Thailand Sure Ain’t What It Used To Be
I am an avid reader and fan of your site. I also happen to be a white female but before you recoil in horror at the mention of those words, I am not your typical western woman. I always look forward to the Stickman weekly and appreciate your interesting, well informed accounts. One thing that really surprises me however, are the lack of reader's submissions devoted to the major social changes taking place in Thailand. Farang seem to be in complete denial that LOS is disintegrating right before their very eyes. Hardcore punters will refuse to admit that their beloved Thailand is now a memory. It doesn't matter how dismal things get, everyone just says 'oh it was just a bad night' or 'it will go back to normal' and 'more tourists will be here at Xmas time.' REALITY CHECK- this is permanent and things are only going to get worse. The party is over. The old Thailand has gone and we're just clinging on to old memories. Half of us are better off packing up and going somewhere else because we're living in the past. I never thought I'd say it but there have to be more exciting places than the place Thailand has become. We are afraid to acknowledge the Thailand we all knew and loved has gone forever (or at least a VERY long time.) and it took me a lot of courage. In my mind there now are two Thailand's – the old one before the Thaksin government and the new one post 2001. Quite frankly, the new one SUCKS!
I've been coming to LOS since 1996 for long holidays and then in early 1999 moved here for a solid two year period. During that time I stayed in Pattaya, Phuket, Samui and spent over a year in Bangkok. In other words I feel fairly qualified to talk about Thailand in any sort of detail. Like so many other readers on this site, I became addicted to LOS and it changed my life forever. I couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else and really thought this was the perfect place. I never ever thought I would one day willingly return to my home country and not even feel excited about the prospect of returning. Alas, this is what has happened to me. It is heart breaking to see how the new government have single-handedly obliterated so many of the things that were appealing about this place. Now LOS is rapidly turning into a Malaysia and Singapore the two prime ministers of which Thaksin says he actually wants to model himself on. It has turned into a boring, conservative, Muslim like country and has lost the attributes that made it unique. Ironically, Singapore is now more liberal and recently ushered in the new law of allowing bar top dancing (whatever that means). Let's be honest, the appeal of Thailand to most foreigners has always been the hedonistic lifestyle, the lawlessness and the fact that you can do here what you can't do anywhere else. It was always this wonderful adult fantasy land that drew us in and kept us coming back for more – this feeling of being who we wanted at the biggest party on earth without any judgment from others. I understand that the Thai culture remains, as do the Thai people, the food, the beautiful landscape and the basic expatriate lifestyle – I must admit I will always love this country. However Thailand is now no different to other Asian countries. If you are Thai you will see this whole issue from a different perspective but if you are a farang looking for the good times, the present and future looks grim.
Not being able to get a drink after 1 AM (unless I go to a convenience store) and being turfed out of a club at 2 AM to go home to bed is not my idea of a great night out. (Even if you aren't a person who stays out until the wee hours, it is the principle of it.) This means that you cannot go to a bar and then a nightclub afterwards because by the time everything gets going there is simply not enough time. (Even in Singapore night time venues are open until 3 and 4 AM.) Neither is enjoying a drink in a gogo bar only to have the boys in brown come around, turn on all the lights and tell everyone to go home – that is after they've done a spot of urine testing and checked your passport. Bangkok also seems to have turned in to a police state with coppers asking to see your passport every second time you step out the door. I mean who wants to be hassled by Thai police? I arrived in Bangkok on the bus from Pattaya and the boys in brown were there waiting to interrogate every single farang who stepped off. I had a suitcase with me and they made me empty the whole lot. I was also interrogated for about half an hour. Luckily they let me go and my passport was up to date. By the way I am a very respectable looking farang, am not a scruff and do not look like the sort of person they would want to hassle.
Everyone keeps on saying things will return to normal because they always do but before the Thaksin government was not in power. This is the beginning of a new era. Thaksin is in until 2005 and will probably be re elected until 2008 thereabouts. That is a lot of time to make some serious changes and things are only going to get worse, not better. Thaksin wants to eradicate the sex industry completely and eliminate all sex tourists plus farang who aren't injecting much money into the economy. He actually doesn't want gogo bars and male paradise venues to exist at all. Patpong will probably end up as just a night market. People say that the sex industry will then go underground but what fun is that? When you can't even go to a gogo bar and see a topless women any more. I understand that the official three month crackdown on entertainment begins any time now and is headed by Purachai. I believe that very soon there won't even be women on stage at all, not even in full bikinis. The crackdown is also on entertainment venues in general which means the strict regulation of normal bars and nightclubs will continue – more urine testing and police. Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong are going to be relics of the past. Purachai means business and is even transferring corrupt police to ensure the job is done. Did I even mention that the crackdown is nationwide?!! Personally, I can see Purachai being assassinated for his efforts.
Thaksin has even gone as far as to ban escort agencies from advertising in the yellow pages. Certain love songs have also been blacklisted from playing on the radio as have specific alcoholic beverage ads from the TV. I mean can you believe this? This is a puritanical crusade at its worst. Pattaya of all places is even succumbing to the same fate. It has to be every sex tourist's worst nightmare when the new tourist ambassador of this beloved male paradise is Anna Kournikova! Yes believe it or not, Anna has just collected a tidy sum for agreeing to become the face of Pattaya to lure wealthy international tourists and sporting enthusiasts.
The last period of time I recently spent in Thailand was quite simply a total bore. The bars and clubs were not even half full, there were hardly any farang around at all, just police and more police. It was a crying shame. I understand that SARS and the worldwide slump in tourism have played a part, however the government crackdown is mostly to blame. It has kept many farang away from Thailand. Such farang put off by the crackdown are seemingly the type the government doesn't want here anyway. The image of Thailand is undergoing a major overhaul and instead of being known as the brothel of the world they want it to become a top destination for wealthy upmarket tourists and spa honeymoon couples. Backpackers are also not welcome. So farang girlie bar owners, drifters, criminal types and boiler room scam artists beware! These people are slowly going to be ejected from the country because the days of doing whatever it takes to live in Thailand are numbered.
The gogo bar girls are also fatter, uglier and most of them not worth looking at. The quality of Thai 'girls' in general has experienced a major decline and now we have to play spot the stunner. This is an entirely separate issue and not really connected to anything except the worldwide decline of women in general. People the world over are becoming fatter and this has affected women everywhere. For example, in Australia dress sizes are being changed because the average woman is now a 16! They are going to drop the small size 8 altogether. It is pretty disgusting. Unfortunately, Thai girls have succumbed to the same fate though they are still smaller and more attractive than their western counterparts.
The crackdown on entertainment has another major weapon in the booming economy which it seems has not been affected by the ailing sex industry. Thais are richer and safer under Thaksin and show their support with a 70% approval rating. For example, Thaksin is helping peasants and poor urban labourers with affordable medical care and micro loans to small businesses and farms. Thaksin's policies of low interest rates and cheap loans to farmers have helped fill pockets with cash. Economic growth hit 5.3% last year and clocked 6.7% in the first quarter, one of Asia's fastest growing rates. The Bangkok Stock exchange is up 41% for the year. Hard currency reserves have hit $40 billion and interest rates have fallen to 1.25%. In other words, Thailand doesn't seem to need the sex industry to improve its wealth and the fact the economy is booming means the new government will continue to be supported by most Thais.
On a more objective note, I guess this whole issue centers around who you are what your relationship is with Thailand. I want to make it clear that my grievances are addressed from a farang's point of view only and I am not speaking for everyone
This is a really great article and lots of really good points are made. The girls are uglier. The bars are closing earlier. Things, if you like to go to extremes, are probably less "fun" than they used to be but I still believe that there is plenty of fun to be had.
However, despite agreeing with some of the points that you make, I do not agree with the main idea that Thailand is no longer fun and that half of the punters should be looking elsewhere. What Thailand is trying to do now is to introduce policies that it considers are best for its citizens. Amongst all of the evils in the country, Thailand does not want to see its citizens selling pussy so openly as a means to make money. They do not want their country to have the reputation as Prostitute Central and quite frankly, who can blame them?
As someone very enjoys living in Thailand, I want to see the Thai people doing well for themselves and I truly believe there would be huge benefits if the cleaned the whole industry up. For many of the foreigners living here, sex tourists contribute to giving all foreigners, us locals included, a less than ideal reputation.
I have said it before and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it again. Prostitution provides a short term fix for both the buyer and the seller but long term exposure as a either a customer or a vendor is harmful and can create all sorts of problems. So, why should the Thai government allow it to continue as it has done?
Thailand doesn’t need sex tourists! The country really does offer so much else to visitors. It is a cheap place to visit, with warm weather, friendly people and a variety of things to see and do. Sex tourists are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the total number of visitors and I really believe that if sex was removed from the equation, most would continue to come. Too many sex tourists just hang around the sex tourist areas, talking with other sex tourists and generally doing the sex tourist thing that they get a misguided idea that that i what everyone else is here for!
In 1997, Thailand attracted 7,221,345 international visitors. In 2002, Thailand attracted 10,872,976 visitors, an increase of 50% in just five years! Inbound international tourism into Thailand is increasing at a phenomenal rate and believe me, while the bars did get busier over this period, the did not account for the huge increase in the number of international arrivals.
The future for tourism in Thailand is bright. Part of the current success of the industry might have be partly attributable to the internationally known naughty nightlife industry, but I am convinced that those in power in Thailand are fully aware that while once upon a time sex tourists might have made up a significant percentage of visitors, they do not need to rely on this sector of the market any more and in fact it is quite clear that measures are being introduced to slowly discourage this type of tourist.
There are times when we all want an escape, a bit of craziness in our lives and a chance to do a few things that are perhaps not entirely admirable, but that nonetheless make us feel really good for a short period of time. Thailand used to offer this. Maybe it still does – I don't know. But let me ask you this question. Would you like your country not only to be known as the whorehouse of the world but also see its citizens suffer from the inherent effects, a country where people from every last corner of the globe come to fuck your women as well as do all sorts of other unmentionable things? No, I wouldn't like it either… So, with this in mind, I think the measures to clean things up are a good thing indeed. It won't disappear altogether, but it will change. No, change verb tense. IT IS CHANGING.