This past weekend was strange and thought provoking, as I ventured down to the Thai seaside town of Hua Hin with two of my closest friends here. We originally were planning on going to Khao Yai National Park and trekking through the jungle, but last minute flash flood warnings were issued and we decided we probably shouldn’t test Mother Nature, especially in this tropical country. So, off to Hua Hin we went, by way of a three hour van ride from BKK. We arrived and strolled to our guesthouse, only to find out that some genius (that would be me) had booked a room for the FOLLOWING weekend! Brilliant. Luckily we had spoken with a guesthouse nearby as a backup and they had a room for us for two nights.
Hua Hin is a small town located about 200 km south of Bangkok, along the coast of mainland Thailand. The beaches are beautiful as usual, but nothing to write home about. The beach land is flat, and come Saturday it was littered with pay by the day lounge chairs, people selling kitschy souvenirs and overpriced clothing, and low and behold; horses for extremely tacky trots up and down the beach. This is not the ocean side horseback riding you may be imagining, where your horse is one with nature and you’re hearing nothing but the clop clop clop of hooves and crashing of waves. Not even close. This scene was horses dressed like racehorses (complete with numbered saddles), handlers trying to make a buck off their four legged friends, all the while the horses taking dumps all over the sand in front of your lounge chair. Not quite the perfect beach day I’d imagined, but it was hilarious to say the least.
What Hua Hin has to offer beachside during the day, is nothing compared to what goes on after dark. We dined at a delicious Italian restaurant, complete with amazing pizza and we were told by the British owner that we were currently in the “girly” part of town. As some of you may or may not know, Thailand is unfortunately quite famous for its sex tourism. Parts of Bangkok, Phuket, the city of Pattaya, and apparently Hua Hin, survive economically off western male travelers spending their time, money, and sperm on some of Thailand’s most beautiful ladies (and lady boys alike). World issues such as AIDS, poverty, and human trafficking are not surprisingly connected to this worldwide industry that’s especially rampant in SE Asia (The issue of human trafficking is a whole other blog post in itself, and not a topic that I know too much about).
It’s a scene I would expect to see in Bangkok’s red light district, but I was pretty taken aback to see it overtaking the small beach town of Hua Hin, where streets are lined with bars aptly named “Pink Panther” or “Nice N Easy”. Many (not ALL) middle aged Western men come to these various parts of Thailand for one reason – to have cheap sex with a woman, man, or sadly sometimes a child. The ugly truth behind this seemingly “good time tourism” is this: these women do not choose freely to become sex workers. I hardly think any little girl grows up thinking, “I want to be a prostitute when I grow up!” The fact is that they come from impoverished villages around the country and take advantage of the bustling industry in these large cities. About a third of the Thai population lives on less than $2 a day, and agriculture plays a large factor into so many lives.
The true statistics are unknown, how do you measure how many tourists come here for sex? So many “businessmen” come here for legitimate work reasons, but their business activities extend far from the office. Selling sex has been illegal in the Kingdom of Thailand since 1960. Yet I can bet baht on it that many places Thailand you will travel through, you will see countless couples that consist of Western men and Thai women. It’s hard to tell whether these relationships are based on love, sex, and or money. If you analyze the general characteristics of these couples, it’s easy to understand why they end up together. Western men come here to find exotic, gentle, easy going women who will dote on them hand and foot. Thai women have a similar idea, they are looking for men who will treat them like queens, and take care of them emotionally and financially. Match made in heaven (or on the internet).
However with all that being said, do not think of Thailand as one giant red light district like you would find in Amsterdam, or some of the sketchier neighborhoods in New York City. Violent crime is low, HIV is on the decline, and most female solicitors are relatively free agents. The best you can do as a traveler in Thailand is to not support this industry with your own money. There are enough obnoxious tourists here that already do that. What any country needs from its tourists is respect, respect, respect. There is more to learn about Thailand than how many cheap drinks you can buy on Soi 11 or what ping pong shows you can hit up that night until the sun rises. There are endless things to keep you busy in Thailand without ever witnessing the goings on of sex tourism in full force. Except when you happen to go to Hua Hin for a random weekend, then you most likely won’t be able to ignore it.
Long story short: I’m glad I went to Hua Hin, even with all the prostitutes in the bars and cockroaches in our guesthouse bathroom. However, I will not be going back unless it is just for a stop on a longer travel to a destination further south. On the bright side, we got to ride the Thai train back and had front row seats to the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever witnessed. Now THAT’S what Thailand is all about.