As far as I can ascertain, the Thai sex industry is divided into four main categories: the ubiquitous street worker, the Go-go or Girly bar girls / ladyboys, ‘massage’ parlour girls, and what i shall refer to as the ‘freelancer’ – by far the most dangerous if all you’re after as a young man on a night out is a girl who is mutually attracted to you, with no strings attached. Unfortunately, when it comes to sex in Thailand, there’s not so much strings attached as thick, gnarly ropes, which can bind you like a turkey and leave you hanging, high and dry.
My curiosity with this subject has led me to discuss it with many people over the years, from fellow travellers to Thai nationals, both the sex workers themselves, and mere civilians. My most recent source is Poi.
Meet Poi. She is a beautiful, petite, young woman, glamorously attired in a simple black dress and heels, and made up in evening make-up despite it being three o’clock on a hot, humid afternoon. She is sitting indolently on a discoloured plastic chair at the front of a shabby shop; I can’t remember its name, but it has the word ‘massage’ in the title, and although the front has dusty glass panels, there’s heavy curtains, which belie the fact that massages are the only service available in this delightful establishment.
Upon noticing my brother and I, she leapt off her seat, gave a high pitched scream of faux excitement, grinned, and waved with such enthusiasm that I had a quick glance around to make sure we were the intended recipients of such an extraordinary greeting. We were. We smiled and waved back, but walked hurriedly on, not wishing to express an interest that might lead to a prolonged verbal exchange across the street. But I began to feel a little tenseness in my shoulders and back shortly thereafter. Perhaps it was the journey from Koh Phangan a few days previously, but whatever it was, I felt a massage later that evening would do me the power of good…
And so, after enjoying a bowl of spicy noodle soup from a nearby street vendor, I happened upon the massage parlour once more. There she was, grinning again: “Good massage, good price! You come in.” She took me by the arm. I smiled, and obliged. I asked her name. “Poi.” “Can I have the oil massage please, Poi? Three hundred baht, no?” The prices were displayed on yellowed paper on the wall. “Yes, yes, oil better!”
She locked the door, half pulled the curtains, and led me back to a tiny, windowless room, brightly lit with a florescent tube light. She talked incessantly. She was annoyed about the infestation of ants and explained in detail her tactics for thwarting them: hanging food on door knobs in plastic bags and spraying the place with ant repellent, but only at night – “not good to breathe”. She finally told me to take off my clothes, all, and left.
Unsure if this meant my boxers, I decided to keep them on to be on the safe side; I had only signed up for a massage, after all. When Poi returned a few minutes later, she looked me up and down, frowned, and said, “All”, impatiently pulling at the elastic of my underwear. I smiled, and obliged.
If Poi could move her hands as well as she could move her lips, she would certainly be working on one of the expensive massage parlours on Chaweng’s main strip: these, unlike the shop I found myself in, are professional outfits with highly trained staff. Her English was only fair, and so heavily accented I missed half of what she was saying. But she had such a lot to say.
Not long into the massage she was offering me extras. “Blow job, Boom-Boom (a euphemism for sex which always seems to suggest a rather premature ending to the proceedings) one thousand, but better for me two.” I was prepared for this, and told her I had a girlfriend. She seemed incredulous and asked if she was here. “No”. She turned her mouth down to demonstrate her displeasure, “So why problem? No good for me no extra. I need money!”
Poi’s story is almost identical to the ones I’ve heard a multitude of times from talking to girls all over the islands. She’s from somewhere in the north; she has children; she had them young; the father left; her parents look after the children; they are getting old and can no longer work like they used to; she has worked in a factory to support her family, but the hours are long and the money is too little. And this is how she finds herself in her current predicament. Yet there’s never any attempt to gain sympathy. They just state the facts of their lives when asked, and then attempt to turn the conversation to more practical matters.
Poi gently berates us Farang (foreigners) for not looking after our parents. “Farang want freedom. That’s all. Just freedom. Don’t see parents for long time. Don’t care. Thai not like that. You understand? Thai different.” I ask her about Farang and Thai women’s relationships. “Farang want to meet good Thai lady, he go slowly. He go slowly every day. Not in bar. Thai lady in bar for money.”
These are the ‘freelancers’ I referred to earlier. It is a sad fact, I know, and hard for the ego to take, but fellas, if you meet a pretty Thai girl in a bar or nightclub, and they won’t be in Go-Go bars where the dynamic between patron and attendant is obvious, they are not interested in you for anything other than the contents of your wallet. Sorry, but I know this from cold, hard experience.
Poi seems disappointed I have refused her extra services. She tells me the money she makes from extras is hers, but the lady who owns the establishment takes all the money from the massages themselves. I’m almost tempted… And therein lays the paradox: one could take the extras and help the girl out whilst enjoying carnal pleasures – however brief they may be advertised. But surely doing this only helps to ensure the perpetuity of a system that is clearly not conducive to the happiness and well-being of those trapped in it? It’s a tough one, and whatever side you come down on, it’s worth thinking about.
I tipped Poi handsomely, hugged her, and left. But conversely for a massage, I felt worse after it than I had before. I was depressed. Thailand may be the land of smiles, but who knows what melancholy lies beneath them?
NOTE: Poi herself lamented that there were too many massage (sex) parlours in Chaweng, making the competition too great, so it is highly unlikely anyone reading this would recognise her. But since I didn’t ask permission to use her real name, I changed it.
If you found this post informative or interesting, you might want to check out Ladyboys: How to Spot fromFifty Yards