Thailand has a Giant sized prostitution industry that is not just for foreign men
Unfairly or not, Thailand has quite a reputation for prostitution. Bangkok and Pattaya, in particular, are renowned for their decadent nightlife and a whole range of sexual activities and establishments that amount, in effect, to wholesale prostitution.
The prostitution industry in Thailand is huge, particularly in these city centres. No one denies this and it is estimated that the number of Thai girls or Thai ladies engaged in the Thai prostitution industry can be measured in the hundreds of thousands. One report in 2003 estimated that Thai prostitution is 3% of the overall Thai economy. Another economic estimate of the value of the industry in 2007/2008 is over $5 billion.
There are four hundred thousand prostitutes in the Bangkok metropolitan area alone and this level of prostitution is replicated all over Thailand. Thousands of foreign men come every week to Thailand to meet Thai prostitutes thus fueling the prostitution industry but what is not often publicised is that the prostitution industry in Thailand essentially caters for Thai men of all backgrounds on a massive scale.
Background to the legend is the 1960s
Background to prostitution in Thailand In 1960 prostitution in Thailand was actually made illegal as the Thai authorities came under pressure from the United Nations.
However, this law was countered in 1966 by a law which allowed for the creation of entertainment establishments offering 'special services.' This law was instigated as part of a government initiative to generate additional income from the large numbers of US armed forces stationed in Thailand and Vietnam at that time.
This law, in effect, implicitly tolerates prostitution in Thailand. So much so, that Thai bar girls, who everyone knows are prostitutes, are displayed through glass windows in bars and entertainment centres without any interference from the Thai authorities.
Aids and health in Thai prostitution centres
Many foreign men who visit Thailand to engage with Thai prostitutes often frequent beer bars, go-go bars or entertainment centres where dancers can be chosen and a bar fine paid to the establishment if the man wishes to leave with the Thai girl. These establishments are part of the giant prostitution industry.
Many are, in fact, owned by westerners but all insist on rigorous monthly health checks for the Thai bar girls who are effectively working as prostitutes. The onset of Aids brought about a new policy from the Thai authorities where practical help, assistance and protection for the Thai bar girls became the main priority of government officials.
The same is true for foreign NGOs, many of whom, have a neutral stance on prostitution itself and work to prevent Aids/HIV while providing assistance to the Thai girls working in the Thai prostitution industry.
Thai prostitution is caused by widespread poverty in some parts of Thailand
Whole areas of Bangkok and Pattaya have given away to prostitution and large numbers of beautiful Thai bar girls in Thailand work within it. In fact, the western term, a prostitute is not how Thai society or culture sees it. Many Thai bar girls from poorer backgrounds come to work within the prostitution industry in Thailand to assist families or from lack of opportunity.
This fact, combined with Thai social structure, where polygamy is still tolerated and where many Thai men think it a right to have a Thai girl as a mistress, promotes a different culture to that which exists in western or other foreign countries. Essentially, the prime reason for Thai prostitution is economics or poverty while Thai society and the history of Thai prostitution allows it to flourish.
Media Coverage of Thai prostitution is unfair
Media coverage of this is a little unfair. While the concept of prostitution in Thailand is different to what it is in occidental culture, this is, in fact, true of many parts of Asia. India, Philippines China and Taiwan, for instance, have more prostitutes per capita than Thailand yet Thailand is still branded as the prostitution capital of the world.
Foreign men and Thai bar girls - not a match made in heaven
It is not uncommon for foreign men to visit Thailand and fall in love with Thai bar girls. Many Thai bar girls, who are, in fact, prostitutes, do not conform to the stereotypical image of a prostitute that most westerners hold. They are often sincere, friendly and well intentioned individuals working in a highly developed industry which is somewhat socially accepted.
They come from all over Thailand to work as prostitutes. The true extent and nature of Thailand's massive prostitution industry is something foreign men should be aware of. Many foreign men actually form relationships with Thai bar girls and it is also not uncommon for many of the Thai girls to have a foreign man as a sponsor, sending money to support her for instance or to pay for educational opportunities. Many less scrupulous girls have a number of such sponsors.
The elderly and not so elderly foreign man falling for the manipulative bar girl has become the butt of many jokes and a classic stereotype. It is also, in many cases, the truth of the matter.
The truth itself is a bit more complex. As a rule, foreign men should be cautious of getting involved with any Thai bar girl. It could well be a lot easier on both parties. It is possible to enjoy this side of the Thai experience, if that is what you like, but it is a thing quite apart from setting out to find a genuine Thai partner, girlfriend or wife.
Foreign men should remember, above all else, that in spite of the large prostitution industry the massive majority of Thai women and Thai girls are, in fact, traditionally conservative and observe high standards of moral behaviour. Because of the incessant media coverage of Thai prostitution, this can be difficult to accept.
Mainstream is better if you seek a relationship with a Thai girl
The chances of finding a successful relationship with a mainstream Thai girl are quite high even though it may take a little effort at the start.
Many of the Thai bar girls working in Thai prostitution industry, in fact, are very sincere and honest but if they have been working at this for a quite a while, it is very difficult to expect them to be able to a adjust to a serious relationship with a foreign man in addition to all the other challenges that this presents quite apart from her background.
However, as in Thai culture, everyone is free to make their own choices, one must be careful of generalisation.
Do not follow your heart with Thai bar girls
We have established that Thai people have a somewhat different concept of prostitution. This may help avoid misunderstanding the nature of their relationship with the lovely young bar girls to be found in the nightlife centres. Thai people are not as contemptuous of the concept of prostitution as westerners are.
The background to this is a difference of religion and heritage. Many of the girls working in the industry would be deeply upset to discover the western understanding of prostitution. In fact, this gentler emphasis combined with the elegance and politeness of Thai women is what makes the proposition so alluring to the hordes of farang who flock to Thailand's shores.
Some signs of a change towards prostitution?
Recently a candidate for governor of Bangkok ran on a ticket of clamping down on some of the prostitution centres in the city. He was not successful while another candidate was none other than Chuwit Kamolvisit, the former massage parlour tycoon who, while he did not win, did a lot better.
He was, in fact, dong quite well in the polls before, on the eve of the election, physically assaulting a Thai reporter on live TV. In 2003, a proposal was floating to legalise prostitution in Thailand as a way to counter corruption.
Then former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra unsuccessfully tried to put a ban on members of the ruling Thai political party having mistresses or visiting questionable entertainment centres.
The changing nature of Thai society particularly the emergence of an educated middle class has caused some in the country to question what has been going on, it should also be said. For now, though, the nature of Thai prostitution makes it sometimes difficult for a foreign man to remember where the boundaries lie especially when he is having such a good time.
Here, it is the foreign man who is also somewhat vulnerable as well as the beautiful Thai bar girl.
The different types of Thai prostitution including the less defined area of 'taking care' of a Thai woman as a relationship partner makes it an even bigger minefield.
It is good advice for any foreign man to read the many books on the subject that are available in order to fully understand the dynamics of such a relationship before finding oneself caught up in a whirlwind which may well lead to recrimination, despair and even something more traumatic
Buddhism may help foreign men to understand Thai culture
Again the key to understanding another Thai enigma is to look at Buddhism. The Thai people take pride, perhaps correctly in Thai moral freedom.
Prostitution is more acceptable in Thailand as many Thai people believe more in the concept of moral freedom and are not quick to judge others. Many of the girls who come from all over rural Thailand are deeply committed to Buddhism but are forced, through circumstance, to accept this role in order to serve their families. Many Thai prostitutes do not drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs.
They can be quite sincere and honest within the limits of their trade. That said, it has to be admitted, from anecdotal evidence, that there are some who are not so. There are many reports of Thai bar girls using drugs and alcohol while collecting wired money from multiple fiances, deceiving elderly farang into paying for property in Thailand which they own and a host of other scams.
There have even been reports of foreign men being brutalised, framed and murdered. They are a very small percentage but reason enough to be cautious.