Despite its rich cultural heritage, gorgeous islands and world-famous cuisine, mentioning that you’re heading to Thailand can still elicit sniggers from those who know only of the seedier parts of the country. Yet while the vast majority of Thailand does has a relatively conservative society, there are parts of the country where conservatism and modesty are thrown out the window – and Pattaya is one of them. Pattaya’s red light district is known all around the world – here’s a little more about it.
Finding Pattaya’s red light district isn’t hard. Pattaya is pretty small, and you’re more than likely to stumble across it whether you’re looking for it or not. And you’ll know when you’re in it; loud music blasting from every bar, foreigners walking up and down the street with their jaws dropped and scantily clad females hanging around the entrances to the various go-go bars and beer bars hoping to lure some punters their way. The areas that are considered the red light district are centred around Pattaya’s vibrant walking street, alongside the beach road that runs parallel to the sea. Here, you can find it all; go-go bars, sex shows, sex workers and transgender performers working long into the night for a crowd that’s predominately Western males. There are also areas in northern and central Pattaya that have similar attractions too.
Thailand has many great places for families to visit and enjoy together, but Pattaya is far from one of them. Sex tourism remains a sizeable chunk of Thailand’s overall tourism trade, and there’s thought to be tens of thousands of sex workers operating in Pattaya alone, which has led to it being dubbed the sex capital of the world by various publications.
The red light district is covered in various go-go bars, each featuring dancers in varying stages of undress performing for the crowd. After sitting down at a bar, it’s typical for women to join you and ask for “lady drinks”, though this isn’t something you’re obliged to get involved in and it’s fine to tell them no. Baccara A Go Go is one of the most popular bars on the strip, along with Airport Club, where guests can enjoy regular shows by dancers on their stages. Alcatraz is also a popular bar and, in keeping with its name and the atmosphere of the city, features prison cells and handcuffs that can really get pulses racing.
All along walking street, you’ll meet hundreds of people enticing you into their venues, whether it’s for harmless fun, transgender shows or bars, or with something a little more smutty in mind. Much like on Khaosan Road in Bangkok, you’ll meet people offering to take you to all manner of shows, such as the infamous “pingpong show”, which can get irritating but it’s to be expected in such a place. Many massage shops are also quick to offer the “happy endings” that are often joked about at home.
You may be surprised to learn that, given the reputation of Pattaya and the open nature with which sex is sold on the street, sex work is illegal in Thailand. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop it from happening – though it’s not just as simple as picking someone up and leaving. “Bar fines” are paid to the bar to take an employee out of work, which are kept by the bar, and then a price for whatever services one might want to purchase is negotiated between the people involved. Many workers earn low salaries and depend on customers to help make ends meet – whether it’s through sex work or the selling of “lady drinks”; drinks that are bought for an employee, of which they keep half of the price of the drink for themselves.
Thailand’s first female minister for tourism, Kobkarn Wattanavrangku, announced last year that Thailand was “closed to the sex trade” after details about the number of sex workers and brothels made headlines worldwide, and it looks as if she’s sticking to her word. While there are pushes for sex work to be made legal in some Western countries, many workers are targeted by the police in crackdowns by the government, with African workers often targeted. In the past few years, arrests have been made for crimes such as human trafficking and paedophilia, as many vulnerable people are often sold in the sex trade against their will, so it’s clear that there is a problem and heartening to see it referenced by politicians. That said, action is needed more than words when it comes to the problems in Pattaya, and only time will tell if anything changes.