Tourism in this Thailand red light district area drives the economy, and is a lucrative income for everyone involved. It is estimated that the Thai Sex Industry is worth 260 BILLION Baht (over US $8 million/GBP £6 million).
In 2004 the area was decreed an official “entertainment zone” by the government, and venues stay open until 2am. If it’s officially classed as “entertainment” it can’t be bad or immoral, right? Prostitution in Thailand is illegal so surely there’s no harm in a ping pong show?
If the delectable Bradley Cooper can hang out here in “The Hangover 2”, it’s got to be good for grins. There is even a “Bangkok Hangover Tour” which takes you to the nightlife areas experienced in the movie, including Patpong, so how wrong can it be?
What were my thoughts, as a liberal thinking woman, whilst watching a controversial tourist show?
Standards are monitored, the workers have their own union and plenty of police protection. Private bodyguards employed by the girls are always on duty to protect and look out for them.
Being curious about the sex industry in Amsterdam, I visited the “Museum of Prostitution”. I had a chance to go into a “booth” for a glimpse into what it’s like to be on the inside looking out.
On the walls of the Museum are stories about the different types of women who work there, some people choose this high paying profession, yet others are forced into it for various reasons.
Prostitution in Thailand is an entirely different story.
It is when I re-read my travel journal recently that I realised I had forgotten the darker side. If I’m honest, I hadn’t just “forgotten”, I didn’t really know the truth surrounding this industry at the time I visited. I was unaware that it’s the women’s responsibility in Thai culture to look after their elders.
Girls in rural villages (for example Isaan) drop out of school as young as 14, move to Bangkok, get a very well paid job within the sex industry, and send their earnings back home to support their family. As long as the family can survive, no questions are asked about where this money comes from.
The following is the extract from my journal – whilst reading, please bear in mind that all acts are performed from a lady’s foo-foo and nothing else!!
Extract from journal
The time was 7.30pm and I was driven to Patpong district by a maniac tuk-tuk driver. He drove so fast, I wondered if I would actually arrive alive and in one piece.
We stopped at a seedy part of town rife with pick-pockets and scammers but, as I didn’t hang around either before or after the “show”, I managed to escape unscathed! (NB I have since read many, many reports of the Ping pong show scam, especially upstairs bars offering “happy hour” drinks with a free show. Before you leave, you are presented with a hefty bill of 3,600 Baht for three drinks! If you are thinking of going, BE WARNED! Have your wits about you. Read up on the scams so you know to be aware when approached).
The Bangkok night market in Patpong is aimed mainly for tourists, and when I arrived, I didn’t personally feel comfortable shopping there. It felt sleazy, I didn’t feel “safe”, I was constantly looking around me all the time. I was on edge. I could tell this was the Thailand Red Light District.
Inside wasn’t how I imagined. I thought it would be busier with tables and a bar, people socialising and chatting to one another – basically a bit more “life”. Instead, it was a small room with chairs facing a stage.
The audience watch girls come on stage one by one to “perform”, then disappear backstage. Reality struck … we were going to just sit and watch women firing ping-pong balls from their vagina.
There would be no sitting around a table, chatting to one another with “the show” going on around. No good-time happy laughter or sexy girls (or men dressed as girls, we are in Thailand after all) proud of their bodies dancing seductively. Suddenly, it all felt very seedy.
The first girl walked onto the stage and did nothing other than dance topless. Sometimes she would hold onto a pole, not dance around the pole in a seductive way, just literally put her hand on the pole.
She looked bored and didn’t dance sexily, in fact she didn’t really dance at all. She just moved a little – like she needed to pee and was jiggling to hold it in – I jiggle more when I need to pee!
Some of the performers “tricks” were (and I won’t lie) – amazing. This is a list of some of their “talents”
- A machine shot a banana into the air ... and the girl caught it (and not with her hands or mouth!)
- Ping pong balls were fired into a glass (the girl actually missed a few times, and on one occasion, a ball bounced off the stage. A member of the audience threw it back ... I hope he washed his hands afterwards)
- Birthday candles were blown out using a shooter to direct “the flow of air”
- A similar device was used to shoot darts and pop a balloon positioned on a gentleman’s head
- A string of razors were pulled out to make a paper chain
- Two cigarettes were smoked
- Whistles were blown
- “Welcome to Bangkok” was written on a piece of white A4 using a marker pen – now this took some skill! I was given the piece of paper as a “souvenir”
- 12 metres of string were pulled out (very slowly) in a line – goodness knows what else she could store up there! Maybe she had removed her intestines to allow room for it all!
- Bottles were opened (I was given a bottle top)
- Half a bottle of coke was “drunk” then emptied back into another bottle – that could come in handy in a bar!
They were here to perform for your money, they were here because they were being paid. It wasn’t about making you feel good. Sex tourism in Thailand is only about the money.
I repeatedly had the feeling that I was watching these girls do something they didn’t want to do. But I was also confused. They have to practice these tricks, therefore time and thought went into their “performance. I know it may sound insensitive, but I thought it would be awesome to be able to do some of their party tricks.
But I didn’t know their story, how they got here or why they were there. And in truth, if I could do what they could, I wouldn’t be doing it on a stage in front of strangers.
I was there an hour and the “performance” was repeated, it was therefore time for me to leave. Outside, this small backstreet was quiet with no tourists, apart from one white man who was urging people not to go into the bar. He was chased away by a Thai “security guard” yielding a large wooden stick.
Naturally, there are always issues of concern working within any sex industry, and these shows are no different. The majority of the works are from poor, rural families. They used to work in factories, until the economic downturn forced their closure and it is suspected that many of the girls are also prostitutes. Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of Equality Now wrote "Working 14 hours [a day] in a factory or blowing ping pong balls out of your vagina should not be a person's only choices in life”.
It has been referred to as a misogynistic industry and “human zoo tourism”. This place exists purely for tourists, and is a place of curiosity for many visitors to Bangkok (myself included!).
In conclusion, I am not saying you shouldn’t go and see a show. Not only would that be hypocritical of me, but I don’t feel it’s my place to say who should and shouldn’t do anything.
I didn’t know at the time that these shows are mainly for foreigners. That by watching a show, as a tourist, I was contributing to sex tourism. In the same way that I have now learnt riding an elephant or cuddling a tiger is contributing towards animal torture and abuse, I now know that going to a ping pong show has a seedier, dark side.
It’s not about having a giggle at a strip show.
If a decision is an informed one, ie you know that sex tourism here is rife, that you are aware of scams etc, then YOU can decide if you would like to see what all the fuss is about!
Have you been to a show in Thailand, whether for a hen/stag event, with a group of friends or your partner? Talk to us in the comment section below, or feel free to send us a private message.
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