Visiting the Sex Capital of The World: Pattaya, Thailand
WARNING: This post contains graphic accounts of daily life in Pattaya, Thailand. Our travels are about experiencing both the good and bad things about this World. Please do not read if you are easily offended, although now that you’ve read this disclaimer you pretty much have to read the post. Sorry. - Dan
After 12 days in Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, Alissa and I are headed two hours south to the beach town of Pattaya, Thailand. The area of Pattaya may not be as well known to Americans as the Thailand destinations of Phuket, Koh Phangan Island and Chiang Mai, but it is actually the second most-visited city in Thailand after Bangkok. Lots of Russians and Chinese here… MILLIONS of them. We’ve decided to take a bus from Bangkok to Pattaya to find out why.
We’re staying about 15 minutes outside the city center with a young Russian couple who moved to Pattaya two years earlier. We set the accommodation up on couchsurfing.org, and we feel very lucky to have found a couple as nice and generous as them. They have both recently started to learn English, and I can’t believe how well they can speak it after only a few months. They tell us their trick has been to watch American movies with Russian subtitles, and then watch the same movie again without the subtitles.
Pattaya by day
Our first day is spent trying some cable wakeboarding in the morning, and exploring Pattaya’s city beach in the afternoon. Getting around Pattaya is pretty easy to figure out, as its three main roads are called Beach Road, Second Road, and Third Road, with the main tourist street called Walking Street. Why can’t every touristy city name their roads this clearly? Foreign visitors to Chicago are required to learn the names of former U.S Presidents to get around, and all I need to do in Pattaya is know how to count.
The beach in the main part of town is pretty dirty and not very appealing for swimming, although we rent some beach chairs and an umbrella for about $2 USD and can enjoy the view with some cheap drinks. Eating is also cheap, as there are a lot of great, affordable restaurants down Beach Road as well as countless food stalls. For those who prefer a cleaner beach for swimming, ferries are available to the nearby island of Ko Laan which features clear water and white sand beaches.
During the day, Pattaya seems to be like every other beach town in Thailand, but by night it turns into another world. A world completely driven by one thing…SEX.
We’re joined tonight by a German couple who are also staying with us outside of town, and together we have decided to explore this dark world of prostitution that has turned Pattaya into a sex destination for over 5 million annual visitors.
Sex tourists in Pattaya have two options:
1. Pick up one of the hundreds of prostitutes standing around on the Beach Road
2. Pick up a prostitute in one of the Go-Go bars on Walking Street.
To be clear, none of us tonight are sex tourists, rather we are just kibitzers in this crazy city that makes Sin City look like Branson, Missouri. Tonight is about the four of us seeing this place for what it is and experiencing what we can of it.
Prostitution on Pattaya Beach Road
I wouldn’t really call Pattaya Beach Road well lit. The four of us are walking along, and although we feel safe, the sense of insecurity is still there for some reason. Maybe I’m worried one of the prostitutes is going to drug me and take me away or something, who knows. I’m not the best judge of males’ looks, but according to Alissa and Katherine, the men roaming around this street are not top pickings. Those who are squeamish at the site of fat foreign men holding hands with and negotiating sex with tiny Thai girls should stay far away from this place.
As we continue our walk it becomes more evident that even though I am uncomfortable, none of the “shopping men” show much level of discomfort at all. Other than the giggling group of eight Indian men bothering a lonely prostitute, there doesn’t seem to be any first-timers out here. The whole process seems to run very smoothly with many repeat customers stumbling around. It’s not a quick process either, many of these girls will sit out here all night, and a lot of them are sitting in groups like a family, some even have their children with them.
It’s important to note that prostitution is illegal in Thailand. Yet in cities like Pattaya, prostitution is not only left-alone by police, it seems to be celebrated by the entire city. The prostitues carry ID cards to prove they are at least 18, and every month the the police decide to come and arrest many of the girls, make them pay fines, and then release them back to their work. This basically makes the police in Pattaya the pimps of these prostitutes, since each girl basically has to pay fees to the police in order to let them work.
Go-Go Bars of Pattaya’s Walking Street
After my stomach can’t take any more gross foreigners creepin’ up on helpless girls, we head towards Walking Street, where prostitution is also in full swing, yet with what we find to be much more organization, efficiency, and profit. There are only two things to do on Walking Street (other than walk): go-go bars and seafood. Many of the people walking along have no interest in the go-go bars, other than to gawk at them from the outside. We’ve seen about 15 groups of Japanese and Chinese tourists walking quickly down the street, following their tour guide who is holding up a flag for them. It’s as if they were told, “stick behind the flag, if we lose you to a go-go bar, there is a good chance your family will never see you again.” This is mass-tourism at it’s worst… being paraded behind a damn flag, unable to experience the scene around you, other than to hold up your handheld Sony and film some video that you will never watch again.
There are over 100 go-go bars on this street and in the nearby alleys. Each bar has a theme to it as well. There is Moulin Rougue where the girls are European and not Asian, Escape from Alcatraz where girls wear striped convict outfits, The Airport Bar where girls are dressed as sexy stewardesses .. you get the idea. The bars all have girls standing outside in matching outfits, many also with signs, trying to lure guests into their bar.
We choose the go-go bar with the cheapest beer, of course, and settle in for some ultimate people watching entertainment. The go-go bars look similar to strip clubs on the inside, except there are many more poles and platforms scattered throughout the bar instead of just one or two stages. Unlike at an erotic-type bar in the U.S. where girls are dancing with some level of skill and professionalism, these girls are basically just walking in place. I wouldn’t even call it dancing; more like wiggling or marching.
The girls on each platform are wearing wristbands with a number on it. At first that confuses me, until we begin chatting up the big Canadian man at the table next to us. I noticed he is wearing three wristbands on his arms. He informs me that today is his birthday and that he has purchased three girls to come back to his room with him to celebrate. He has little time for me, as he is quickly back at the platforms negotiating his fourth wristband for the night.
In order to “purchase” a girl, a customer must first agree on a price with the girl, then head to the bartender and pay a release fee to allow her to leave the bar during her shift. The younger and more beautiful the girl, the higher the release fee. At the back of the bar, there is a big, erasable light-up board with 30 or so numbers written on it. The girls who have been spoken for have their numbers crossed off, as if it’s a game of Keno or something. The Canadian has paid about $15 USD for each girl and another $20 USD or so to release each one. The women he has chosen have all headed into the bathroom to change into their normal clothes, and have returned to his table to wait for him to finish his sloppy bar escapade, so they can head back to his hotel room to presumably watch him pass out.
Final thoughts on Pattaya
There is a strict no photography policy inside all go-go bars in Pattaya. Getting caught taking a picture is a good way to get either your face or your camera broken. To be honest, the reason I want to take the picture is because many of the girls working here appear to be having a good time. So much so that it doesn’t seem to be an act or a front. They legitimately look like they enjoy what they are doing and want to be here. The truth is, many of these girls were not given a choice of career paths, and others just didn’t know any better. The smiling and laughing with customers may be real in the moment, but in reality these girls are having their lives stolen from them one foreigner at a time, in a city that prides itself on that process.
This city offers very little to tourists other than cheap sex. Yes, there are a few tourist attractions and beautiful gardens, temples, and beaches nearby, but I just can’t endorse a city that has so thoughtlessly sold its youth into sex for the purpose of expanding their tourism. For people looking to do 10-14 day Thailand trips, I would not recommend putting Pattaya on the itinerary. I would only do it if the itinerary is 30 days in length, and you have the time to spend a few days down here.