A few days ago I published a report on the raid of two go go bars in Pattaya. As I wrote at the time the events seemed to be fueled by an article published in the British Mirror calling Pattaya “the sex capital of the world”.
Most Thai netizens seemed to be totally indifferent to the Mirror’s scandalous headline. Some found it humorous but obvious some others in the country were upset by the claim that Pattaya could possibly be organized around the sex industry.
A brief history of Pattaya
Nearly everyone who has been to Pattaya or even heard of the place knows what is about. The place was a small fishing village until soldiers started spending off time there during the Vietnamese War. Women came in to trade sexual and other services with the soldiers for money and the city took off from there.
For decades guys from around the world traveled to Pattaya quite often in hopes of spending time with some Thai ladies. While some did things like golfing, swimming and drinking during their time in Pattaya, it was always clear that the main thing that set the city apart from other seaside villages was the presence of a huge number of eager women.
In recent years, a more mainstream sort of tourism started to take off in Pattaya. Families from South Korea and some parts of Europe now travel to Pattaya for things like sun and shopping. Russians once made the trip in huge numbers in part due to the ease of entry to Thailand and the warm weather but their numbers seem to have thinned since the Ruble started to lose its value at the end of 2014. Still enough Russians can be found in the city to justify businesses with Russian speaking employees and signs written in Cyrillic.
Tour groups from China and South Korea sometimes including old women and children now visit the city with regularity. They visit various temples and shopping centers but even their tours usually include things like ladyboy cabaret shows and strolls down the Walking Street red light district. Quite often men from these groups are even taken to massive soapy massage complexes that sell sex.
Sex sells in Pattaya
So even though there are now big duty free shopping centers and family entertainment venues the presence of a huge number of working ladies (and ladyboys) continues to set Pattaya apart from other cities and is still the major draw for most people who visit.
For some the truth hurts. Not long ago an official made headlines by saying the sex industry would be eliminated in Thailand. That massive industry which stretches across the country and caters to locals as much as foreigners continues to operate as it always has ever since. Raids have taken place but they have always been limited and isolated. In some cases foreign agencies with moral arguments against sex work led the charge.
When the Mirror published its claim that Pattaya is the sex capital of the world it was certain that something would come out of it. Many probably thought that some superficial actions would be taken until any furor died down. That may still be the case but according to some claims there could be a more major change.
The clean up continues
A walk down Beach Road aimed at finding independent street walkers and the raid of two go go bars reported here a few days ago were apparently only the opening shots. According to an article on Thai news site Sanook things are going to intensify. “In the past we made some arrests in the sex trade but not many,” the city’s police chief said in an article on the website. “This is going to be stepped up”.
Apparently one aspect of this stepped up campaign will be the elimination of freelance street walkers from Beach Road. Another seems to be plans for inspections of various adult entertainment venues around town.
A few days ago officials visited the Windmill go go bar and found a British man in bed with a bar worker in a private room upstairs. The women and the man were scolded but released. The club may face problems however as apparently it was not licensed properly.
And now the Club 4 gentlemen’s club has been raided. Regular readers and Pattaya watchers may remember that the place was raided by the military years ago. That raid was recorded and the video which contained the faces of the men and women inside was uploaded to the internet but apparently nothing much came of it otherwise. It seems that one women may have been detained for breaking laws against drug possession but the club continued to operate with the requirement that the ladies inside put on panties.
The more recent raid like the one that proceeded it was aided by a foreigner. According to reports the foreigner was given marked money. He then entered the club and asked to pay for sex. When a women stepped forward and offered her services some sort of signal was given and officials entered the place.
Photographs published online show many women and a few foreigner customers being detained in the club but it seems that everyone other than the owner and perhaps the woman accused of offering sex have been released. Regular workers from the club are walking free and clear today seemingly without worry but the club remains closed at least temporarily. It remains to be seen whether or not it will reopen but people in the know seem positive that it will. The owner faces charges of operating a bar without a license and operating a place that sells sex.
Ecotourism in Pattaya
In statements made to the media the police chief also claimed that “Pattaya is more about nature than sex”. The response by many observers and residents of Thailand was predictable but at times still quite hilarious. On the well known Thai Visa forums one poster wrote:
Beautiful Parks- Nope
Even one Park- Nope
Possibly the worst beach of any beach resort in the world…
Lots of green spaces-Nope
Any green spaces?-Nope
Wildlife as in animals-Nope
The only natural wonder I see is wondering how the ocean water can be so black…
The provincial commander of police has further instituted a program of “happy zones” starting in Pattaya. Set to be expanded across the country these zones will supposedly be safe areas where foreigners can travel without worry thus protecting the lucrative tourist trade. As a part of the program ladyboys thought to sell sexual services for a living have been searched on the streets and bar owners and employees have been told to keep an eye out for foreigners and refrain from promoting the sex industry.
What lies ahead?
Temporary bursts of outrage are nothing new in the age of the internet and Pattaya is no stranger to controversy. Not long ago a video showing a half naked ladyboy in a Pattaya street caused a commotion. A video of a foreigner performing oral sex on a sex worker in a nearby bar also caused a hubbub and a debate over the goings on in Pattaya. Yet another video showing a Thai women performing oral sex on a foreign man in a disco caused the club to be temporarily shuttered and led to talk of further clamp downs. Despite all of this the sky has not fallen.
I highly doubt that the sex industry which drives the economy in Pattaya will be shut down any time soon. Too many people rely on it from poor farming families up north with daughters in the go go bars to corporate hotel chains along the beach. It is much more likely that select venues and individuals will be targeted in part due to fear of the country drawing a negative image thanks to things like the sensationalist article in the Mirror. Since the “sex capital” report came from British media and the local police chief has singled out “British businessmen” in his response, it may be that British owned bars will be targeted in future raids. Only time will tell.
If the local industry is curtailed it is more likely to result from travelers and expats choosing to visit other cities were they are at less of a risk of being caught up in a raid or slagged off in a newspaper than any particular measures carried out by local authorities. Of course this is just speculation. I could very well be wrong.
I have long been for the legalization of the sex industry. But even that would be no guarantee of safety against attention hungry media, moral crusaders, and official clamp downs. Even in countries where the sex industry is legal and regulated there are often raids carried out against sex workers and their clients, not to mention the introduction of restrictive legislation such as the new law in Germany requiring women to use condoms for everything including oral sex.