The gay scene in Bangkok is made up of many go-go clubs, spas and bars. Between the local men and the surplus of tourists, it can feel like the options are endless for hooking up. Coupled with the underlying sexual current that energizes many of the city streets, you’d think I’d be having sex every night of the week.
About a month before arriving in the city, I’d spent some time on Scruff trying to get an idea of the men I might encounter. There were more local guys than I would’ve thought and in my mind, I was going to have a shit load of sex — and then some.
But the reality is, I haven’t had sex once outside of Ernan’s visit.
I knew that the sex trade was a big thing in the city but I didn’t expect it to upstage the gay scene in Silom so much. Of course there’s more to Silom than just prostitution, but when you’re sitting out on Soi 4, surrounded by elderly men coupled with young Thai guys, it becomes overbearing after a few weeks.
One night I headed to Soi 4 for a night cap and was seated next to a guy in his 70s who was entertaining a young Thai man. He tried to communicate with him in English, but neither of them could speak it very well, so they used hand gestures.
The older guy didn’t seem to mind though. He was groping his young buddy nonstop, and kept kissing him on his face and neck awkwardly as if he had never kissed someone before. The poor kid looked embarrassed and trapped.
Witnessing such experiences made visiting this Soi that much less appealing.
I’d put Bangkok’s sexuality on the same level of intensity as Berlin — it’s out there and in your face, and though there are some perverts in Berlin, they seem to find each other. It’s consensual and it works. But with the prevalence of sex trafficking and underage workers in Bangkok, it’s just exploitative and disturbing.
Following a string of raids throughout Thailand, the police shut down a massage parlour last year and arrested more than 100 sex workers. Fifteen of them were underage. There are an estimated three to four million migrant workers in Thailand who are being trafficked for labour or sex.
Though the sex industry mainly caters to local men, the city is full of tourists who want sex but don’t seem concerned about where it’s coming from. The ignorance is off-putting too, and I started writing tourists off because any that I’d meet seemed like they were there for the young Thai men. Someone who would make vacation out of fetizishing and expoitation isn’t very interesting to me, or sexy in any way. These transient visitors weren’t an option any longer.
When you’re using hook-up apps like Grindr or Scruff, some of the local guys are on there are soliciting massages (and more) so you never get away from it. Just when you think you’ve met someone who likes you, they name a price, which is disheartening. I stopped using these apps, but even after that I couldn’t stop second-guessing the intentions of locals and was always on guard.
Instead of cruising, I started exploring the city itself, outside of Silom. I went through each neighbourhood, one-by-one, visiting monuments and temples along the way. I sought out weekend markets and bazaars, and learned to take the river boat with Ernan as a means of transportation to get from one side of the city to the other. I was slowly being seduced by Thai culture.
I was replacing sex with food as well, as I started to eat at local spots in the parts of Sathon where no other tourists would go. I became adventurous with the fare, eating from any street stall that seemed appetizing. Often, I wouldn’t even know what I was putting in my mouth. The further I strayed from Silom, the more I appreciated what Bangkok had to offer.
Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Thailand’s first female tourism minister has vowed to end the sex industry in the country. She claims that tourists don’t come for the sex but rather for the beautiful culture. Though I’ve witnessed quite the contrary, I can’t help but applaud her. From what I’ve seen, the sex industry is a total buzz kill.
At the same time, with so many sex workers in Thailand, cracking down on this industry seems problematic from an economic standpoint, not only for the people who depend on the cash but for the economy as a whole. The police claim that they’re looking to prosecute venues that employ illegal and underage workers.
The problem is that we’ve already learned that police are abusing their power by using fear of arrest to extort bribes or sex. Why would that change now?
Maybe the real solution lies in legalization? I can’t say for sure. I’m neither living in poverty nor am I a sex worker. I’m not Thai either, but what I do know is that what I was seeing was ugly — and a complete turnoff.
Thankfully, Ernan visited me so I got me some lovin’ and it felt good. And Tokyo is on tap for February. I’ll be staying a few blocks from Eagle there . . . there is hope yet.