Friday, February 08, 2013

Sex Tourism In Pattaya

I just went along to Pattaya with the idea of a beachside party place in Thailand. I hadn't read up on it at all. My travel buddies were keen to pop down and meet up with a mate for a few drinks, and I was happy to come along for a night out.

Lunch at a place which specified that 'Single Ladies Welcome' was one of my first hints about the kind of place we were in, after walking along Walking Street in the daylight, and checking into a seedy looking guesthouse for our stay.

Our lunch spot on the water was filled with Western men my father's age, many alone at the bar, and some in groups paired up with a Thai girl.

When we met up with James around 10pm, Walking Street was a mass of movement, neon, and music. We had a beer after introductions, and then he took us on a little tour around to the Go Go Girl bars.

The first one was in the theme of an airport lounge, with the girls wearing hats or ties from an air hostess outfit. But not much else. James led us through, and we were soon sitting front row to a tiled platform towards the back of the bar. We had walked past the higher platform with a group of pole dancers, putting on a show for the men seated below.

The platform in front of us was soon the play area of two Thai girls, as they soaped themselves up, and slid around a pole together. All part of the experience, these images are going to take some time to leave my scarred memory!

Finishing our beer, James then took us to another bar just off the main Walking Street, Anglewitch, for a reportedly more impressive and elaborate show. Again, he led us through to seats at the front row of the rounded room with booths all around the main stage.  Here, a choreographed show with pole dancing, whips, and audience member participation was acted out, all playful and a little edgy.

As we walked away from there to our next and final Go Go bar for the tour, one of the lads commented that it was all fairly harmless, the show. And I know what he meant, in terms of the acts. But it's not really harmless, in the bigger, real life picture.

I mean, how did these girls get here?

When I worked in Cambodia some of the girls in the shelter had been rescued from the sex trade. The girl who was closest to my age whilst I worked there had been gathered from her village after her mother died, by a man who promised to take her to the city and provide her with schooling and a better life. Desperately poor village families, with no prospects of assisting their children to have such an opportunity, are often lured into such offers.

Rather than schooling, these girls then find themselves in a brothel in Phnom Penh or further afield into Thailand, and are then trapped by the owner of the brothel with violent threats because of their need to pay off their accommodation and up-keep costs. There becomes no way for these girls to be free, with more and more debt accumulated as days, months and years pass.

A young girl is particularly valuable to a brothel owner. But the girls are soon trapped into the life of sex tourism as their debt grows.

I am not sure if this is the story for the young women we saw dancing, and making deals with Western men, in these Go Go Bars in Pattaya, but I doubt that the tales are all that different. The demand continues as Western men travel to these places for sex, and the enslavery cycle repeats.

This visit was quite an experience, and without James there is no way we would have visited the places we did. But it has left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing that this goes on and seeing it in action. A very sad facet of the Western man.

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