Repression hits red light districts in Bangkok

Over the years I’ve reported on sex shop shutdowns in Vietnam, go go bar raids in Angeles City and strip club crackdowns in Japan but truth be told I never thought I’d find myself reporting on a similar if less severe situation in Thailand where prostitution is a multi-billion dollar industry. I’ve refrained from talking about the turmoil in Thailand over the last few years here because it wasn’t directly related to the subject at hand. Now things seem to have spilled over into the adult entertainment area.

I’ve never been a big proponent of the widespread use of the term “redlight districts” outside of what I’d say are actual red light districts like De Wallen in Amsterdam but I guess it’s fair enough to apply to the term to a lot of what goes on in Bangkok. Some of the shops selling adult services are only steps away from huge corporate shopping malls but that’s no different than Seoul, where the Cheongnyangni 588 redlight district complete with women sitting in small shops with big windows is located behind the massive Lotte Department Store. Cheongnyangni 588 isn’t as tolerated as it is a difficult to remove obstacle though. The shops in Bangkok have always seemed to operate with more impunity including things like local protection and even some regulation with rules about licensing and testing in certain venues.

Over the last few weeks though there have been numerous activities that indicate that arrangements may be changing. I have no doubt that adult entertainment will continue to flourish in Bangkok, but some of the places that played a role in the industry for years may no longer be there when the dust clears.

Back in November the army which now rules the land required many Bangkok massage parlors with special services to close. Many were also asked to take down their websites or at least modify them to remove suggestions of anything more than a massage. Most were allowed to reopen soon after but the surprise visits scared some of the women working in the massage shops out of country or even out of the business altogether. This may be a boon for some related venues in South Korea or Singapore but it doesn’t bode well for the local industry, unless you consider the massive soapy massage complexes catering to local guys with money to burn that seem to have gone untouched.

Indeed some shops seem to have closed altogether for whatever reason. From what I’m told, Lilly Massage on Soi 24/1, Paradise Massage on Soi 26 and another shop on Soi 33 have been shuttered ever since. And that may not be the end of it.

In Early January a similar set of shutdowns occurred with officials requiring some shops on Soi 24 to close their doors yet another time. I don’t know what the official or even unofficial reasons were for any of this but it may tie in with some sort of safety campaign. Around the same time the first closures took place another annual installment of safety night was held in Nana Entertainment Plaza.

Things don’t seem to be limited to massage parlors of even Bangkok. I have no way to know if any of this is related but there have been reports of raids on massage parlors in Pattaya which reportedly acted as fronts for prostitution (can you imagine, in Pattaya of all places!) and a few police have been hanging around Soi Cowboy nightly occasionally asking foreign men who pass by to show their passports and take urine tests for drugs on the spot. There are also even more worrying stories about unsuspecting tourists and visitors being asked to pay bribes or suffer the consequences.

There have also been many troubling reports of police searches and shakedowns taking place in Bangkok, often in broad daylight and in the middle of heavily populated commercial areas. A reporter for Time magazine says he found himself in a scary situation in Silom after visiting a bar and the Bangkok Post has picked up on many similar stories.

The reports are not limited to these major news outlets though. They’ve been floating around the internet for some time. It doesn’t take much searching to come across more than you could read in a day, including this travel warning about shakedowns in Bangkok, this report on Facebook posts talking about Bangkok tourist shakedowns, and this report on increase harassment of tourists by police in Bangkok [report has since been taken offline], which includes a handy collection of links to even more reports.

Thankfully I’ve never been a victim of this kind of treatment and hopefully I never will be. Even though I don’t use drugs I would rather not be forced under duress to piss in a bag on a busy sidewalk or taken for any of my hard earned money that could be put to much better use elsewhere.

Tourism accounts for a large percentage of Thailand’s annual gross domestic product. Tourism has been down in recent years for a combination of reasons including drops in the Russian ruble and Japanese Yen, fear of flying after the Malaysian Air disaster and the aforementioned unrest and subsequent developments like martial law, which still remains in effect.

Some official outlets are apparently reporting that tourism numbers aren’t too far off the mark at the moment but I hear a different story from business owners and women who work in the entertainment industry. Many tell me there is an obvious decline. Some shops are even closing hours earlier than they usually do on a regular basis because they have no customers to entertain.

I don’t know where things will go from here but I will do my best to update readers when I feel its warranted.

6 Comments

  1. Jack says:

    Blew through BKK in mid December and from NEP to about Soi 33 there hadn’t been any change, far as I could tell. Talking with a few fellow punters, the reports of “stop and show me your papers” we’re unattributed legend. Urine tests in the street?

    Who knows, maybe things have tightened since, but the flesh peddling industry is too lucrative for the powers that be, I can’t imagine they’d shut it down entirely.

    Cheers!

    • rockit says:

      I don’t know that things would look any different for the casual observer but there were definitely events occurring as described. Besides all the reports made by major media outlets based in various countries, I personally know a few people who were stopped and a witness who saw some of the massage parlors being closed down. Cheers.

  2. smoothie says:

    I often walk the area said to have been the shakedown hotspot and have never been stopped or questioned…yet. As far as the income/customer numbers being down this and recent high seasons compared with the past, it wouldn’t surprise me. Especailly in the gogo bars. However, I think the bigger reason for that has little to do with political turmoil, shakedowns, fear of flying or currency exchange rates. I think it is more due to the years’ long incremental move in some venues (gogo bars) from offering hassle-free, easily affordable carnal pleasure as their business model to the Lady Drink and Coyote Bait and Switch Scam business model. Which means customers are realizing they ought to search for their hassle-free, easily affordable ultimate carnal pleasures elsewhere, either in venues other than gogo bars like BJ bars, freelancers and escort services or, some might decide to go outside of Thailand altogether.

    That said, I am not a believer in the growing notion on some sites (but not this one that I have noticed) that now the girls call the shots, the bar owners jump and ask how high (on the way up!) because there is a shortage of real bargirls, that we are now in a Seller’s Market, the sellers being the girls, and all that junk. It is no more a Seller’s Market with the girls in charge now than it was 25 years ago. Certain barowners might find themselves intimidated into such a position. But I have not observed a shortage of attractive and available REAL bargirls (not phony bargirls, i.e. Coyotes) or play4pay girls to be found elsewhere in the city. There are many more of those kinds of girls available than there are potential customers to take them. Always has been. And if for whatever reason 50,000 more play4pay customers showed up in Bangkok next week, 150,000 more girls from Bangkok or surrounding areas eager to capitalize on it would show up the following week.

    There are still thousands and thousands of Thai girls out there who need the money and would be more than willing to do what thousands and thousands of other Thai girls before them have done to get it. The key is recruitment.

    Owners turn to the Coyote Bait and Switch Scam business model because, either through laziness, cheapness or both, they haven’t hired experienced and aggressive mamasans who know how and where to find and recruit REAL bargirls, what to tell them their job will be and, if necessary, run through a few minutes or so of instructions on the terms and expectations so they can stock their bars with the real deal and not the Coyote Bait and Switch Scam version. Many bars have such mamasans on their payroll (or in the case of BJ bars, it is likely an owner herself) and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that those might also be the most financially secure bars in the industry.

    • Dewey says:

      Smoothie you are right on the money.
      I live in Bangkok for the last 7 years and been coming here for 20. I have not spend a baht in a Bangkok go-go since maybe 2008. The situation now has deteriorated so much that Soi Cowboy/Nana/Patpong bars are for really just for tourists and people who like to overpay for ripoff drinks and nasty skanks. I really laugh at all of these dudes that rave and brag about their conquests at the rainbow bars or whatever. If they only knew what it used to be like or where the real value and hotties are now – and they are not working in Soi Cowboy.

      If you like the gogo scene – go to Pattaya where there still are some drink deals to be had and so many bars to choose from. Granted it is hard to find real good looking girls down there now either.

      In Bangkok, if I need a quick fix I only go where the Thais go. And that is the soapy massage parlors such as Copa Cabana, etc..( By the way in my opinion this does not include Annie’s which is overpriced and has ugly girls) Many nice young non-skank girls and best of all you don’t have to buy any drinks. You get a set amount of time at a set price.

      It of course helps that I speak Thai and know the best times and places to go to –
      hint – the time of the month when girls are in need of money and guys have spent all their money.

      Also it is so easy to meet girls online for free – especially the over 30 year olds. All it requires is a dinner or two, get em in your place and you got em. But for tourists and non Thai speakers, I can see this as probably not feasible.

  3. Duke terry says:

    Definetly night of wed jan21 police closed all the bars at 1 am on soi cowboy

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