart once you shine some light on it as well.

    I have lots of Thai friends who work those same shitty jobs that these girls turned down in favor of prostitution. They struggle to get by on 10,000 baht a month working 12 hour days six days a week. If they need more money they take on a second job or find work on their one day a week off and save every baht they get. So yes, I know about the cycle of poverty and what options are available for these girls but just because the hard work option is difficult doesn’t mean that it wasn’t available to them.

    These girls in the traditional labor force come from the same villages in Isaan as do the prostitutes. They have the same commitment to take care of their families back home. They have the same financial obstacles. So why didn’t these girls feel forced into becoming prostitutes? Believe me, I know many, many girls who are attractive enough but still choose the hard work path so it’s not about whether or not the option is available to them.

    I think if you’re willing to be honest and get over calling people racist you’ll come to the conclusion that if someone is offered the choice of a hard but honest job and becoming a prostitute and they choose to become a prostitute then they were not forced into anything. They chose their life.

    I didn’t write this post to pass judgement on these girls. In fact, I wrote it because I’m friends with more than a few bar girls and I’ve heard closer to the truth than your average sexpat or sextourist when it comes to how they got to where they are. But at the same time I’m tired of hearing do-gooder westerners talk about how women are forced into prostitution in Thailand.

    If these girls are being forced into prostitution I dare you to try to save one. Go walk down Soi Cowboy, enter a random go-go bar, and pick the first girl you see and tell her that you want to take her away from this life. Offer to give her 30,000 baht a month never to step foot in another go-go bar again. That’s more than 3x the average wage in Thailand or about the amount a university educated worker would be getting in an office job. There is absolutely, positively no way her and her entire extended family can’t live on that amount. Wire her the money every month for 6 months and then go back to Soi Cowboy, walk into the same bar, and if she’s not on stage dancing go buy yourself a lottery ticket because you’ve just beat the odds.

    You can quote all the random tidbits of data you want but I know uni girls who sell their ass for cash. I know office workers with good jobs who hit the nightclubs looking to make a little extra cash from time to time. You can even go to massage parlors where you can pay to have sex with Thai television actresses and models. And all the way from the Isaan farmer sending money home to her family up to the FHM model willing to give you a soapy massage not a single one of them has been forced by poverty or anything else other than a desire to make quick cash.

    BTW, I love this quote pulled from KhiKwai

    The anthropologist Eric Cohen has it about right when he notes that there is “often no crisp separation in Thai society between emotional and mercenary sexual relationships.”

    And the following – from the same website – pretty much sums up what I’ve said:

    The poor bitch, no education, marketable skills, or social graces to boot, comes to Bangkok to face quite the conundrum. One option is to work 12 hours a day in a convenience store, scrub the latrines at a hotel or a private home, or serve tables at a restaurant. That only gets her about 6,000 Baht (less than $200) per month. And after paying rent for a 150-square-foot shared hole-in-the-wall, not much is left for herself or her family. The other option is to sleep until mid-afternoon, lounge around for a while, take a leisurely promenade shopping for faux name brand clothes and accessories, and finally make it to the bar at the late hour of her choice. At work, she has a drink or two, suits up in boots and bikini, takes 20-minute turns “dancing” — more like wobbling listlessly around the pole with a conviction and energy evocative of Shakira on Xanax — and finds some foreigner to screw at the fixed rates that exist for short-time and long-time romps. Between the regular salary the bar corresponds, the commissions on “barfines” and “lady drinks,” and a hundred percent of the fees paid by the customer directly to the girl, a fraction of the effort (not to mention the humiliation) generates an income at least five times as large as that guaranteed by SevenEleven. If the girl is pretty, charming, and has a strong enough stomach to fuck multiple strangers a day, her monthly income may exceed 2,000 American dollars — more than a good chunk of her own customers make. More empowering still, the status of a young girl otherwise as authoritative as the water buffalo parked underneath the stilted family home in the provinces soars as she becomes the family’s chief breadwinner.


  3. Ruai,

    Thanks for the response.

    ‘Culture’ is an easy explanation for most any phenomenon. It only requires some anecdotal evidence and a gentle prodding of our propensity to view groups as ‘the other’. But culture is fluid and full of contradictions. And nowadays it is another word for what is sometimes by definition, racist thinking. Racist thinking at its core is simply the belief in inherent differences based on race. One group subordinating another on the basis of race is not the definition of racism; it is a consequence of it. I was not necessarily suggesting your viewpoint was of the latter, but of the former. You asserted that Thai women are prone to appraise potential male suitors largely by their material resources, as if this behavior was born out of a unique cultural norm. But it’s not. Women in every society exhibit this behavior, as do nearly all organisms in which the female relies on the male for considerable support during the period of raising offspring. It’s rooted in evolutionary psychology. The insinuation, however, that Thai women are somehow different conveys a notion that is often explained by ‘culture’ but is racist in logic. I’m not suggesting you were right or wrong to take offense to what I said; I’m simply explaining what I meant by ‘racist’ in this context.

    Perhaps we need to be more specific about who we are talking about in this discussion. Your original post asserted that forced prostitution in Thailand is a myth but you only seem interested in talking about the Thai women who provide sexual services to farang. And your acknowledgement that women work under some form of coercion in Thai brothels already seems to contradict your original position. Secondly, you have accused me of throwing in extraneous facts to support my supposedly emotionally-driven argument. But the facts were not extraneous (or “unrelated” as you call them) and you haven’t made clear as to why you think so. Why do the women whom Thai men engage for prostitution not matter in this discussion? And are you suggesting that prostitution between the supposedly voluntary farang-serving group and the forced Thai-serving group are wholly separate, disconnected, and irrelevant to one another?

    I don’t think either of us is arguing for an absolute picture on all prostitutes in Thailand but rather the majority. And in that way, I do not agree that the majority engage in prostitution for simple-minded materialism or out of laziness as I take your posts to suggest.

    You presented your personal experience and the news of the university students as evidence that women still do prostitution voluntarily, whether for the easy life or for material indulgences. However, your experiences only represent a fraction of the whole phenomenon. In which case I would suggest that you make your assertions about prostitution less general and more specific (e.g. “Forced prostitution is a myth” is a pretty broad statement). Second, it’s unclear as to how many of those university students actually follow through with an act of prostitution and it’s unlikely few, if any, become full time sex workers.

    To prove your point that women in the farang-prostitution sector are in it by choice, you dared me to buy off a girl to see if she will stay out of the trade — with the presumption that she wouldn’t. This, however, misses the most important point of my original argument – that structural inequalities force women into prostitution. Prostitution does not end by buying off all the prostitutes. If you are giving them money for no other reason than to refrain from having sex for money, you are still engaging them in prostitution (paying for the control of their bodies for sexual use) and supplying the same reinforcement that keeps them in the business. You have not created a viable alternative to sex work, which is why they will continue to pursue it if they can.

    Pasuk Phongpaichit estimated that between 1993-1995 prostitution was a 100 billion baht industry. Whether you accept this figure or not, the point here is that prostitution in Thailand is a big business. Since the 1980s it has evolved from being an ad hoc method of bringing in tourists to a systematized underground sub-group of the tourism industry. Prostitution employs an incalculable number of ancillary workers, such as hair dressers, dress makers, security guards, taxi drivers, entertainers, hotel staff, etc. Additionally, politicians, policemen, and the powerful all have a stake directly or indirectly in the illegal business of sex that is estimated to attract millions of foreign men (and their money) every year. In other words, prostitution in Thailand today is not a phenomenon built up from the availability of a lot of willing women, but from the top-down institutionalization of sex. Given the hazards of STDS, unwanted pregnancy, and no legal protection against abuse, prostitution as a profession is a hard sell. Yet Thailand has plenty of poor women who are pushed along to feed the machine.

    You may say that the typical Thai prostitute has lots of freedom and that Thai society is culturally loosely structured and tolerant to begin with. But note that sometimes cultural rhetoric espoused by participants is not always a reflection of but instead a reaction to the sometimes contradicting structural underpinnings of their society. A prostitute, among many of Thailand’s underclass workers and free lancers, may say he or she has isara (autonomy) in their work, but how free are they? They scramble for the scraps of Thailand’s economic wealth; they are not protected in Thailand’s corrupt legal system; and they are the first to suffer when good times go bad.

    Prostitution is a business that takes advantage of poor women’s circumstances and naiveté. You may say that the majority of women are not forced into prostitution by means of physical coercion but when a woman has few viable alternatives –stagnation in the countryside or a low-wage manufacturing job — and in some cases the responsibility for dependents, it’s hard to say that they do it by choice. A voluntary decision or a forced entry into prostitution amounts to roughly the same for many.

    This argument may seem hard to accept if you already consider yourself something of an ‘insider’ to the Thai sex industry, but perhaps you should take a harder look at prostitution in Thailand or greater Southeast Asia beyond just what you’ve seen.

  4. Daren,

    I am wondering if we’re debating the same topic 🙂

    For instance, your last sentence is a perfect example:

    This argument may seem hard to accept if you already consider yourself something of an ‘insider’ to the Thai sex industry, but perhaps you should take a harder look at prostitution in Thailand or greater Southeast Asia beyond just what you’ve seen.

    Those are not topics I’ve chosen to cover in my post. I am talking about a very narrow slice for which I and many other people can attest that the general perception about the issue is incorrect. Like I said, I know more than a handful of bargirls. Some I’ve known for many years (no, not as a customer). Several I would consider to be friends. And the one thing I know for sure is that none of these girls is forced to do anything. You downplay my personal experiences as being anecdotal but they are far closer to the issue than your stats and surveys which commingle the data on voluntary and involuntary prostitution. And if you were to ask people who write extensively about the farang prostitution industry in Thailand I think they would agree that “force” is an inappropriate word to use when describing how these women got into the industry and why they stay there. Their overall views on the hows and whys may differ than mine but I think most would agree that the word “force” doesn’t accurately describe the situation.

    More importantly though is that prostitution in the farang industry and prostitution in the Thai industry are two very different things. And if you aren’t aware how night and day comparing the two are then we need not debate any further because I can no longer respect your views enough to even honor them with a response. Seriously.

    In the farang side there is very little (to the point where the only thing keeping me saying “none” is the fact that I’m sure it happens somewhere though I’ve never seen it or heard of it) pimping, human trafficking, servitude, mafia control, or any of the other of the really nasty aspects of what is usually seen in western prostitution. On the other hand those things are very common in the Thai side of prostitution.

    Women who get into farang prostitution typically do so hoping to meet a farang husband (or boyfriend). Girls working in the Thai prostitution scene hold out no such hopes. They know no respectable Thai would ever marry a prostitute. Farang oriented prostitutes also make anywhere from 30% – 50% more per customer than the girls who work in the Thai prostitution scene. And no love struck Thai is going to send his hooker sweetheart 20,000 – 50,000 a month not to work in the brothels or bars like many idiotic farangs.

    And, as a farang speaking to a mostly farang audience it seems quite appropriate to approach the topic from a farang-centric point of view. In fact, I mention several times in what I wrote that I was talking specifically about the farang prostitution industry.

    And to that point I have not said that all prostitution in Thailand or all prostitution in SEA is voluntary. In fact, I’ve said quite differently (see above) so I think you are making rebuttals to a phantom argument.

    The bottom line is that despite what I would guesstimate as being close to 1500 – 2000 words you still haven’t addressed:

    1. The use of the word “forced” is often intentionally used to create an emotional reaction. Financial difficulties exist but one would be more accurate in saying that they are “lured” into prostitution rather than forced into it. But “lured” then puts the eventual decision making back on the individual so most people who speak or write on the subject looking for inflammatory effect use the word “forced.”

    2. If we are to assume that your previously quoted number of 200 – 300K sex workers working in Thailand is correct then based on population statistics and an assumption of a roughly 50-50 ratio of women to men, then only a tiny, tiny percentage of women are engaged in prostitution. A point which you repeatedly avoid addressing as it relates to force is why the other 97% – 98% of women in Thailand don’t also feel forced. Why when they are faced with the very same exact poverty conditions (or worse) they choose not to go into prostitution? It almost seems ludicrous to try to make an argument that when nearly all the people who are presented with a decision make the same decision that the small percentage who took the other option had their hands forced.

    Going back to your statements about culture, I would say that I am not saying that ONLY Thai women react to monetary influences. Nor was I making it an issue of race as I was talking specifically about a national culture. Calling that racism is the equivalent of saying that pointing out that many of Italy’s conservative customs evolve from Catholicism is also racism.

    What I said in respect to culture is that in parts of Thai society (specifically parts of the society prone to poverty) it is more openly acceptable to view sex and relationships on their financial value. Does it happen in other parts of the world? Yes. However, it is nowhere near as widespread and open. And yes, part of that has to do with economic development of Thailand over the last several hundred years but culture is something that is not static nor is it something tied to genetics. So the observation is not racist, rather it is a snapshot of where things happen to stand at this point in time in Thailand’s socio-economic development.

    At the same time the quote in my last post that there is “often no crisp separation in Thai society between emotional and mercenary sexual relationships,” by anthropologist Eric Cohen is probably one of the most true things I’ve ever heard said about Thailand in so few words. Yes, all women are wired to seek a mate that will offer the best chance of successful offspring but the thing about dating, sex, love, and money in Thailand is that it’s often so difficult to distinguish between them.

    This is what I was getting about in terms of culture. And I’m sorry but unless you’ve dated in Thailand your stats and numbers aren’t going to give you a real picture of how these concepts blur lines. And I’m not talking about bar girls. I’m talking about women across every economic and social strata of society.

    Now first off, let me say that I in now way believe that all Thais view sex, love, money and relationships this way. But I’ve seen and heard this attitude from Thai women so many times it simply cannot be written off as not existing or a figment of my imagination. Just ask a normal, non-prostitute Thai girl if she has any friends who are with their boyfriends (especially if their are farangs) just for their money. You’ll get such an earful that your head will start to swim. If you’re friends with Thai women you hear this conversation all the time. In fact, if you’re good friends with Thai women they’re constantly trying to steer you clear of women they think are just out for your money.

    That is precisely why Cohen’s quote is do dead on. Unless you are dead broke, you never actually know whether your relationship with a Thai woman is based on true love or her desire to make a better life for herself. It doesn’t matter if she’s some poor Isaan girl, a university student, or an office girl. Many Thai girls are mercenaries and a one time affair for money (prostitution) is not all that different from long-term relationship for money.

    My PC warped sensibilities make me a little embarrassed to say much of what I’ve said above but it’s the truth. I’ve even discussed the issue with some close Thai friends and they would tell you that nothing I’ve said above is too far off the mark. Of course, being good Thais they would defend their country and culture by saying that not all Thais are like that but they certainly wouldn’t deny that there are a lot of girls who are like that. In fact, if you have any mutual friends with the person you ask, chances are they’ll start naming names right then and there 🙂

    But this isn’t genetic. It’s not even economic as these uni gals willing to whore themselves out for some pocket cash goes to show. This is how parents raise their kids. This is what children see reinforced in television, movies, and in the Thai press. To say that any of this is racist would be to call me a racist for pointing out the good qualities of Thai culture as well.

    As times change in Thailand so will their culture. If and when wealth is more evenly distributed across the country women will be empowered and won’t have to link their survival on landing a guy who can look after them financially. They’ll have more choice and how they view their role in relationships will come to mirror those views held by women in more wealthy cultures. Those cultural changes will be reflected in media and across several generations Thai women will come to embrace new values.

    I think the funny thing in calling my attitude racist as you did is that I’m specifically trying to show why it isn’t a racist way of viewing things. I’m saying that societal and cultural forces promote a more intensely mercenary view of relationships than is what is considered normal in other cultures. If I was attributing it to race then there would be no hope for change.

    Thais are not defined by race but by culture. If you spend any amount of time in Thailand that is obvious. The people from Chiang Mai look physically different from people from Issan. And the Thais from Chinese heritage look different from the Thais from the south of Thailand. But they all have the same (or very similar) cultural beliefs. That is what makes them Thai.

    The bottom line in all of this is that saying that girls in the farang prostitution scene are forced into prostitution does little to help them and does a lot of damage to the gals who are truly being forced against their will in the Thai prostitution scene. As long as do-gooders focus on trying to solve a non-existant problem the real problem goes unchecked. Farang oriented prostitution accounts for perhaps only 15% or so of the total prostitution going on in Thailand. And farang prostitution happens in plain sight, in the open, on the (side) streets of Sukhumvit, Silom, and other places like Pattaya and Patong where the coppers can use the constant threat of imposing impromptu fines (bribes) to keep everything in check.

    If anything the farang type of prostitution scene protects the girls. The bars operate at the whim of the police who could shut down any bar they wanted. But bribes are a major source of income for the coppers so they have no incentive to kill off the bars. And girls being pimped out against their will or girls shackled to beds until they pay off their debt aren’t the kinds of tales the coppers want getting back to the press in the western world. Bad press means the coppers get pressure from the politicians to crack down on the bars which means the bars can’t pay the bribes which keep the coppers might not be able to send their kids to private school or buy a shiny new Mercedes. So it’s in the coppers best interest to make sure the bars provide a fun and safe prostitution experience.

    You said that these girls receive no protection under the law but the only real protection that a prostitute needs over any other woman – in any society – is exploitation. And since most of the girls working the go-gos and bars in Thailand aren’t being pimped . . . they pretty much enjoy the same rights under the law as any other person of their same socio-economic status. A factory worker from Isaan doesn’t get any more or less rights than a hooker as far as the law is concerned.

    So, when you want me to shed a tear for someone who had the same chances and opportunities as a girl who is working her ass off in a factory for a tenth of what a bar girl makes . . . I have a hard time conjuring up the tears. I feel worse for the factory worker. At least she made a decision to put her pride above making some quick bucks and hoping to meet a farang who would sweep her off her feet and shower her in money the rest of her life.

    And if you would like to confine your views to women working in the Thai prostitution scene who really are being exploited, pimped, forced into it against their will, and all sorts of other horrors you and I probably couldn’t even imagine I’m right there with you. But no matter how you spin it, the girl shaking her ass on stage in a Soi Cowboy go-go doesn’t even belong in the same conversation.

  5. without getting into a heated debate; it seems there are multiple reasons for such a big sex industry (non thai-thai)

    some possible etiologies

    # needing money
    # needing more money than a mainstream job would pay
    # needing more in addition to holding normal job
    # being unable to hold a mainstream job; unreliability, poor performance, cannot get to on time or at all, not wanting/capable to learn for the job. (laziness and aptitude issues)
    # lost normal job due to hard economic times (hardship)
    # pressure from family that sees what other daughters have obtained for neighbors (houses, cars)
    # may become to enjoy a lifestyle that on the surface is “partying and dancing every day”
    # they appear to not be forced against their will but free agents.

    # the lifestyle is not conducive to bettering themselves in terms of self actualization or personal development. seems to be detrimental in that they become adept at lying and scamming; anything to get more money.

    # some will choose learning a trade or education over sex work, others will not. It is human nature to like the easiest way to make money (pertains to all of us)

    # alcohol and drug addiction also impacts. to be fair, it sure seems like there are heaps of alcoholic male westerners also involved/dedicated to the entertainment scene.

    #since there was no mention, I’ll comment there are also many male Thai sex workers.

    The women that are indeed trafficked and held hostage are in a living hell and this somehow should be stopped.

  6. PS; there are lots of daughters of Issan farmers that graduated university and/or learned a good trade. You just probably won’t see them at sex venues.

  7. @dv: Agree on the uni grads and good trade girls. There are plenty of them which begs the question of why so many men get involved with bar girls.

    Also agree on the last part of your other comment concerning girls who are doing this against their will.

  8. Its prostitution in western language, Thais ideas of sex is completely different to western ideas.
    You really need to understand Thais to realize that its not such a big deal to them, its a means to get your needs met, plain and simple, you need to feed your family, you do what it takes.
    Thats it.
    Its not acceptable in the UK, US, etc, but its not in the UK, or US etc its Thailand, many places in Thailand do not like to see it, but its the tourists ever since the US soldiers were here that have made it what it is today in Pattaya for example is meeting the needs of 1000’s of single & divorced men every year.

    Its normally the western do gooders who sit in offices with a boring life and make up stupid rules like ” you cant put bottles in your wheely bin or you will be fined “etc that give it all the bad publicity, for the 1000’s of guys who come here and have a great time, long may it rain.

  9. @Dave: Just as a point of accuracy, prostitution in Thailand started looooooong before the Vietnam War. It’s been a part of Thai history for many years. The reason that people always reference its origin as the Vietnam War is because that is when western men began to discover it.

    Best estimates I’ve seen put the percentage of Thai women working in Thai/farang oriented prostitution at about 5% – 10% of the total number of prostitutes. The Thai/Thai prostitution scene is massive but mostly underground.

  10. I see, I was’nt aware of that but understanding the Thai’s as I do (a bit) I can see thats true as I mentioned before they see sex in a whole different way to Westerners.

  11. Mainstrean society DOES NOT see sex in a whole different way to Westerners in terms of the sex business.

    Mainstream Thai media documentaries certainly do not portray it as “OK”

    ” @dv: Agree on the uni grads and good trade girls. There are plenty of them which begs the question of why so many men get involved with bar girls.”

    Getting a bar girl seems to be the path of least resistance (on the surface) and it leads to instant gratification or frustration. Seems some of the westerners that flock to Thailand were not happy with/or adept at the dating game back home, so why would they want to re-enter the “dating game” when for a fee you can get a quick fix, albeit animal husbandry at times.

  12. @dv – As usual, I agree and disagree with you 🙂 I do notice very different attitudes about sex in Thailand. Not that they think prostitution is a noble profession or anything of that nature only that all is not what it appears to be.

    For instance, the whole idea of a mia noi (second wife) or girls who either are someone’s or have their own gik (for lack of a better term, fuck buddy). While I’ll admit that western women are considered more sexually free than their Thai counterparts the fact that there are all of these built in arrangements for both men and women to seek out sex outside of the normal dating/relationship framework that it would appear that they do have somewhat different attitudes about sex.

    And that’s not even counting the other end of the spectrum with the conservative girls who might have only 1 or 2 sexual partners their entire lives.

    So, to say that there are no differences in how sex is seen isn’t necessarily accurate. But then again, the same might be said about the difference in how people view sex in America vs. Europe.

    The other thing I’ll disagree on is that while most mainstream Thais and the media do not glamorize the sex industry your average Thai is more likely to feel sympathetic to a bar girl than your average western woman would to a hooker or stripper back home. Not to the point of accepting them as friends or anything like that but you’ll certainly hear many Thais make excuses for why these girls do what they do. Much in the same way they make excuses for corrupt police or politicians.

    So on one level, acceptance or approval of what they do, you’re right. On the issue of whether or not Thais view it the same as in the west though, I would disagree. There’s more of a feeling that people do what they need to do to survive and that’s what she’s chosen to do.

  13. personally imo it is only a business; fee for service” i don’t have anything against it. it serves a purpose and since the demand is present, the supply follows. personally, again, the “mia noi” thing is for the individuals involved. i don’t know why if the guy has money, he would need to continually support a woman as so called “mia noi” why cant he just find someone that likes him and enjoys the company? there are lots of thai guys that need not return something financial in exchange for a relationship.
    i continually hear western guys makes the sympathetic excuses and rationalizations also in addition to some thai men, usually motorcycle driver level. perhaps for the western guys the line between sympathy and gratitude is blurred.
    a multitude of department store girls and the likes get by without becoming go go dancers as do many many others even without formal education.
    I may have mentioned it before but i met a family from issan in which the parents are rice farmers, all of the multiple children either completed university and/or learned a viable trade. engineers, nurses, accountant…..aircraft mechanic, etc etc.
    The guy/gal that comes to fix my a/c gets 800 baht for the visit of 30 minutes not including parts.
    I had a discussion with a Thai woman about this and one particular aspect condemned. was that being the parents who for greed and laziness, send their daughters to try to find an affluent future. This usually means the girls are compelled to find any guy wiling to be the atm. Maybe very old and sick is preferable. There is scamming, criminality, call it what you like.

    As always @ruai, a pleasure

  14. @dv: Well, I think the mia noi thing it’s about having a mistress who knows her place in the pecking order. I think if the guy had the money and started trying to date someone who really cared about him she might actually expect him to leave his current wife or make demands on him that he would find uncomfortable. So, from his perspective, much easier to just pay for an apartment, give her an allowance, and she knows what her role is. She is never going to be his wife and he is compensating her for her lost love opportunities while with him.

    But my point was really only to highlight those things as being different from the west. Many Thai wives will look the other way and pretend not to know about the mia noi while few western women would. I was attempting to illustrate that some views about sex (not just prostitution) are different between Thailand and other parts of the world.

    I was making the same point about the gik. Basically a guy who the girl knows she can call whenever she wants to get laid and there’s no strings attached. He’s quite happy to bang her silly whenever she calls and see her off when they’re done. Again, I know girls back home have guys they treat this way but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as common as here where girls will openly talk about wanting, looking for, or having a gik.

    And lastly, I was also trying to make the point that Thailand is so diverse that you can’t say “Thais are . . .” about any part of Thai life. For every girl who openly yaks away about wanting a gik there is another one who would be shocked to even hear that kind of talk. For every wife who looks the other way when her husband starts seeing a mia noi there is another who will chop his dick off and feed it to the ducks if she even thought her husband was looking at another woman. And of course, there are responses in-between.

    But overall, I think on a percentage basis, I’ve met more Thai women who openly (and sometimes bluntly) discuss sex and I would tend to side with the argument that they do have an overall different view of it than women in the west. Of course, that’s just my opinion and based on the people I’ve met and hung around with.

  15. “compensating her for her lost love opportunities while with him”

    Quite a concept…..

    ask your Thai friends about the word “mangda” you might get quite a good laugh.

  16. I decided to Google it before asking as I didn’t want to get my face slapped if it was something too naughty 🙂

  17. It seems anyone perceived in the minority and/or outside turf may have a big problem if a fight starts. Examples; a lone black person in a predominantly white bar, vice a versa.

    I have witnessed fights. Often seems alcohol comes into play. Have seen disco security forcibly eject Thai and Caucasion patrons but I havn’t seen the security punch or kick unless the person being ejected fights. Bad news when multople people are drinking and a fight starts, anywhere, any country. Saw a lone caucasion throw a punch a one of 4 or 5 security guys. All of them subsequently responded with a punch, kick or two, sort of like what you may see from western police beating a suspect (occasionally filmed) Or perhaps the USA police beating an unconscios guy that had been ejected from his car.

  18. Nobody is forced to take heroin, that does not make the problem smaller.
    It is true that these girls at some point choose to do it more or less, but what is their way out of it? If you pay for sex, you are part of the problem. Period.

    If you do it, then just do it, but don’t make a philosophy from it. It’s a human need, You don’t need to explain and rationalize everything.

  19. @jan: It wasn’t my intent to justify anything. It’s more an issue of trying to introduce some truth to the conversation. So many people who discuss this topic use the word “forced” when in most cases there is no coercion at all.

    You can’t solve a problem unless you understand it and what I was hoping to do here was provide a more realistic picture of how women end up selling their bodies. If one misunderstands the incentives involved in prostitution then they are highly unlikely to arrive at the correct solutions in dealing with the problem. And as long as people believe that prostitution is forced on these girls they will continue to offer solutions that do nothing to prevent it.

  20. Pingback: Bangkok Diaries Most Popular 2009

  21. My limited observation of the working girls at soi cowboy or nana is that many of them, not all of them, have made a choice of being there mostly for making a good amount of money …fast! I also think family pressure for financial help is very high and almost “guilt” some of these girls to sell their bodies. So the dynamics are working together in the minds of these girls to justify working in these places. I am told by some of these girls that they are making over 40,000 BHT a month. If this is the case, then I think it is very clear that many girls will “choose” this work over a 7/11 or a mall cleric or a cashier job. Remember too, that not all girls will qualify physically to work at soi cowboy or nana so they have no choice but to work at the 7/11 and the mall for a lot less. Having said that, I have met a very few girls who will work really hard and get paid little even thu they know they can make a lot more at soi cowboy, again very few!!

    After all, in the west most, again, most women are looking for the same thing that thai women are looking for: security = money = man with money, simply put.

    I challenged a couple of friends of mine(100 Euros, $140) not to pay for their western girlfriends when they go out for dinner and such, for period of one week and still have sex with them….I won!

  22. I slightly disagree. I think family pressures play in a lot less than people think. Living in the villages is very cheap. Most of these girls are young so their parents are still of working age. The only way that the family ends up needing more money than a 7-11 girl can make is if the parents are into gambling or drugs.

    Many girls tell you that they are doing what they’re doing because they are supporting their family but that’s just a face saving answer that sounds better than “I’m lazy and having sex with guys for money is easier than working a real job.”

  23. Ok, So I am willing to learn and to understand the Thai culture, respectfully. I believed it when the girls would tell me they are doing it for mama and papa!! now I will be a lot more skeptical especially that the more I live here, the more I realize that there is a lot of ” untruthfull” things going on. I do try to get into their, the girls, way of thinking to understand their actions if at all possible. I can see that, for them GENERALLY, it is a lot easier to have fun, drink and dance all nite, go out with farangs and get treated mostly well AND get paid for it….So I can completely understand their choices. I do see, however, that some girls hate working there and some girls just love it! in conclusion, I think we all may agree that you have a good mix of girls who like it, dislike it and girls who some times are forced into it. But since this thread was written with some generalisation in mind, I agree that most girls are in it for a quick BHT!

  24. @mando6971: The first thing you have to keep in mind in Thailand is that nothing is as simple as it seems. People are more complex that they are often given credit for. Situations, economics, motivations are all much more complex than what’s on the surface.

    To say someone is “forced” to do something assumes that there is no other alternative. In other words, if this girl isn’t working in the bars her family doesn’t eat.

    I would guesstimate that that only applies to about 1 or 2 girls out of 1000. The rest are willingly there. Sure, they would rather be doing something else but the reality of their world is that this is the highest paying job for which they have any chance at.

    They could be doing lot of other jobs but those other jobs don’t pay as well and have longer hours. So, to some degree, the industry attracts lazy women who are money focused. That means, they’re a self-selecting group. Women with certain character defects are drawn to the industry and thus if all you know of Thai women is what you learn in bars then you will have a very distorted view of Thai women.

    You have to remember that everything in Thailand is about face. No girl is ever going to admit she’s a whore because she’s lazy and wants to make a lot of money. That would result in a huge loss of face. So she makes up a story which not only allows her to save face but gets many guys to be even more generous because they feel like they’re helping out a poor farming family.

    It’s all bullshit though. If her family is that poor then why is she brandishing the newest expensive mobile phone? Nothing makes me laugh harder than a girl who claims she’s a prostitute to help her family when she then whips out her BlackBerry 🙂

    The part that I have never been able to wrap my head around is the fact that her family knows what she does for a living. Thais are very perceptive. Believe me, when darling little Lek comes back after six months in Bangkok and sending home relatively large amounts of money every month and she’s got a tramp-stamp tattoo, dresses like a whore, and starts becoming evasive when asked any direct questions about her job . . . her parents know. Everyone knows.

    And if the parents are really that clueless then others in the village will be gossiping about it. Most likely the gossip will originate from other girls who are working regular jobs in Bangkok who know only a girl who is a prostitute can make that much money and dresses like that.

    I mean, as Stickman pointed out in his column this week . . . other Thais can smell a bar girl a mile away. And when you’re here long enough you can do it to if you don’t spend all your time in Nana or Soi Cowboy. Just a few weeks ago a friend of mine brought a bar girl to a big gathering of friends and she stuck out like a sore thumb. None of the other Thais would speak with her and even I turned to another friend and said “He didn’t bring a bar girl to this, did he?”

    Bottom line is that no bar girl is fooling anybody back home. EVERYBODY knows she’s a whore. EVERYBODY!!

    I mean, if that was my child . . . I’m slap the crap out of her and forbid her from ever going back to Bangkok. I couldn’t imagine being in such a dire financial situation where I would be taking money from my child who slept with customers to get that money.

    But, therein lies another character flaw that is very common to bar girls . . . many (if not most) come from families who are willing to pretend they don’t know. It’s also why so many of the girls get caught in a trap where the family becomes ever more greedy and demanding increasing amounts every month.

    And this is why you read so many horror stories about guys who try to save/marry a bar girl. Her parents basically knowingly accept money from their daughter knowing how she earns her living. Landing a farang is like winning the lottery. They’re already unethical, lazy, and greedy so what is holding them back from robbing you blind? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    But to really, really understand a lot of this the first thing you have to do is go out and meet lots of girls who aren’t prostitutes and to meet good Thai families who would be shocked if their daughter was a prostitute. When you get that contrast it becomes so much easier to see through the bullshit.

    Unfortunately, a lot of guys only know women who either work in the bars or close enough to the bar scene that they don’t ever get a good baseline for what Thai culture and Thai values are about. I’m not saying that every Thai is a candidate for humanitarian of the year or anything like that but you do learn what is acceptable and unacceptable in Thai society.

  25. One of the things that amuses me about alot of the opinions you see on Thai society/culture/life in general, by many of these self styled farang expert commentators, is that they offer a point of view which is based purely on only what they’ve witnessed/seen/heard in the big smoke (Bangkok). I’d be interested to know how many of them have actually gone and lived in a village up in Isaan, for two to three years, to see how things really are. I have so I’ll give you the skinny on what the village dwellers really think of a bar girl.

    The fact is most of them don’t give a shit. It isn’t an issue. They’re to busy just getting on with their own lives to really care. Most of them work year round, sun up to sun down, out in the fields. During the dry season, and after the rice is harvested, things are a bit slower. The farms with a water supply will put in vegetables like cabbages. Otherwise it’s time to sit back, down a few beers or Lao Khao ( if you’re male), go to the temple functions, attend weddings and funerals (another exscuse for a noisy piss up) and watch the football. If some bird hooks a farang and drags him back up to the village to put a two story house on a rai of land then it’s good luck to her and her family (pooying chalaat). Nobody gives a flying fxxk and do you know why? Because there’s that many Thai blokes up there that go to those little Karaoke bars (the ones with the fairy lights) for a bit of slap and tickle with the Gik or Mia Noi. That’s reality in Thailand folks. Sorry to burst your bubble but if people are going comment of stuff they know about only through hearsay then it aint worth reading. Facts are what matter and how do you get them? By going up to Nakhon Nowhere and living there for a couple of years, that’s how.

  26. I think you misunderstand what I say. I am not saying that she’s ostracized from the community or anything but she isn’t fooling anybody either. But the more important point was that her family knows what she does for a living and that is what I have a hard time wrapping my head around. I can’t imagine any parent in any culture who would pretend not to know or accept it if they weren’t morally flawed.

  27. Ruai and Mega: I agree with both of you; your points of view are not mutually exclusive, and each gives an interesting picture to look at.

    Everybody knows, and nobody gives a shit.

  28. Ruai: Something I realised a long time ago is that it’s pointless trying to understand the mindset of Thai people from a western point of view. How they really feel about it we’ll never really know or understand, we just throw different theories around thinking that our logic is the same as theirs.

    According to my wife the biggest criticsm, of a bargirl that returns to the village looking like a christmas tree, is not so much that she’s a low life, it’s that she’s a ‘big action’ or a show off. This is where the jealousy side of things creep in because when the others, back in the village, see those trinkets and toys being shown off then, the cogs start ticking over inside the heads.

    In that situation where sticks’ friend took a bar girl to a big gathering I would say that the cold shoulder she got might have a lot more to do with the color of her skin and where she’s from and not so much as what she does for a job. If the gathering was in BKK with middle class/hi so types being in attendance then you can bet that a low so Isaan girl aint going to have the red carpet rolled out for her. I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, by a BKK hi so lady that hi so and low so are a fact of life in this country. They’re brainwashed from birth with it, it’s just not politically correct to come out and say it.

    It happened to me once; I took a go-go gal to fuji at Paragon. You should have seen the looks I got from the well to do Thais that were in there eating; it was basically something like ‘what are you doing bringing that thing in here.’ At the time I thought it was a bit of a laugh and just thought fxxk them and there class system. The thing is, now that I’ve been living here for a few years, I’ve realised that hanging out with hookers doesn’t really do you any favors, long term, in this country.

  29. I’m well aware of the hi-so/lo-so thing. One night in particular I was out with some friends and one of my friends brought his gf who was very dark skinned but very bright and finishing up her MBA in university. Another girl who was there was a stuck up little BKK girl who was sent off to Singapore to study and loved flaunting around the fact she could speak English, Chinese and Thai to anybody who would listen to her. I mean, she was a c*nt even to the farangs and other girls. I have no idea why she was even invited and my friend who did invite her apologized to everyone afterward.

    Anyway, she got to looking down her nose at the dark skinned girl and even though they spoke in Thai I caught enough and could read enough body language that she was sizing the girl up. But the dark skinned gal held her ground and I guess impressed her with her schooling and such that she started acting friendly with her (to a degree since she was pretty bitchy with everyone).

    Had the dark skinned girl been a hooker . . . sparks would have been flying. There’s no way she would have sat across from a bar girl the entire night and not started a fight.

    So while there is certainly racism amongst the Thais to say that they don’t reserve an extra level of contempt for bar girls is a tad of an understatement. If a dark skinned girl can prove that she’s got something going on she can at least hold her own.

  30. I think the ” Social ranking” situation exists in most if not all socities. I believe it to be part of human nature. As societies evolve and get more “westernised” then it becomes socially incorrect and it is lessened or hidden. I did notice thu that here in Thailand there is a lot of importance given to the color of your skin even among men and hi so Thais. I have noticed that it is important to thais if you are married to a lighter skinned partner and that places you at a higher social level, Agree?

    In the west, generally speaking, the importance of social class, skin color, and financial status have diminshed from their high levels to a lower level and to a much lower level than in Thailand.

    I did get to know a few rich Thai men and they even took me to “their” hot spots which was totally different than the farang’s “hot spots”. At one time, I did ask one of my closest Thai friend (he is well off) what do Thai people, especially Thai women, think of the bar girls. His immediate answer was that most Thai women are ok with it some tolerate and it is a fact of life. Thai men like Thai bar girls but may not like Farang bar girls . Now, I know him pretty well and I think his answer was honest but it is also possible that he may have added some “face saving” flavour to it to keep my opinion of Thailand at a higher level?

    I have lived in a few countries so far, and believe me, it would be feutal (sp?) to try to understand any other culture in a mind set of a western culture. For me, I like to try to think and feel as a local person and try to understand the culture. Of course it will be very difficult to be Thai in heart and soul, but it will be easier to understand the dynamics of the Thai society.

    It does seem to me that the budhisit religion may have some thing to do with the way Thais look at the bar girl and at sex in genral while economical status adds to the complexity of life here. A prostitute in the west is not looked at well by her society. A bar girl here, if she carries her self well and dresses well may be acceptable to most thais (do you guys see it the same?). I know of one bar girl who speakes excellent English, well dressed, behaves like a middle class lady and is not ashamed to say she works at a bar. We were friends only, and one of my thai friends met her and really liked her and treated her very well indeed.

    I did date a girl who worked at a cloth store in one of the malls, and she worked hard and made little. While she did not ask for money at any time, she did confide in me that her family needed money. May be she was a con artist, I do no know any more here but she never asked for money from me. Of course I paid when we went out and I bought her some cloth. I guess what I am trying to say is that even the regular girl will almost always need some sort of financial help form the farang.

    May be some one can shed some light on this “face saving” thing that seems to be a huge part of the social structure and in some cases confusing and misleading to farangs. (may be a new thread about it will be better?)

  31. I think you boys should read this article and reset your thinking:

    I know of two girls on Soi Cowboy who are in this situation right now. In 14 and 16 months I’ve seen the slow destruction of their personality with no definite time where they will be cut loose. Very sad. This situation exists only for a minority of the workers in the red light districts, but even so it’s an institutionalized part of the business and the agents and bar owners make a pile of money off these girls.

  32. The original author’s premise was Thai women (it’s even in the title) but the link that you provide mostly discusses Burmese women. And if you look around, I think the point has been well made on this website that there is a difference between the Thai and farang prostitution scene.

    I have my doubts about these two girls working on Soi Cowboy. I’m no longer a regular at the local go-gos but I know enough current and former bar owners/managers around Bangkok to know that few would ever have girls in their clubs against their will. First off, it’s in nobody’s self-interest. The police who protect the bar scene would not want some girl being forced into the business against her will blabbing to some do-gooder foreigner who might shine a spotlight on things which in turn might cause international pressure to crack down which in turn would hurt the police’s income stream.

    What I suspect is much closer to the truth is that mom and/or pop got themselves into some hot water either with the local bookie or with drug dealers and the girls are simply doing what they think they need to do to help the family. The reason they have no idea when their obligation will end is that people with gambling and drug problems don’t tend to get well on their own if someone else is paying the consequences for them so they’re probably getting themselves deeper into debt.

    Now, if we were talking about Thai oriented brothels I might be more inclined to believe they were there totally against their will. But for girls working in the tourist red light districts my guess is they’re spinning the stories a bit. Sympathy = money. None of these girls wants to admit they have a choice. Even the ones who voluntarily go will always try to tell a version of their life story which makes it seem as if this was their only choice.

  33. First understand Thai people, dont think you understand the culture, really understand it and them, then you will know all these answers.

  34. Thai culture is an interesting concept. The only Thai people that I’ve encountered who seem to be aware that they’ve got a culture are the educated middle class, and hi so types, that use that concept to defend themselves against foreign criticism. You might try going up to the poorer areas of Thailand, in the North East, and ask any number of rice farmers, that you might encounter, what they think about Thai culture. No doubt you’ll probably get a response which equates to the Thai version of ‘what the fuck are you on about.’ People up there live their culture without really knowing that you can put a label on it. They go to the temple, they celebrate weddings and funerals, Buddhist lents’, the kings birthday, etc., without actually knowing that it’s a culture. It’s just life to them. Of course you’ve got the respect for elders and peers, avoidance of confrontation and the idea that one should never cause another to lose face but do they sit down and discuss whether these things are part of Thai culture. The fuck they do. The most important things to them are a roof over ones head, enough food to eat and a low stress life. Ask yourself this: how many Thais have full knowledge of their own history? Isn’t knowledge of one’s own history also a part of the idea that one has a culture? The only people I’ve met, during my seventeen years in this country, who make an issue of Thai culture are farangs who think they have a better understanding of Thailand, and Thai people, than the rest of us. The fact is you don’t, you just think you do.

    Regarding bar girls:

    Most of them don’t consider themselves to be morally corrupt or that they’re doing something bad. To them they’re just doing a job. And, it’s a job that many of them enjoy because it gives them an opportunity for a step up in life. The majority of them are in there because of the demands of their families. Most of them have babies, or children, from some dead beat Thai boyfriend who did a runner when he realised that there was a plate to step up to. A lot of them have worked in some shitty low paying job in a factory, or on a building site, and they’re not interested in going back to those subsistence level wages (and personally, I don’t blame them) Most of them are hoping to meet someone (a foreigner) who will be their financial salvation. The problem is that working as a bargirl (aka prositute) changes them. Over time their attitudes to everything hardens and they become a lot more ruthless. They’re schooled by those more experienced in how to milk a customer for as much as they possibly can. The smarter ones will save their money but most of them blow it on booze, drugs and the leaches that live off them. Getting into a relationship with a bar girl is probably not a good idea because most of them have only one skill set for making cash and, even if they get the opportunity to get out of the industry, the bar life is often so ingrained that they can’t change their hardened, opportunistic mindsets. They have a tendency to look at everything from a short term perspective – what’s in it for me now – and many of them have anything that resembles financial discipline. They have a tendency to waste money and spend far more than girls who don’t work in bars etc. For most farang, this is where the relationship with a bar girl always breaks down. It’s always about the money.

  35. yes whores indeed once a whore ,always a whore, always praying to the money god as usual, dont go near thai women they are all poisonous gold digging sluts

  36. Ruai:

    Those bar girls are only your friends because they don’t speak enough English to realize what a hateful, misogynist douche bag you are. Seriously. I stopped your drivel half-way through because, well, I wasn’t being forced to read it.

    I feel sorry for any woman whose choices are scrubbing the loo at 7-11 12 hours a day or listening to–let alone screwing–someone like you. You seem to spend an awful lot of time in go go bars for someone who doesn’t buy women. Can’t you get anyone else to listen to you?

  37. @JANE: Uhhm, I don’t see a point to your comment other than trying to bash Ruai. Do you have something useful to offer or do you just hate guys who get laid?

  38. Having played the circuit and hung out with quite a few Thai bar girls myself I agree, essentially, with the original poster.

    The vast majority of the girls (in the farang bars, anyway, which is the only experience I can bring to the table) who do this do it because their material “wants” exceed their ambition to go out and get it in a normal job. They are not willing to start out at the bottom for a shit salary (like ALL the rest of us did) and live off barely nothing as they begin their journey into adulthood. There is no doubt the Thailand is poor relative to the west – but its economy has been booming for years and there is a labor-shortage right now. They could get jobs (and keep them) if they put the effort in and simply got down to the business of building a “normal” life. Just like the rest of us did.

    The easy cash, the constant party and dancing (which many truly enjoy, especially when they first arrive and are at the peak of their “party years”), and that most (not all, I am sure) of the farang punters actually treat them well – all this makes it difficult for them to walk away. Over a few years of this it becomes a mental trap (not a physical, or tangible one) where they can’t see how they can walk away from it.

    Many do walk away, for a short while, and end up back at the bars to make a fast buck and escape the boredom (their words) of their hometowns.

    I do feel true pity for them because I see how it ends up…, they age, their beauty fades, they no longer beleive a “real” love will come their way, they feel shame at what they have become and now feel absolutely no escape is possible. They are left with an ever-declining paycheck as their desireability decreases year by year. But again, it is still a choice… they just choose not to forego the big easy cash to become a Domestic Helper, a waitress in a normal restaurant/bar, or whatever.

    They DID IT TO THEMSELVES.., no one forced them. The poverty did not force them… the proof of this is watching how 99% of “normal” Thai girls manage to build a life for themselves without resorting to prostitution. If prostitution was the only way out of the extreme poverty of Thailand why arent the other 30 million Thai women also prostitues?

    If you talk to these “normal” Thai girls about it they all have the same basic opinion – the prostitutes are lazy. They’ve taken what they see as the easy way out, and yes, they shun them like the plague.

    That said, I am absolutely aware that there is human trafficing going on aswell – with very young Cambodians and Vietnamese girls being sold by their parents, or kidnapped, and forced into this. Yes, this is clearly is happening and is catering to the Thai men primarily, as you NEVER see it in the farang bar scene. This extreme cruelty has no defence and the perpatrators should be castrated and hung.

    But this is not the prostitution scene we are talking about and represents a tiny (though barbaric) fraction of the Thailand sex industry.

  39. I think Ruai and somebody else is still living in the past century…
    I am sorry that I cannot write so good english to explain my point of vew….
    I am not in Thailand at present, but will soon be back there
    I have been in Thailan 6 years and though I cannt tell you what is my business there, i can garantee that I am with governments employees all time, even if sometime I go to bars for a small beer and stay short time and not interested in bar girls at all. But you seems to confuse many things…thai prostitutions is not legal because the laws say so, but indirectly the Government encourage it, since it brings a huge quantity of money and of welfare solutions to the Country, so the Government not allows it legally but approve it much more than legally indirectly, otherwise why in Laos is not the same as in Thailand? in Laos, almost no bar and almost no girls are interested to marry with farangs, or t least not so extremely evident and persecutory like in thailand
    I admit about the land given from parents to childreen for tradition and so on and so forth, but nowdays in thailand to marry and only for economical improvement, has become a national issue. Not only bar girls, but all thai women who have economical problems, childreen and parents to support and lands to take care, is hoping to find a farang to solve their problems and dont tell me that is everywhere in the world like that, because if so, it mens that you dont know the world at all….
    bar girls have better opportunity to meet and marry farangs, also because most of farangs in thailand are low class persons. They come from us or uk or australians pubs or german austrian and scandinavian kneipes and best clients in the bordels of their countryes and therefore they like to go to thai bars drink and meet girls and edventually marry them…
    Higher class thai are not much different from bar girls, may be better education, but they also look desperately for farangs with good pension to live better, even if they are not poor at all, but try to marry and get all possible money from new frangs husbands to have better hous and better car…
    I am not talking about exception, but about the majority and thai women who dont look for farangs are the one who dont have any chances to meet them.
    The only thai women not interested in farangs are the very high level women from high society, where the money is no problem and thai society will never let a farang get into that high society, not even if farang is a professor or a doctor, apart very rare exception. But in this case they show who they really are, because in western world is possible to speak to important actors or political or to vip persons, but in thailand high class society is very racist and not only to frangs, also to lower level society persons.
    When an university graduated go to the princess to get her diplome, she is not allowed to look in the eyes of the princess, is a strict thai law which would be science finction in western countrzes…
    not to mention that in each school at 8.30 morning, in each primary school teachers and chidreen perform a national cerimony, of which they are proud, but i prefer not to mention….
    If thailand is mentioned as sex industry country, it is not just a coincidence….
    look at google about laos and you will be surprised of the opposite…
    Means that somebody somewhere has advantage of that sex industry and call illegal what they want for their advantage

  40. yes it is not legal the prostitution in thailand, but if no police care and control, then everybody can steal ….so letsnot confuse reality with opportunist fantasy

  41. I’ve known so many bargirls over so many years and even lived with a few.
    What BillyBangkok says in post 33 is spot-on, every part of it. In some cases, parents or other family members get themselves into stupid debt (usually by gambling and other complete irresponsibility) and ‘sell’ (either explicitly or by the pressure of guilt) their daughters or sisters into it. The girls feel that cultural debt to the family and go along with it, comforting themselves with the purchase of show-off material goods, the thought of riches and that they’re being good in fulfilling some kind of eternal debt and caring for their families. Once in, the original goal achieved, the families will find more reasons to spend (more gambling, more trucks, more purchases for ‘face’) and the girls will too.

    Of course, the girls can get into it all by themselves for simple material gain but. I’ve yet to meet a parent of a bar-girl who isn’t a waste of oxygen.

  42. just the fact that you mention so much about prostitution as a main object for discussion, is the mirror of the reality
    forced or not forced, dangerous or not dangerous, but prostitution in thailand is a very strong concrete reality in all the country, second to no other country in the world

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