When most people think of Thailand, they think of it as one of Asia’s preferred destinations for tourism. Many who have visited know it for its white sand beaches, night life and, from as far back as the second world war, as a center for “rest and recreation.” The phrase “rest and recreation” came to Thailand as American soldiers used to visit between their war missions. The normal locals who were poor and did not have many sources of income saw this as an opportunity for making money. On their recovery trips to Thailand, the soldiers would regularly look for female companionship. This increased the demand for the number of women working in the sex-business. This sex business was not limited only to women. The requirement for male sex workers was equally on the rise. Largely by the demand created by these US military tourists, the seed of the sex business grew into a service sector by the end of the war. The reputation of cities like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket also grew as they became known for this flesh trade.
The sex industry grew and nothing was off limits. Heterosexual and gay sexual prostitution became common place and, quite unfortunately, even child prostitution has risen. Male and female sex tourism has are increasing by the year. It is estimated over 850,000 western women have traveled to engage in sex since the early 80’s and many of them have visited multiple times.
The cities of Pattaya and Phuket are acknowledged hubs for sex tourism. Pattaya is considered by many as a shopping mall of the sexual trade in Thailand. Pattaya alone attracts over 2- 4 million tourists each year. It is estimated about 6000 bar girls, massage girls and freelance sex workers are servicing the appetites of sex tourists. These numbers are said to shoot as high as 15000-20000 during the U.S.Navy annual joint U.S/Thai Operation Cobra Gold military maneuvers. Pattaya, in particular, has been in the news for rampantly growing child sex tourism. Sadly, child prostitution is even said to be one of if not the major source of money generation all throughout Pattaya.
In comparison with Pattaya, Phuket is believed to be a more standard, adult tourist-prostitution destination. The sex workers there and other red light districts throughout Thailand are said to consider prostitution as more or less a job they perform in order to be able to afford the basic necessities and some of the lures of the western world like TV.
Phuket’s Patong Beach, with its increased tourist population of bare-busted European women is adding to the sexual appetite and, some say, increasing business for the local Patong Beach prostitutes. This phenomenon is said to be leading to increased prostitution prices in the area and to the cost of living in Phuket.
The proliferation of the sex trade in Thailand underlies the fundamental issues of poverty, corruption, illiteracy and misguided social philosophy. Yet Thailand is growing as a highly preferred tourist destination for those visitors seeking sex. The billions of dollars generated by the sex trade in Thailand provide a living for many people, but are not helping Thai society in the big picture. Thailand’s incidence of HIV/AIDS, although more controlled than many places, is still a problem. And issues such as organized crime, sexual slavery and child prostitution continue to plague Thai society.