PROSTITUTES IN THAILAND: THEIR LIVES, MOTIVATIONS, SCAMS AND CUSTOMERS

PROSTITUTES IN THAILAND

According to Thai government figures from mid 2000s there are about 200,000 prostitutes in Thailand, with between 50,000 and 80,000 of them are under 18, and one percent of women in Thailand have been prostitutes at some point in their lives. These numbers reflect only the prostitutes monitored by the government (there are many that aren’t). According to other estimates, perhaps as many 1 million women work in Thailand’s sex industry and as many as 20 percent of all Thai women have worked as prostitutes at one time.

Many of Thailand’s prostitutes are from the poor provinces in the northeast. In the early 1990s, many of the non-Thai prostitutes were from the hill tribes in northern Thailand and Burma. These days many girls are from southern China. Many of the Chinese girl service Chinese and Taiwanese men in Thailand on business or vacation.

Prostitution is considered by some as an easy way to make money. If a village woman goes to work in a large city or resort when she was in her late teens and twenties and sends home reasonably large chunks of money and returns when she in her thirties with enough money to live comfortably it is at least implied that she worked s a prostitute while she was away from her village.

In the mid1980s , the number of women in Bangkok estimated to be engaged in prostitution or in related services ranged from 100,000 to 1 million. Some observers noted that prostitution was firmly entrenched in modern Thailand as a result of historical, economic, and social factors. The majority of Bangkok prostitutes were rural migrants providing economic support to relatives back in the country, which was expected of Thai daughters within the extended stem family system. In other words, Thai prostitutes were not fleeing from a family background or rural society that oppressed women in conventional ways but were engaging in an entrepreneurial move designed to sustain the family units of the rural economy, which had come under increasing pressure. Since these women usually did not reveal the source of their remittances back to the village, their families could retain or gain status based upon their earnings. [Source: Library of Congress]

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand : “The demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of female sex workers have been reported in a study of 800 female sex workers from two provinces, one in the north and another in the south (van Griensven, Limanonda, et al. 1995). Only 1 percent of the women reported that they were younger than 16 years of age, and 11 percent reported starting working in commercial sex before the age of 16. The national origin was Thai for 85 percent of the women, with 8 percent Burmese and 1 percent Chinese, and 6 percent from a northern hill tribe. Most of the women, 80 percent, were from rural areas, while 89 percent had moved directly from their village of origin to an urban area primarily to work as sex workers. Most had low levels of education: 87 percent completed less than seven grades of school and 25 percent could not read or write. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

Life of Sex Workers in Thailand

In 1990, the Sentinel Surveillance reported that each sex worker had an average of two customers per night, with the mean of 2.6 for direct sex workers, and 1.4 for indirect sex workers Prostitutes can easily earn several times the per capita income of around $5,000. Many are happy to have such high paying jobs. They send much of their earnings to their families. Many were trained to be nurses, hotel workers, or teacher or other jobs but were unable to secure employment for one reason or another

Describing a 23-year-old prostitute, an AFP reporter wrote, "Dressed in a slinky white evening dress, she slits from one potential client to another in the Bangkok karaoke bar where she works. if she sits on their laps and laughs at their jobs they might buy her a drink for which she earns a 50-baht (about $1) commission... If she is lucky, a customer might part with the 1,500 baht fee to take her home. In one night at the karaoke bar she can earn almost a third of her previous monthly income as a household servant."

A prostitute who worked in the heart of Bangkok's sex district on Patpong Road in the 1990s told National Geographic she said she had an sixth grade education, had married at 14, had two daughters. Separated from her husband, she earned about $600 a month and said she sent much of the money home to pay for the education of her eldest daughters. "I no want her be same as me," she said. Her AIDS test had so far been negative, but she said her customers often refused to use condoms.

On why Thai women thrive in the sex industry, Know Phuket reported: “Thai women seem to hold great appeal in the sex industry. They have become something of an industry standard and are sent to work in brothels all over the world, often under awful conditions. Sometimes, their own families sell them to brothel owners. It is shocking to us that parents could do such a thing to their daughters but they are living by a very different set of standards. Even the sold girls will often believe they are doing the right thing for their family. It is easy to see the appeal of Thai women. They are often petite and slim. They tend to have good complexions, silky black hair and big brown eyes. In addition, they are fun. Probably not, if they are working in a squalid brothel in a foreign country but generally, Thai women are lively and entertaining.[Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

Story of a Bangkok Sex Worker

Kate McGeown of the BBC wrote: “Bangkok is a notorious destination for sex tourism. But the lives of many of the city's sex workers are full of danger, disease and the urgent need to send money home. Pim, who recently left her job in a go-go bar, has a typical story. "I grew up in the countryside in Phetchabun, northern Thailand. My parents were farmers and I helped them in the fields. We were poor but we always had enough to get by. When I was about 15, my family fell apart. My father always drank a lot, but it became worse and worse, and he started becoming violent. So my mother, sister and I moved out. I wanted to study to become a nurse, but when my parents split up I had to leave school and find work as a day labourer, harvesting crops for local farmers. I didn't like it much, and it only paid 100 baht ($3) a day. [Source: Kate McGeown, BBC News, February 22, 2007]

“At about that time a good friend moved to Bangkok, and when she came back to visit she told me she was earning a lot of money there as a waitress. There was gossip in the village that she was doing something other than waitressing, as she was sending 10,000 baht ($300) home a month, but she always denied it. She asked me to come with her, but at the time I was still 16 and too scared. A few years later, though — when I had given birth to my daughter, and my husband and I had separated — I changed my mind. I left the baby in Phetchabun with my mother, and told her I needed to earn some money in Bangkok. But I didn't tell her what I was doing - I still haven't. She'd be so ashamed. [Ibid]

“When my friend took me to a bar in Nana Plaza for the first time, I was really shocked. I'd never been to a place like that before, and at the beginning I didn't even know what the dancers were doing. When I finally realised, I couldn't take it and I walked out of the bar. I kept thinking 'Can I really do this?' Initially I decided to work there just serving drinks, but the dancers earned a lot more money, and eventually I agreed to do that too. For the first month, the bar owners allow girls to get their full salary even if they just work as dancers. But after that you have to meet a quota of at least 10 customers a month, or your wages will be cut. [Ibid]

“My first customer was a Western man in his 30s. It was scary and I really didn't like it, but I just kept thinking about the money. I couldn't wait for him to leave, and when he did I had a shower for a very long time. I started crying, and thought about what my parents would think if they knew what I was doing. None of my customers ever asked me about my life; they didn't care. There was one time a guy asked me if I was okay, but I didn't know what to say, so I just looked away. [Ibid]

“While I was working in the bars, I was often worried about disease, and also about safety. Some girls earned extra by going out of the bars with the men, but I always used a room upstairs as I was too scared of the risks involved. My friend once went with a guy to his hotel room, and found lots of other men there too. She wouldn't tell me what happened after that, but she was shaking for a long time when she got back home. I also had some scary experiences myself. One time a Japanese man followed me all the way home at the end of the night, and he kept screaming at me. Taxi drivers can also be threatening to bar girls, and we would only dare go home in groups. [Ibid]

“Despite these problems, new girls often arrive. Many customers prefer children or young girls, and the bar owners always encouraged us to recruit teenagers from our home villages. Even though I got used to it in some ways, I always hated working in the bars. I made some good friends but there was nothing good about the life I was leading. I felt good about sending money home, but I didn't feel good about myself. Soon I was getting penalized as I wasn't getting enough customers. [Ibid]

“That's when a friend of mine told me about Nightlight [a Christian charity offering training and employment for former sex workers, through a jewellery-making business]. Since I've started working there, my life is so much better. I don't earn as much as I did in the bars, but it's worth it, and people here listen to me and care for me. I've now got the opportunity to look forward in life. I want to finish school, and study accounting, so I'll be able to pay for my daughter to have a good life.” [Ibid]

Bar Girls in Phuket

Bar girls can play the role of hostesses and work for drinks or can have sex wih customers. A typical bar girl works ten hours a day, seven days a week from 3:00pm to 1:00am. She earns a percentage of the cost of each drink her customers buy. What she earns after that is between her and the customer. Many bar girls begin their shift by praying at a spirit house at the bar.

Know Phuket reported: “The majority of women working in the tourist sex industry come from the area of Thailand known as Isaan. This is the northeast of Thailand and is the agricultural heartland of the country. It is the largest and poorest region of Thailand where the monthly wage can be as little as 3000-baht (approx $90 US). It is also the region where traditions are strongest. Family ties are important throughout Thailand but in Isaan parents drill it into their children from an early age that it is their duty above all else to take care of the family, and especially to provide for the parents in their old age. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

The women generally come from poor farming communities. Many of them will have left school early. When poor families in Isaan do not have enough money to keep all their children in school, they give priority to educating their boys while sending the girls out to work. The girls may have started working on farms or in factories from as young as eleven years old. There is a common perception that girls working in Thailand's sex industry start at a young age. A significant percentage of the girls in Phuket are in their late teens or early twenties. However, perhaps a more common story is that the girl had a relationship with a young Thai man in her village. They had children together and then the relationship broke down. Now she finds herself in her mid twenties trying to meet the demands of supporting her children and her parents. The financial burden is too much to bear so she leaves her children with her parents and follows the worn trail to Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket.

Everyone in the girl's village knows how young women make good money in the tourist towns. The family will make a pretence that the young woman has gone to work in a hotel or restaurant and that way they will maintain face in the village. In the meantime, the young woman will find her way into the sex industry where, if she is attractive enough, she can earn 1,000-baht a night or more compared to the 3,000-baht a month she would earn working on a farm in Isaan. As long as she is sending back enough money to support the family, she will be seen as a good daughter doing her duty. Hopefully, after a couple of years in the industry she will save enough money to return to the village and raise her children. Some women find foreign husbands and achieve a level of financial security they could not have dreamed of in Isaan.

The other side of the coin is that many women never get out of the sex industry. They do not make enough money or they lose all they earn on drugs, gambling or supporting Thai boyfriends. Some will suffer health problems such as venereal disease, drug addiction, mental disorders, and even hearing problems from constant exposure to loud music. Of course, these are all generalisations. Every girl has her own story. For some the sex industry is their downfall and for others their salvation.

Reasons Why Thai Women Become Sex Workers

According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand : One consistent finding across many studies of female and child sex workers is that a large number come from the northern provinces of Thailand. It has been theorized that these young women are especially in demand because of the long-held admiration for their lighter skin compared to their counterparts in the northeast or the south of the country. Others have theorized that working in the sex business is a tradition long present in the north. Formerly part of the kingdom of Lanna, this part of the country was more often at war with other kingdoms and had a history of being colonized. It was the custom to use women from the area to placate the occupying forces through the offering of sex services. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“In addition to these perspectives, others have offered hypotheses that take into account sociocultural factors that are not unique to northern Thailand and are thus applicable to the general Thai culture as well. Lenore Manderson (1992), for example, eloquently argues that commercial sex, much like Buddhist monasteries, provides alternatives for both men and women to step out of their ordinary cultural roles. For men, the alternative is in the sexual realm; commercial sex provides a sexual outlet for the unmarried men and a way for married men to step temporarily outside their marriage while avoiding a divorce. For young women, she argues, the process of leaving behind (temporarily) their kinship as well as their “normal sexuality” (i.e., sex with affectional tics) gives women an alternative option to become self-sufficient. By supporting themselves and their family through the commoditization of sex, these young women achieve a degree of autonomy without having to enter the role of “mother” or marriage. Traditionally, mae chii undergo a similar process of abandoning attachments (in their case, worldly and sexual pleasures) in order to achieve autonomy in the spiritual realm. In a society in which women are expected to be mother or wife, female sex workers and mae chii reject both roles in the way they use (or do not use) their bodies and sexuality. [Ibid]

Money As the Primary Reason Thai Women Become Prostitutes

Scholars, such as Khin Thitsa, Thomas Kirsch, and Charles Keyes, have looked even deeper into the Theravada gender construction for the cultural explanation of commercial sex. Keyes (1984) acknowledges that prostitutes have never been stigmatized in Buddhist societies because the women still have the opportunity to alter their behavior at some time; prostitutes and courtesans were indeed among the alms of women in early Buddhist society. Despite such tolerance in the Buddhist society, he suggests that the rise of commercial sex in contemporary Thailand has more to do with the emergence the new images of men and women which are associated with sex without any tempering moral irony found in traditional popular Buddhism. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

According to Keyes, the decision to enter commercial sex in Thailand today is the women's “participation in the increasingly materialistic culture of Thailand”, probably driven by the “secularized image of woman as sex object” . A number of scholars and activists have made similar comments. The growth of commercial sex in Thai society cannot be explained by the traditional gender roles in Buddhism; quite the opposite, it thrives on the increasingly consumerist and materialistic nature of the contemporary Thai culture. On the other hand, Kirsch (1985) argues that women's choice of entering commercial sex is not necessarily at odds with the range of “ideal” female images in Buddhism. In particular, the Buddhist-sanctioned mother-nurturer image of women has found a new expression in the new sociocultural context, where young rural women have expanded their means of providing for the family to a new arena, “in towns, cities, the nation, and beyond”.

The prostitute told AFP, "My family knows I need to work to get money to help them. They know what I'm doing. I think I will carry one with this job because I make more money—better than when I was a housemaid and I want to save money for my family too." Another said, “We do it because we want money, we want opportunities and we want to be able to more care of our families.

Another prostitute told AFP, “None of us dreamed of becoming a sex worker. To know someone for two minuted and then have to off with them. For me it’s not easy...But I’m proud to be a sex worker because I can feed my two sons and look after my family.” The sex worker who talked to the BBC said: “I wish I had never become a sex worker. I think some foreign men think it's okay to pay for sex here in Thailand, as they think the girls actually want to do this. But these men don't understand that most of us have no choice - we're just trying to earn money for our families, and waiting for a chance to leave."

Foreign Prostitutes and Women Who Willingly Become Prostitutes in Thailand

An increasing number of young women in Yunnan Province in China are willingly going to Thailand and Malaysia to work as prostitutes or are being ordered by their families to work in brothels in these countries because the money is good. Girls from the Dai minority are particularly sought after in Thailand because they are regarded as beautiful and their language is similar to Thai.

One 20-year-old woman in the Mekong River village of Langle told the New York Times, “If you can’t go to Thailand and you are a young woman here, what can you do? You plant and you harvest. But in Thailand and Malaysia I heard it was pretty easy to earn money so I went....All the girls would like to go, but some have to take care of their parents.”

The girls work in bars and most of the money they take in tricks goes to their pimp or brothel owner. The money they earn comes from “tips” by customers. Many make their way across the border hidden in the baggage compartment of buses and hope to get lucky and meet and marry an overseas Chinese or at least bring enough money back for a better life for themselves and their families.

Many are unable to save much even after a couple of years. Some do quite well and this is often reflected by the nice homes—with satellite television, air conditioning, generators and tile designs—owned by their parents. Some families with several daughters live in chateau-like homes with chandeliers, leather-covered sofas, golden Buddhist altars and fancy home entertainment centers. Dai boys often don’t like the set up because the girls who return from Malaysia and Thailand come back snobby and don’t want to have anything to do with them.

A Malaysian girl who said she became a prostitute after the Asian economic crisis in 1997 said, “It’s no easy to be a sex worker. Sometimes you get beaten up and the pimps take your money.

Sex Slaves and Women Who Unwillingly Become Prostitutes

"Many women go into prostitution willingly," writes Branigin, "especially those who work the high end of the market. But numerous others are sold into prostitution through a form of indentured servitude that borders on sexual slavery, or they are lured into it by unscrupulous brokers who persuade them and their families that they can get jobs as restaurant workers or domestic helpers." [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post, December 28, 1993]

Philip Shenon wrote in the New York Times that "thousand of Burmese women are working as prostitutes, many of them in conditions that amount to slave labor." What the Thais do is horrible," a foreign health worker in Yangon told Shenon. "They recruit Burmese girls—and they are girls—and tell them that will work as maids or waitresses. When they go to Thailand, they are forced into prostitution. And when they get AIDS, they are pushed back across the border."

See Separate Article on Child Prostitution

Thai Sex Slaves in Japan

Some of the Thai women who work as prostitutes in Japan are little more than sex slaves. Many have been lured from Thailand by sex brokers with promises of well-paid legitimate jobs in Japan but then are forced to work as prostitutes in Japan to pay off the multi-thousand-dollar “arrangement fee” spent to bring them to Japan. These days there are less Thai women working in Japan than in the past as they largely been replaced by Chinese women.

By one count there are 22,500 Thai women in Japan in the early 2000s. Of these women 80 or 90 percent were employed in the sex trade and of these many were sex slaves. Those that ended up as sex slaves were brought into Japan with the help of a broker, who got the women false passports and documents. Once safely into Japan, they were sold for $25,000 to $40,000 to their new “owners,” who were sometimes connected with the yakuza (the Japanese mafia). Many work at low-end brothels or “dating” snack bars or love hotels.

Japanese men paid $220 for a couple hours or $300 for the night. Most women worked between 7:00pm and 2:00am and had two to four clients in that time. They often worked everyday, even when they had their period. The women rarely saw the money, which was pocketed by their boss or “mama” as payment for their debts. They were supposed to turn over their tips but some managed to kept them by placing them in a plastic bag that they hide in their vagina.

The Thai sex slaves in Japan often lived in squalid housing and often had little to eat but cup of noodles. Their “owners” kept their passports. If they tried to escape they were fined and beaten. Threats were made against their families back home. If they sought help from Japanese authorities they risked being deported. In many cases they lived in dormitories above the establishments where they work. These places were outfit with video cameras, motion censors and buzzing doors to keep track of the women.

In 2005, a Japanese salaryman and a Thai woman were arrested for selling a 13-year Thai girl into prostitution in Japan for about $20,000. The girl was arrested and deported. She said she had come to Japan with a promise of a good job and ended up $40,000 in debt to the people that brought her from Thailand. She said she had sex with more than 200 men in several places in the Tokyo area and was paid only $250 plus minimal living expenses. In December 2008, 12 Thai women were rescued from forced prostitution in Utsunomiya, Japan. The 12 women were in their 20s and 30s. Each was brought to Japan and owed their captors around $50,000.

Report: : Owed Justice: Thai Women Trafficked Into Debt Bondage in Japan by Human Rights Watch

Customers of Thailand’s Sex Industry

The Thai sex industry isn't just for foreign men. Thai men routinely have sex with prostitutes and take mistresses known as "minor wives." Going to brothels is almost a national pastime. "In Thailand's male dominated culture," William Branigin wrote in the Washington Post, the practice "has been all but institutionalized bad reaches into the highest levels of society." At parties politicians have offered prostitutes to their guests along with dinner and drinks. Thai newspapers reported that at a celebration called "Parliament's Closure: The Bachelors' Style" a political party gave away 20 prostitutes to members of Parliament after a Chinese dinner at an expensive hotel." [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, March 21, 1994]

According to Phuket Know: “In the tourist towns such as Phuket, the majority of customers are foreigners. A common perception is that the customers are sad men, perhaps old, unattractive or lacking personality. While this may be true of some, the truth is that it is very difficult to generalise. The customers come from all walks of life, age groups and backgrounds. They come from all over the world. The most common nationalities are European, American and Australian. There is also a good representation from other Asian countries such as Japan, India and the Middle East. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

“The majority of customers are men but a small percentage are women who come looking for male or female company. Some customers fit the stereotype of aging, unattractive men picking up beautiful young Thai women. However, many others are young men partying and taking advantage of the readily available female company. There are also many very wealthy customers. It is not unusual to hear of yachts arriving in the bay and taking girls on board to party.: [Ibid]

Tips and Warnings for Bar Girl and Prostitute Customers

“For those participating in sex tourism - caution is advised,” Know Phuket recommends. “Always wear a condom - it is just not worth the risk. If you do not have a condom then the girl should have one. Remember no matter how lovely the girl may seem, she is working in an industry that is likely to corrupt. When the girls first arrive in Phuket, they are usually well-mannered Thai country folk. However, they very quickly learn the tricks of the trade. And above all else, they are working for money. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

“If you take a girl back to your hotel then many hotel receptions will ask to see the girls ID card. They do this to ensure the girl cannot get away with committing a crime against you. Theft is the main danger. You go to the shower and she takes your wallet and leaves. You go to sleep and she takes your valuables and is gone. You are not looking and she takes your jewelry before kissing you good-bye. Remember if the girl knows you are on holiday for two weeks, then she can disappear for two weeks. If you take a girl from a beer bar or go-go she will be easier to trace but it is no guarantee. You could consider asking to see the girls ID card yourself. It might not be romantic or charming but let's face it, this is not romance. You can check her date of birth to be sure she is over 18 by subtracting 543 from the Thai year.” [Ibid]

“There have been many reports from Bangkok and Pattaya of girls doping customers. The last thing the customer remembers is having a drink with a girl and the next thing he knows he is waking up with a stunning headache and his valuables gone. There have now been a few confirmed reports of this happening in Phuket. Men are often reluctant to report these crimes so there is no knowing how prevalent this is in Phuket. We do not believe it is common in Phuket but still it is a good idea to be careful with your drinks. [Ibid]

“Theft from customers is not the most common scam. The girls know they can make much more money if the customer gives it voluntarily. The sob stories the girls tell their customers are brilliant heart-tugging tales of woe designed to elicit sympathy. The punch line will invariably be that she needs to make big money to pay for someone's hospital care or to save her family from starvation. The old-hands call them sick buffalo stories and treat them with great scepticism. In fact, there is often an element of truth to the stories. The girls do come from poor backgrounds and their families are often suffering hardship. That does not mean the final punch line for money is true or that you have any responsibility to pay for it. [Ibid]

“Another common scam is the girl will tell the man she will stop working in bars and be faithful to him, if he can send her money. The man will then go home and send the girl regular payments thinking he is keeping her out of the bar. Many of the girls have several western boyfriends on the go at the same time sending money and they are still making more money from new customers in their bars. It is not fair to portray all the girls as scam masters. Many are honest, hard working girls trying to make a living as best they can. Lots of western men have married Thai girls they met in bars and are very happy. However, the sex industry is a corrupting influence and you should be on your guard. There are no hard-and-fast rules - every girl is different and should be judged individually. A good dose of cynicism is sensible. [Ibid]

How the Sex Scene in Phuket Works

According to Know Phuket: “The sex industry has its own set of terminology with phrases such as 'beer bar', 'go-go bar', 'mamasan', 'lady drink', 'bar fine', 'short time', 'long time', 'GFE', 'freelancer', 'butterfly' and many more. A “freelancer” is a girl that does not work from a specific bar. These girls will pick up customers at nightclubs or off the street hence saving the customer paying a bar fine. Freelancers are often attractive girls who are confident they can pick up men without the advantage of a work base. They may therefore charge more than bar girls. They are also considered less trustworthy as they are harder to track down in cases of theft from the customer. A “butterfly” is someone, male or female, who flits around from one partner to the next. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

“Beer Bars” are simple open sided bars often grouped in complexes. Most of these complexes are in the sois (side streets) off Bangla Road in Patong. There are stools around the bar and there are usually a couple of poles on the bar for the girls to dance round. The customers stroll around the complex until they choose a bar or are dragged to a bar by the girls working there. The girls will then try to sell themselves to the customer by talking to him or entertaining him with bar games. Typical games are connect-four, jenga, dice games and hammering nails into a block of wood race. [Ibid]

“Go-Go Bars” are indoor bars where the girls dance on stages or on the bar. The girls usually wear bikinis - they are no longer allowed to dance topless although it may still happen if the bar thinks the authorities are not taking notice. The girls have numbers and customers can request a girl they like by number. A “Mamasan” is a woman who manages the girls working in a bar. Only the big bars and go-gos will have a mamasan. She will be an older woman who demands respect from the younger girls. She will be responsible for recruiting new girls, making sure the girls work well and liaising with customers. [Ibid]

“Lady drink” refers to a drink that a customer buys for a girl. These will usually cost 30-90 baht above the normal bar price. The bar pays the extra to the girl as reward for selling the drink. Effectively, you are not only buying the girl a drink but also giving her a tip. “Bar fine” is the fee charged by a bar for taking a girl from that establishment. The beer bars charge between 300 to 500 baht. This money is for the bar - seen as an introduction fee and recompense for the bar losing a worker for the night. The bar may pay a percentage of the bar fine to the girl but the customer still needs to pay the girl for her company. The go-gos charge higher bar fines. Some go-gos will ask for 3000 baht or more but this usually also includes the payment to the girl so the customer does not need to pay her directly. [Ibid]

For a “Short Time” a customer takes a girl to a nearby room for, like ther term says, a short period of time. The beer bar complexes and go-go bars often have short time rooms at the back of the premises. The customer will pay a bar fine, a charge for the room and an agreed price to the girl for her services (500 to 1,000-baht). When they are finished, the girl will return to work while the customer moves on to his next port of call. For a “Long Time” the customer takes a girl for the night (a 'long time') usually back to his hotel room. The payment to the girl is normally 1,000 to 2,000-baht. Some of the more up-market hotels do not allow overnight guests while others will charge a guest fee. [Ibid]

“GFE” (Girl Friend Experience) is where the man takes the girl for the full length of his holiday and treats her like his girlfriend. The girl will act as a companion and guide. They will go to restaurants together, take day trips together and generally act like boyfriend and girlfriend. Of course, the girl is still working and the man pays for everything and pays the girl for her time. The bar where the girl works will probably expect to receive a bar fine for every day the girl stays with the man. Many a romance has blossomed from the GFE and sometimes it develops into the WE (wife experience). This may be followed by the divorce experience and the going home with no money experience. [Ibid]

GFE - The Girl Friend Experience

Know Phuket reports: “One of the oddest concepts of the whole tourism sex trade must be the GFE -- Girl Friend Experience. It is quite fascinating to spend an evening down Bangla Road and notice just how many guys have picked up a holiday girlfriend. We are not talking about picking up a girl for a quick squeeze for the night, we are talking about a working girl who will be their companion for the length of their holiday. The GFE is a strange concept but it is actually a significant section of the tourist sex trade. There are many men who come to Thailand knowing exactly what they are looking for, but they do not want the hassle of looking for it every night. It is much easier to make the effort once and then settle on the same girl. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket, May 3, 2009 ]

“How does it work? Basically, a man comes to Thailand for his holiday and on one of his first nights, he goes around the girly bars, picks up a girl and then keeps her for the rest of his holiday. She becomes in effect, his temporary girlfriend. She will not only be his sleeping partner. She will also be his companion. They will stay together, eat meals together, go on daytrips together and generally act like any other couple on holiday. It is an odd idea but when you think about it, you can see the appeal for a single guy on holiday. He not only gets a sex partner, he also gets a companion and tour guide. He has someone to share his holiday. He has the chance to get to know his sex partner, to even form some kind of emotional bond. He avoids many of the hassles of being a single guy in Thailand such as not being able to enter a certain type of bar without being jumped on by all the working girls. [Ibid]

“It is often the first timers who do the GFE. They do not know the ropes so they let the girls lead, and many of the girls like the GFE. They get a regular customer, a comfortable hotel bed and plenty of good meals. They also get plenty of time to work on the guy. He is a potential long-term money source, perhaps even a potential husband. She will tell him her life story. It will be a heartrending tale of poverty and misfortune. By the end of his holiday, the girl will have him wrapped around her little finger. However, it is not only the newbies who do the GFE. Many of the regular visitors also swear by the GFE. They like the convenience. It is a lot of hassle to deal with a different girl every night. They have to negotiate a price and then get her safely out of the door when they have finished. It is much more convenient to settle on a girl they like and keep her for the length of their holiday. [Ibid]

“One of the big objections the cynical old-timers have about the GFE is that it can be very expensive. You are not only paying a barfine and a payment to the girl. You are also paying for the girl's food and they tend to be very good at ordering food, often way beyond what they can actually eat. Then you start paying for them to come along on daytrips or to go and see a show. It will not be long before she feels comfortable enough with the man to want a few presents. The GFE can quickly become an expensive experience. The bar where the girl works will almost certainly want a barfine for every night that the girl stays with the man. By the end of the holiday, this will add up to several thousand baht. The bar may even expect the girl to bring the customer in for a few beers every evening. [Ibid]

GFE Scams and Shock When the Final Bill Comes

Know Phuket reports: “At the end of all this, the girl still expects to be paid for her time. It is amazing how often guys are surprised when they find out their temporary girlfriend actually expects to be paid. They point out that they have already spent a small fortune putting her up in good hotels, buying her expensive food and taking her on trips. The thing is the girls do enjoy their little slice of the high-life but they are not that bothered about it. What they are actually working for is money. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket, May 3, 2009 ]

“This is one of the great misconceptions that many men have about the GFE. They think they are giving the girl something special by showing her good hotels, food and taking her on tourist trips. The girls really do not think it is that special. If they have been working for long, they have probably done it all before anyway. They come from poor backgrounds and they are accustomed to sleeping on mats and eating noodles. They are happy eating noodles. What they want is money. [Ibid]

“This is the other big objection the cynics have about the GFE, it is so often followed by some sort of scam. It is usually the biggest scam of all, the 'falling in love' scam. Even trying not to be cynical, it is hard not to be cynical about girls who stay with a man for two-weeks because he is paying them and then say they are in love. And of course, she will remain in love as long as there is some form of payment on the horizon. These payments can come in many forms. She will need paying so she does not have to work in a bar. Sometimes the girl says she needs to be 'bought out of the bar'. That is a good one. She cannot just leave the bar, no, she has to pay to leave. Then she has to have more money because she is no longer making money from the bar. [Ibid]

“It is amazing that western men have been coming in large numbers for several decades now and year after year, there always seem to be new ones who will fall for this absurd scam. The old-timers try to talk sense into them but there is usually no reaching them. The charms of a pair of big brown eyes and a cute body are always more convincing than some guy in a bar saying he has seen it all before. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all, many guys actually find a great girl from the GFE. Despite the absurdity of it all, through all the scams and horror stories, despite the cynical old-timers, sometimes love does actually shine through. There are many, many guys settled down in Phuket, happily married to their temporary girlfriend. [Ibid]

Ladies Clubs and Gigilos

“Ladies Clubs” are places where women pay lots of money to have handsome young men with trimmed eyebrows flatter them, amuse them, listen to their problems. pour their drinks, light their cigarettes and dance with them. At some clubs a doorman greets the guests and asks, “How many men would you like?”

Outside he clubs are pictures of the hosts and the women chose the ones they want to entertain them. Many of clients are women who work as bar girls who are fed up being nice to old men and want young men to be nice to them for a change. Many of others are wives of wealthy men, who have mistresses and ignore their wives.

The hosts have to be at least 167 centimeters tall and under the age of 35. Customers pay around $25 for a host of the evening, Popular ones are often booked up weeks in advances. The hosts only earn about a third of their fee. They are expected to make their money in tips. Top hosts sometimes receive expensive gifts such as houses and BMWs from their patrons. Many of the hosts have sex with their clients. This is matter worked out between the host and the customer and takes place outside the club on the host’s personal time.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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