Thailand: the land of smiles … and tears

· 15 min read >

Thailand is known as the land of smiles. Its inhabitants, in fact, never miss an opportunity to smile when someone meets their gaze on the street, it doesn’t matter if they see him/her for the first time. Not only that, Thai people also are jovial and playful and it is easy to hear them laughing on the streets, in shops, at the market, in their homes. But all that glitters is not gold. Thailand has many dark sides that seem to be ignored by the government. Although among the countries of Southeast Asia it is the one that is doing the best economically (it has the highest GDP after Indonesia), most of its inhabitants are unable to live decently with one job. This, and other historical and cultural factors, have prompted many of the Thai women to prostitute themselves to support the family. In fact, most of them are divorced with their dependent children, without the ex-husband bothering to give them a hand even from an economic point of view.

I’ve been to Thailand four times, visited it from north to south, studied Thai massage there and when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, I was in Koh Samui and stayed for four months, also visiting Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and other cities in southern Thailand. Especially during this long stay, thanks to the scarce presence of tourists and foreigners in general, I managed to get in touch in-depth with the lives of Thai people, especially women. In fact, many girls live in Koh Samui and work in Go Go Bars and massage centres, prostituting themselves. During the pandemic, the dramatic drop in customers caused these workers to fall into a bad economic crisis, and at the same time, it gave me the opportunity to approach them and get to know them from a human point of view and to tell me about their personal lives.

The sex industry in Thailand

“Few things are certain and continuous in the history of humanity like going with whores.”

Giampiero Mughini
India, Temples of Khajuraho
India, Temples of Khajuraho


It is called the oldest trade in the world and in fact, its origins are lost in the mists of time. Already in the eighteenth century BCE laws were found in the kingdom of Babylon to protect the rights of women, including prostitutes. The best-known form of prostitution in ancient times was the sacred one, reported in the Bible and by authors such as Herodotus and Thucydides. Even in Asia, it was practised, especially in India with the figures of the sacred courtesans, women who took care of the temple and offered sexual services to tantrika, or tantra practitioners.

This is not the place to make a discussion about the history of prostitution, enough to know that it has existed since human civilization was born. Personally, I am in favour of prostitution when it is voluntary and free. Absolutely against exploitation, trafficking in human beings and, even worse, child prostitution or paedophilia. Precisely for this reason, I will just talk about the sex industry with regards to adults.


Because of my ideas, I have often had many discussions with different people, often feminists but also various men. Many people believe that prostitution, like pornography, is an abomination to be eradicated. According to them, there is no truly voluntary prostitution (and pornography): all prostitutes are pushed to do it, from a human being, from circumstances (especially poverty) and no woman in the world would ever choose to be a prostitute.

Obviously these are respectable points of view, but which clash against the reality of the facts. Usually, those who make these statements come from a rigidly moralistic education, religious or otherwise, and have never really known the world of prostitution from within, have never spoken to prostitutes. At most they did charity or volunteering in some association or centre for the recovery of former prostitutes where there are only cases of exploitation and certainly not those who do it voluntarily.

History of prostitution in Thailand

In Thailand, as in many other countries, there are various forms of prostitution. But when and how was the sex industry born in the Land of Smiles? There are various documents dating back to the fifteenth century by the Chinese traveller Ma Huan and seventeenth century by European explorers about prostitution in Thailand (although it was certainly present before). When Rama V abolished slavery in 1905, many women found themselves free but poor and jobless. To survive, they devoted themselves to prostitution. At the time, many Chinese people went to Thailand to work in construction and asked for sexual services. In 1908 the king made prostitution legal and helped women workers to receive medical care. In the following years, other laws came out, both to protect health and prevent diseases from prostitutes, and to try to stop the phenomenon by making it illegal.

With the Japanese occupation (during the Second World War) and with the use by the American military of Thailand as a “recreational” country during the Vietnam War (1955-75) the phenomenon is exacerbated. Only in 1960, under pressure from the UN (which prompted practically the whole world to declare prostitution as illegal), did the government enact the law which prohibited it and which still condemns it. At the same time, however, it is widely tolerated and even regulated. In fact, in Thailand, prostitutes are considered an integral part of the social fabric of the population. It is completely normal to hang out with prostitutes before, during and after the wedding. They are never morally condemned and indeed, there is strong sympathy for the oppressed categories. Working in the sex industry is considered a completely normal job in Thailand.

Culture and society

Precisely because of this view of prostitution, many poor families who live in the countryside send their daughters to cities such as Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya or Koh Samui to earn money by paying sex and send money to the family. All the girls I’ve talked to, regardless of age (under thirty or above), have parents who know they work in the sex industry, be they girls bars or who work in massage centres that provide sexual services. Most of them come from northern Thailand, Isan area, Surin, Udon Thani, Buriram. They are all regions not affected by tourism and where, therefore, finding work is not easy.

Types of prostitutes in Thailand

“I think of disappointments, great ventures, a Thai woman”

Lucia Dalla: Disperato, Erotico, Stomp

Soapy massage

Called in Thai with the term Ab Ob Nuat, which means, precisely, “bathing and massage”. These are centres, very similar to Japanese Soapland, very popular in Bangkok, where a beautiful girl inside a tub entirely washes the customer; massage is then performed completely naked to end with explicit sexual acts. When you enter these centres, you are initially in a hall where there are several girls in skimpy clothes, who usually wear a number, letter or identification, which may be Thai or other nationalities (almost always Asian). Each girl or category of girls (how these categories are decided, depends on the individual centre) has a different price, and usually, you can’t bargain. Once the girl is chosen, the service continues. At the end of this, a tip is always requested.

Soapy massage parlour in Bangkok
Soapy massage parlour in Bangkok

Karaoke Bar

They are Japanese-style karaoke, that is with private rooms, where the girls, always attractive and always in skimpy clothes, dedicate themselves to singing but more expressly to satisfy the client’s sexual cravings. They are usually in big cities like Bangkok and I personally have never seen one or met anyone who worked there, so I don’t know the details. I saw some in Singapore but if I understood correctly in this city there is no real sexual service, but girls who rub and sing while customers order drinks for them and the girls with exorbitant prices.

KTV Karaoke Bar in Jakarta, quite the same as in Thailand
KTV Karaoke Bar in Jakarta, quite the same as in Thailand

Go Go Bar

Together with massage centres, they are the most common form of prostitution. It is a nightclub where the girls are cubists, dancing on the cubes or on the tables, or are hostesses, entertainers who make themselves offered to drink by customers. In fact, the girls receive a percentage for each drink that is offered to them. Furthermore, if the customer is interested in having a sexual relationship AND EVEN THE GIRL AGREES, he pays the bar and brings the girl to the hotel after agreeing on the price. Practically between drinks offered, “tax” to be paid at the bar to take the girl away and the price for sexual services, the expenses are not that low. But the girl usually stays with the client all night.

Windmill Club in Pattaya, Thailandia
Windmill Club in Pattaya, Thailandia

Massage centres

These are places, very often small, dilapidated and dirty, where girls lure customers by offering them various types of massage, which always end in a sexual performance (which differs in price) which can be masturbation, oral sex or full sex. Usually, in an hour both massage and sexual service are done and the list price is never that for sex, which is at least 3 times as much, if not more, the cost of an hour of a normal massage.

Massage center in Pattaya
Massage center in Pattaya

Other forms of prostitution

Obviously there is no shortage of prostitutes on the street, which are usually the ones that cost less, but also the least attractive, clean and healthy ones. There are also freelancers or girls who work as prostitutes on their own, not belonging to any massage centre or bar. They are looking for customers on dating apps like Tinder or Badoo, or they go to bars that allow freelancers to search for customers. They can be full-time prostitutes but more easily women who have a job and to round off prostitute themselves. They are called strumpets.


These are transsexuals, men who started the transition to becoming a woman. They are widespread in Thailand and, as many of them start taking female hormones from the age of 8-10, they are often more beautiful than many women. Some do not even have breast augmentation, thanks to the hormones that have made them grow big enough breasts.

The vast majority maintain their male sexual organ for various reasons: first of all, the operation to remove the penis and get a vagina done is extremely expensive; it cannot be done before the age of 25, as the body must be fully developed; finally, the hole that is formed, which is certainly not as elastic as the vagina, cannot be larger than the circumference of the penis. Having the Thai penis tending to be small, the vaginas they may have often become unusable because they are too narrow. Despite this, there are many ladyboys who prostitute themselves in bars, in massage centres, as freelancers. Regarding this category, I will write an article soon.

Gay prostitution

Although much less widespread than the straight one, there are many gays, not transsexuals, who prostitute themselves in special gay bars or on dedicated dating applications. Lately, the phenomenon of Thai lesbian prostitutes, called tomboys, is emerging, which greatly attract those of northern Europe and the USA.

Direct experiences

“I remember my first sexual intercourse well. I still have the invoice.”

Groucho Mark
Go Go Bar in Phuket


Having a lot of time, there are many girls that I have literally interviewed about their lives as prostitutes. For privacy reasons, of course, I don’t mention names. The bad guys of you will laugh, convinced that behind my “interview” there is much more. I remember that prostitution in Thailand is still illegal and I am certainly not going to endanger myself by breaking the law in a foreign country where the prison is decidedly bad.

Prostitution: only for foreigners?

As I have previously written, prostitution is widely used by male Thais themselves. It was not born and does not exist exclusively for foreigners although, obviously, they are the main target of the Thai sex industry. Especially western whites are definitely the girls’ favourites. Asians are not well-liked because of the way they treat women. Black people are not primarily loved for the colour of their skin: Thai women, in fact, love white skin, and the more white it is, the better it is, precisely because their skin tends to be dark. In fact, bleaching creams abound, skin whitening centres, they avoid being in the sun, going to the beach, being discovered and so on.


Of all the girls I spoke to, 99% are divorced with dependent children. These mainly live with their grandmother in the city of origin. Because practically none of the Thai people who live in places where sex tourism abounds are native: usually they all come from the north, especially from Isan, Surin, Udon Thani and Buriram. There are also several from Bangkok. Thai women get married and have children very early: there are really many who give birth at 17-18-19 years.

After an attempt at marriage, in which he is discovered to cheat on his wife (the Thais are famous for not being faithful), they proceed to divorce and the children are usually left to the mother. The father often disappears and no longer shows up, without even worrying about the offspring, from any point of view. Having often insignificant earnings, the government cannot force him to pay his child’s allowance.

At this point, she is forced to take care of the children and cannot do it alone. Then she moves to one of these tourist places and goes to prostitution, in most cases. They leave their children with their mother (who is often divorced too) and send the money home to support the whole family, including the parents. This is more or less the general picture of the average Thai prostitute. The age ranges from 20 to 40 but most are between 25 and 35. Faced with this, one immediately thinks that those born in Thailand from an average family have no other way, if they want to have a dignified and support the family, if not that of selling one’s own body. But be careful: the appearance is deceiving!

Boyfriend or sponsor?

Upon closer inspection, it turns out that things are not exactly like that. First of all, there are many of these girls, including ladyboys, who have a boyfriend, usually northern European or American (no southern Europeans are so stupid to make this end) that financially support them from a distance. Practically they are men, usually young and not at all ugly, who often go to Thailand, where their “fiancée” lives and works, they stop there for a few months a year and, knowing the desperate condition in which these poor prostitutes find themselves, they give money to them and their families. When these unsuspecting guys are in Thailand, they pay the rent, food and all the extra expenses of their girlfriends. They also give them the money to send to their children and parents.

After they return to their home country, they stay in touch with their girls and continue to send them money when they ask for it. But in the meantime, these resume the work of prostitutes hiding it from the boys who, being thousands of km away, cannot control them in any way. So, for these “sponsor” boyfriends is like adding insult to injury. Why does a girl who has who supports her, decide to be a prostitute anyway? The answer is simple: because she likes it. And because the more money you have, the better. There are many who go around with their iPhone, their breast implants, full of tattoos and branded clothes. Often they do not cook and eat outside (it is true that food in Thailand is cheap) and they have everything. This lifestyle has a cost.

Employee or prostitute?

Many of these women had normal jobs as employees in a company or workers in a factory. The job was not bad, but the unpaid overtime and military obedience made them flee to go to the Go Go Bars or massage centres. Why? Simple: you get paid a lot more and work less. And, in the cases of girls bars, they can choose their customers. Exactly. They are not forced to go with anyone but go only with whoever they want. Clearly more customers more money. I tried to ask some girls bars this question: would you go back to being an employee if you worked no more than eight hours a day with the same salary that you now have to work in the bar? The answer has always been NO. Because in the bars you have fun. It’s not just the money, it’s the environment that is different.

Children with me? No thanks

Another of the amazing things is that these girls don’t really care about their children. I asked many of them this thing: if you had a partner who supports you or if you had a job that you like and earn good money, would you take the children back with you? They all said no. The children are better off with their grandmother or aunt. Having them in the way is a commitment, it is tiring, this is not the right environment for them, I don’t want them to see me when I’m angry or negative, and so on.

These are all the excuses I have heard in response to my question. Also said by girls who are not prostitutes, who are divorced but who have remarried with foreigners and have started a profitable business with them. The partner asked them to bring their children but they refused. All. I really want to know how these children who never see father and mother will grow up …

Sex is fun

I got the same answers from those who work in massage centres. Unlike girls bars, they are not easy to choose customers, even if they try to make a skim by offering maximum masturbation to customers they don’t like. Still, they wouldn’t change jobs. They like to do “massages”. And these are girls who live in the massage centre: they sleep, eat, work, wash inside the shop. Their life is there. And even when some clients take them home for the night, they still have to pay a “fee” to the massage centre, which always has a part of the client’s payment.

The shadow is born from the light

“Jesus said to them: Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the harlots will get into the kingdom of heaven before you.”

Matthew 21,31b
Go Go Bar in Lamai, Koh Samui
Go Go Bar in Lamai, Koh Samui

The typical customer is not what we imagine

The whole world knows that Thailand is one of the number one countries for sex tourism. The common vision of the typical customer who goes to the Land of Smiles is that of the 50-60-year-old, with white hair, big belly, Hawaiian shirt, slobbery and slimy, who takes Viagra and fucks twenty-year-olds for money. Nothing more wrong! Although these people exist, the majority of clients are young people between the ages of 20 and 40, who come to Thailand to experience the thrill of paid sex.

I have not only seen them with my own eyes, but I have asked several times to the prostitutes with whom I have been in contact, to show me the photos of their clients and they were all young and handsome! In most cases, these are men, more or less young, who do not regularly go to prostitutes, but do so extemporaneously in Thailand, perhaps only during that one holiday in the Land of Smiles.

Why do men like paid sex?

Faced with this, the question arises: why should a 20-30-year-old boy with a good presence pay a woman to have sex? Can’t he just throw himself in a disco and try until he finds one? Or even better find them on a dating site? The speech is much simpler than it seems. First of all, men generally feel the need for sex as well as for food: a primary, frequent need that needs to be satisfied or psychophysical health can be compromised. Paying a woman gives the certainty of being able to satisfy this need. Women known around or on dating apps, in most cases want to be wooed, they need to know their counterpart, they have to be mentally attracted as well as physically and often make him wait before going to bed with a newly known one.

Yes, we have the common image of the man who goes with prostitutes as a fifty-sixty-year-old, stinking fat man, or a criminal rapist and so on, when instead almost all men in their life have gone to prostitutes at least once. There is the belief that those who use paid sex are male chauvinists who objectify women and have no respect for women.

Nothing more wrong. There are also these types of men, but in most cases, they are “normal” people, who in a certain period of their life feel the need to approach a woman without all the social pressures that our community imposes. They treat prostitutes as people and not as objects, they often become attached to them, give them gifts, confide in their problems and spend time together beyond sex. Vice wrote a very interesting article about it, which I link here.

Prostitutes: people like us

Anyone who is indignant against those who go or have gone with prostitutes, considering them as despicable men, without realizing it offends this mistreated category of prostitutes. If you despise someone for the company they frequent, it means that you despise the company itself. Prostitutes are people with emotions, feelings, dreams, aspirations, children to support (most of the time alone) who live a difficult life, often not protected. Judging customers is equal to criticizing them too. I remember the emblematic phrase that Jesus often repeats in the gospel: the prostitutes will pass you by. Everyone shows moral solidarity towards this typology, but when it comes to seeing it in reality, the usual scornful contempt comes out. People tend to be hypocrite, we know that.


Usually, they are contained, but definitely higher than any paperwork. Usually, for a “short time” (ie an hour, so it is not at all short by western standards, where the standard time reaches a maximum of 20 minutes) a prostitute who works in a massage centre asks about 1500 bath (or 45 €). By bargaining, you can easily drop to 1000 (30 €). All night costs at least 2000 baths up to 4000. The girls bars usually cost more because to approach them you have to offer them drinks, then you have to pay for the bar and finally the girl.

In times of coronavirus, prices have gone down a lot. There are girls who sold themselves for 500 bahts (€ 15) for an hour, most of them didn’t take more than a thousand. If the client likes the girl and often visits her, she gives him favourable prices (even 500 baths for the whole night) or even has free sex, regardless of the current crisis.

Then there are very frequent cases of wealthy clients who invite these prostitutes to a villa for a week paying them handsomely (like 20,000 baths, or almost € 600), as well as giving them food, accommodation and loads of alcohol. Others who “rent” a girl for seven days or a whole month, giving her 10,000 baths a week, if not more. Often these customers, which I repeat are very often guys of maximum 35-40 years old, Americans or Northern Europeans, become attached and continue to send them money from abroad as needed.

Why is Thailand famous for sex tourism?

Many think it’s because of the low prices when there are actually many other countries where sleeping with a woman costs a lot less. No, the reason is quite different: Thai girls behave like girlfriends and in most cases, if there is chemistry, they really become attached. Western prostitutes do not kiss clients on the mouth, they tell you to finish after 10 minutes that you have started, often they do not even completely undress, do not let go and are not very participatory; finally, they can’t wait for you to leave.

Thais are the opposite. The kiss in the mouth is always there, they tend not to hurry and if they like the client they actively participate during the sexual act. They often shower with the customer, wash him, laugh with him, joke and even be jealous if they discover that he goes with others. They become attached, they see the customer willingly out of work, go to dinner with him, around, call him, write nice messages to him. This is the real reason why it is so popular.


Several times I did this experiment, in different ways: some times, after I had become familiar with prostitutes who had made themselves available for an interview, I told them that I would marry and bring them to Italy and that I would financially support them. Many did not want to come. So I told them that I would live with them in Thailand but that they would have to stop working as prostitutes, that I would pay for everything: for the children, the parents, their needs. Despite the tempting proposal, many said that they would accept but continue to work in massages, or in bars.

I asked others: if you had infinite money, what would you do? In most cases, the answer was: I would continue to work in the bar. Some have talked about opening their own business, like a cafe, or a restaurant, but most would not do it: the girls bars have fun and compared to a “real” job, where there is to work, there are responsibilities, waivers, theirs is a fun and worry-free activity, as well as profitable. Needless to write the conclusions of these interviews, the facts speak for themselves.

I remind you that it is possible to finance my travels and therefore my articles! Thank you!

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