Prostitution in Yangon is not in your face, but it certainly does exist. Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is the former capital of Burma, which is officially known as Myanmar. The commercial sex scene in the country’s largest city isn’t nearly as complicated as that opening sentence though it definitely is unique in many respects as this will report will go on to show.
Yangon has a rather lively sex industry though it is for the most part hidden from plain view. It’s nothing compared to some other cities around the world or even smaller ones like Pattaya but it certainly isn’t devoid of activity. Although there were once strict rules in place against nightclubs they were repealed years ago allowing many places to spring up around the city. The sale of sex is still prohibited by law but it continues to go on as it does in every other part of the world.
Fashion clubs like the previously reviewed Emperor and JJ’s are probably the most popular adult entertainment venues for foreigners in Yangon though the places were clearly designed for locals with money. The two clubs already reported on here are not the only places in town. Plenty of others like Zero Zone and Palace also exist.
These clubs aren’t like the clubs one finds in most of the world. For the most part men sit around and drink and women try to find customers. Numerous freelancers walk around all night while trying to induce a customer to pick them up for a short romp while women considered by many to be of a higher level travel around in groups performing “fashion shows” in various clubs each night. While these faux fashion models who number in the dozens walk up and down imaginary runways to loud music guys in the audience buy large flowered necklaces to show their affection by handing a few dollars to someone on staff.
The women will sit with whoever buys them flowers after their performance and during this time many will negotiate for some activities together off premises. The bars open at around 8:00 pm but most don’t get going for a while. Fashion shows typically start at around 10 or 11 and they all close around midnight.
Most of these clubs are concentrated in a single area on Shwedagon Pagoda Road in the block between Maha Bandula and Anawratha Road. They have neon signs and even though they are located in upper floors accessible by elevators one can often hear some of the fashion women singing when standing in the street at night.
Most of the women working these clubs speak little to no English and more than a few aren’t interested in sitting down with Westerners let alone going anywhere outside with them. Drinks in these clubs are very cheap and there are no bar fines or lady drinks. Women ask for different amounts of money for their time depending on any number of factors.
Freelancers will often go with a customer for as little as 40 US though some will ask more. At JJ’s the going rate seems to be 80 US dollars. Some will spend the night with guys who request while others will rush to get back to the club or something else more engaging. Depending on the bar the fashion show participants can ask customers who wish to take them out of the bar for anything between 100000 Kyat ($97 USD) to 200000 Kyat ($183 USD) for a short time visit lasting no more than a few hours.
Powerlight could be placed in this category though it differs in some ways. It is located near Kandawgyi Lake and serves as a restaurant which means they are often “regular” women and even families there watching the various shows on stage. Guys still buy garlands for gals who get down on stage and extra curricular activities are still arranged. There are many pictures and even some videos of the shows online.
Clubs of the variety more common to the rest of the world also exist. As is the case in other Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok, Vientiane, Jakarta, and Phnom Penh, working women often prowl these clubs looking for customers. That is not to say that every woman in every club is working. Far from it, especially in Yangon. But there are some around and they can be seen from time to time. Some of the most popular nightclubs in the former capital include DJ Bar and GTR.
KTVs of the type popular all over Asia also exist in Myanmar. These places are catered toward locals and Asian businessmen though there are no policies excluding foreigners from other countries that I know of. There are women working these places who provide company for customers who book a room for a period of time. They do things like sing and perhaps serve alcohol. Some will also join customers outside if they make them the right offer. These women are even less likely to speak English or be comfortable around foreigners than those in the fashion clubs and many won’t go out with any customer including a local unless they can get to know them over numerous visits first. One of the largest karaoke places in the city is the 5 story Asia Entertainment City complex which is directly across from the aforementioned JJ’s. A redeeming feature of the AEC for those who don’t care much for binge drinking or off key singing is that there is a fashion club located on the third floor.
Brothels are scattered all over the city and are the main haunts of local guys on low salaries who want to get their rocks off with no questions asked. These places are all unofficial and unadvertised and many work under the cover of other businesses. The asking rates tend to be low but can actually be higher than brothels in some other countries with higher average incomes. This likely reflects everything involved with the business.
An example brothel would be a worn down hotel with small rooms and smaller dirty beds on the floor where women provide a very limited version of full service as quickly as possible. The brothels typically levy a charge for use of their sad examples of rooms. The rates are typically around 12000 Kyat which is a little less than 12 dollars. The women usually ask for an additional 10 US dollars for their time. One brothel is located near the fashion clubs in Chinatown tucked away inside the same building that houses the Mindalar Theater and Wang Fu Chinese restaurant. Touts hang out inside directing perspective customers to their establishment.
Street prostitutes provide their services for even less than brothel workers though for the most part they target locals including the overnight truckers who seem to be the main client base. There are a handful of streetwalkers more friendly and used to working with foreigners who post up across the street from the Park Royal though there are many ladyboys in the mix.
Street walkers aren’t nearly as common in Yangoon as they are in other cities. That’s despite any difference in income and development. Street walkers are much more common on Sukhumvit in the middle of Bangkok than they are in Yangoon. They are even more numerous and common in western cities like New York and Berlin than they are in Burma’s biggest city.
Massage parlors do exist though they are few and far between. Even more rare are massage parlors where special services are offered on a regular basis as a matter of course. All around the world there are individual masseuses who are willing to offer happy endings without the knowledge of their bosses in order to earn larger tips though this is too fickle to report on in any meaningful way. There are rumors that the $30 oil massages given at the spa on the third floor of the Hotel Shwe Gone Daing often end happy but obviously that’s not an official service.
There are some good legitimate massages available like those at the five star Park Royal hotel though they are pricey at 40 US dollars per hour. Customers are given paper undergarments to wear during their rubdowns which tend to last the enter allotted time.
Regular bars are also around though they are few and far between. Working women only appear to visit a few regularly. One is located in the Park Royal. When approaching from the lobby this bar seems to be buried in the hotel requiring several turns and a flight of stairs to reach but there is also a direct entrance on the side of the hotel.
While the staff ask customers entering from the side for an entrance fee they seem to let those who come from the lobby in for free, probably assuming they are guests. The bar comes alive at 9 pm but only barely. At 9:30 the lights are dimmed. The working women who ply their trade here tend to be a little more plump and less attractive than the fashion gals though they are much more likely to speak passable English. There are no set fees as is the case with any set of self employed people though the average asking rate seems to be about 100 US dollars or the equivalent in local currency.
Another bar where working women often show up on weekends is on the second floor of the five star Sule Shangri-La hotel which was long known as the Trader’s Hotel. The women there ask for similar rates to their cohorts at the Park Royal bar which they are very likely also familiar with.
That’s what I know, or at least all that I could recall while writing this report on prostitution in Yangon. I hope readers will find some value in it and return in the future for all the other city sex reports still to come.