Phuket is an island in the south of Thailand. It is also its own province and Phuket Town is the capital. It is known for being a sunny destination for tourists, with resorts of all kinds lining up its beaches. But it is also a center of prostitution and debauchery in Thailand.
Patong Beach is one of the beaches on Phuket Island that is known to be party central. We were intrigued by its reputation, but mostly decided to stay there because we knew we could easily book a nice day trip to Phang Nga Bay from there.
Bangla Road in Patong Beach is supposed to be like a mini Las Vegas strip. We read a bit about it and knew that it was supposed to be lined with strip clubs and Lady Boys. It is hyped up quite a bit by backpackers, and anyone looking to party essentially goes there. We decided to check it out and ended up being quite disappointed.
The road itself is fairly short and could be walked in less than ten minutes. We spotted only two clubs and only one bar where you could actually see stripper poles. We came across only one group of Lady Boys, timidly standing outside of the entrance to a bar. But we did get harassed by various people trying to sell you the same thing – a ping pong show! Apparently it’s a sex show where a ping pong or any other object that you can imagine (banana, frog, turtle, birds, etc) can presumably come out of or be caressed by the stripper’s private parts.
Perhaps because our expectations for Bangla Road were so high, we were not that impressed by all of its dirty offerings. But another thing surprised us – the amount of prostitution that occurs out in the open all over Patong Beach.
It is so obvious and seems like the normal course of business. White men of mostly European background are seen walking about with Thai ladies all over town. We even spotted a Thai lady riding on the back of a motorcycle with a white man. But what’s striking is that transactions unfold right in front of you and very quickly. We witnessed an entire transaction unfold as two white men approached a group of Thai ladies who were sitting on benches near a popular shopping mall.
After chatting for a couple of minutes, one of the men said to his partner to wait for him while he went inside with one of the Thai ladies. He grabbed her by the hair and laughed. The next day we saw the same two men walking down the street with another group of Thai prostitutes. Another transaction unfolded before our eyes as a group of white men approached a group of prostitutes and simply asked “How much?”
There are dozens of massage parlours among the streets of Patong Beach town. At first I was surprised as Rami and I walked by them and we were not harassed by their service offerings. It wasn’t until we came across a massage parlour that had a sign on the front window that read “No Sex” that it became clear to me that these massage parlours are not really for getting massages. I guess because we were a couple, the Thai ladies crowding around the entrances to these massage parlours did not approach us. But had Rami been walking by himself, I’m sure he would have been swarmed by their offerings. We could only imagine what really takes place inside.
Even on our day trip to Phang Nga Bay, one of the white men in the group was accompanied by a Thai woman. At first we thought they were just a mixed couple. But it soon became apparent that the woman spoke little English and the Thai tour crew interacted with her as if they knew her. So it appears that the man in our group hired this lady to be his girlfriend for the day (or perhaps even a week) as she takes him around and accompanies him on day trips. She seemed very casual about it and was quite content, smiling ear to ear and making eye contact with all of us. She was not a tiny bit embarrassed and neither was the man. Both were clearly having a lot of fun and enjoying the trip.
People joke about prostitution being common in Phuket, but it still takes you by surprise as you see it happen all around you. So while Bangla Road did not impress us, the amount of prostitution occurring in Phuket surprised us.