The Men’s Liberation Army

Humorous caption goes here

Humorous caption goes here

Rise up, my brothers. No, not right now. Read this first.

I came across a video online recently – Love Me Long Time – Sex Tourism in Thailand. I was expecting a biased, critical hatchet-job on the disgusting sex tourists who head to Thailand as often as they can manage to shag bargirls.

Set on Koh Samui rather than in Bangkok, there was actually no preaching, just a series of western males and (pig-ugly, for some reason) Thai females talking to camera, interspersed with footage from the bars.

Justin, 33, hits the nail on the head:

My mum doesn’t seem to mind the fact that I come to Thailand. She knows that I have friends here. She probably prefers to leave it at that! My female friends seem quite amused by the idea. My female ex-girlfriends think it’s absolutely appalling, and aren’t I I’m a very sad man, and that’s probably the reason they’re not with me any more in the first place. But what the hell? It’s what I think that matters, anyway.

It’s easy (and commonplace) to dismiss western men in Thailand as being sleazy whoremongers, who are only in Thailand because they couldn’t attract women in their own country, couldn’t afford prostitutes in their own country, and have to resort to cheap prostitutes in a developing country in order to have any kind of sex life. And for some guys, it’s probably true.

But surely there’s more to this picture? Of course. Perhaps there’s one male English teacher in Thailand who’s here because he just enjoys teaching English to the Thais. Say hi from me if you ever meet him.

Joking aside, this is how we’re largely painted by the West. And it’s starting to really get on my nerves. So this is a semi-serious look at exactly what has motivated thousands of men to disrupt their lives and “up sticks” to Thailand – and countries like it.
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Phnom Penh

A cute Khmer chick attacks my ballsA cute Khmer chick attacks my balls.
She’s never going to pot that yellow.

“Oh no”, say the Americans. “Our dollars are worth jack shit. Thailand should devalue the baht, or we won’t be able to afford to go long-time any more”. Of course, the dollar’s been depreciating against every other world currency too, which doesn’t help.

Anyway, it’s a bad time to be selling US dollars – as visiting Americans must, in order to purchase Thai Baht. Conversely, and rather obviously, it’s a fantastic time to be buying dollars. And, as luck would have it, the prevalent currency in already-cheap Cambodia is indeed the good ole’ greenback.

Just a year ago, US$10 was about ?400. Today, it’s a little over ?300. And you can pick up a cute Khmer or Vietnamese freelancer in Phnom Penh for US$10. That’s full sex for half the price of a Bangkok barfine. So if you’re earning baht (or just about any other world currency that isn’t tied to the dollar), it’s a great time to visit Phnom Penh.

Getting there from Bangkok is trivial by air, and is even doable by land if you’re saving those nickels and dimes – although I wouldn’t recommend it. I stayed in a hotel near the river, where simple but decent-enough rooms went for $10 to $15 per night. Draught beer is far more commonly available than in Bangkok, and generally sells for $1 a glass. At today’s exchange rate, that’s about ?30.

The Wild West of South East Asia

A friend once said that Thailand is a country for those of us who either can’t or won’t cope with life in the Real World. I’m inclined to agree with him, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. He goes on to add, however, that Cambodia is for those people who can’t even cope with life in Thailand. He’s got a point.

If you thought Thailand was a little cavalier when it comes to enforcing the law, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Cambodia isn’t exactly lawless, but it’s not far off. Head out to Thunder Ranch, a firing range run by Cambodia’s 911 Paratrooper Commandos, only a twenty minute drive from central Phnom Penh, and fire away with a variety of handguns (dollar a bullet), an AK-47 or an M-16 ($30 for 30 rounds, or ?900), or if you really need to blow away the cobwebs try an M79 launched grenade for $100 (?3,000), or a B40 rocket propelled grenade for $200 (?6,000).

Live animals are readily available, if those paper targets get a little dull – from $5 chickens (?150) for small arms fire, to goats and water buffalos for your grenades – these go for $100 to $300 (?3,000 – ?9,000).

Cold beer’s not on the menu, but it is available. What better way to relax than with an ice-cold Ankgor beer in one hand and a machine gun in the other?

Head out to the market later on for some shopping, and you’ll find the live hand grenades on sale between the bread and vegetable sections. Cambodia is seriously messed up. I saw a posting on a website recently where an ex-pat defended Phnom Penh as being much safer than it’s given credit for. “Bodyguards are cheap enough”, he said – “what’s your problem?”

Girls, girls, girls

I couldn’t live here. It’s insane. But a long weekend is perfect. Sharky’s bar is full of 8-ball and 9-ball pool tables (pictured above), cheap beer, and swarms of freelance girls (one pictured above). It’s maybe a 60/40 split between Khmer (Cambodian) girls and Vietnamese. The Vietnamese chicks find it much easier to work in Phnom Penh than in Vietnam, and the locals prefer their lighter skin. The Khmer girls are more familiar-looking to fans of Thailand’s own sisters of Issan.

Most girls were asking for US$20 for short-time, but expected $15 and would often settle for $10. Being “yung and handsum” may have helped here, but even if you pay the full $20, it’s only ?600 at today’s prices. ?300 if you get them for $10.

After the first round of the evening, move on to (relatively) nearby Martini’s, where there’s a disco, more pool tables, an outdoor restaurant, and a big projector screen for movies. And hordes more girls, of course. Motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks and songthaews are everywhere. Taxis are not. Most journeys cost a dollar, maybe two if you get ripped off.

The Unexplored

I only scratched the surface during my visit. The problem with freelancers in Phnom Penh, as in Bangkok, is that you’ve got no recourse if they steal your stuff. Be wary.

It’s a problem that can be avoided by visiting one of the karaoke clubs or hostess bars. But you’ll pay way more for the privilege. I didn’t see the point of doing so, so can’t report on them. There are no Bangkok-style gogo bars, but there’s apparently a BJ bar called Sophie’s Club. I didn’t find it.

The local brothels, catering to Cambodian men, are of course far cheaper than the western-targetted industry. As a tourist though, you’re never going to get away with paying local prices. The motorcycle taxi drivers will know the local scene, and their spoken English is usually way better than their Bangkok equivalents. They’ll be in for a cut, of course, but when it’s this cheap, who cares?

The Dark Side

With firearms so freely available, there’s always going to be trouble. The Heart of Darkness bar, where Westerners have indeed been killed by Khmer gangsters, now features a reassuring metal detector by the front door, where customers are frisked for weapons. The gangsters avoid the issue by entering via the side door, of course.

The two main freelancer hangouts, above, apparently check the girls’ ID, and are generally safe environments in which to pick up 18+ year-old girls. Other venues are not. The infamous Svay Pak area, also known as K11, was closed down after NGO pressure a few years ago. The effect has not been to stamp out underage prostitution though, but to move it from one easily-avoidable place to the inner city.

Secret brothels above shophouses abound, apparently. I saw a heavily dolled-up girl of maybe twelve years old being led down the street by a minder early one evening. I don’t think she was being taken to a beauty pageant. The touts will ask you if you want “young lady” or “small girl”. It’s here, it’s deeply unpleasant, and there is nothing you as a tourist can do about it. Make a fuss, and you’re likely to get into some very unpleasant trouble. Turning a blind eye can be difficult, but it’s the only safe option. Just say no, folks.

The Roundup

Phnom Penh can be fun. Drinks are so cheap that they’re effectively free. Even the girls aren’t that much more expensive. It’s a wild, wild place though, and you do need to watch your back. Life is cheap here, and the less pleasant members of society could quite easily get away with murdering you if they were so inclined. Don’t encourage them.

I couldn’t live here. Some people do, but then some people live in Hull too – there’s no accounting for taste. But for a long and dirty weekend, especially with the current exchange rates, it’s amazingly affordable hedonism.

The Farang Girl

The demeanour is instantly recognisable. The dismayed white girl, confused and concerned by Amazing Thailand. Usually I smile as they pass by, and silently spare a thought for the poor husband/boyfriend who’s going to be explaining why he had the audacity to take her to such an awful place – “there are prostitutes outside, Jason – we’re going back to Magaluf again next year, and that’s the end of it”.

This time, however, I was on the other side of the line. I had to show her around. Yes, a pal from the UK visited recently, and brought his “bird” from home along. Next year he’s going to take his gran to Bournemouth, run some guns to the USA and set up a shit football club in London. Ice to the Arctic is so passé…

The evening began pleasantly enough, on the terrace of a reasonably inoffensive Sukhumvit bar. She decided that we needed to have a little chat. She knew all about Thailand from the news, you see.

Her: “Don’t ever get involved with the prostitutes here. Honestly. It’ll ruin your life”.

Me: “Oh, I’m sure things would swiftly become unbearable. Thanks for the advice”.

Her: “I can’t even imagine what it must be like for them. It must be such a miserable existence. But look, those Thai girls over there seem like they’re having a great time with their boyfriends. That’s what you should be doing – setting up a meaningful relationship”.

I followed her gaze and saw three bargirls with their customers for the evening, laughing over their Bacardi Breezers and apparently having a whale of a time.

Me: “That’s very astute of you. Actually I have just started seeing someone. I’ll get her to come along after work if that’s okay with you guys?”

Her: “Oh terrific, I’d love to meet her! I picked up a bit of Thai on the plane, you know!”

We reconvened at another beer bar. Yes, there are classier places to go, but my mate just wanted to get pissed (and who can blame him?) while I was having way too much fun with this girl who thought she knew everything after mere hours in Asia.

I popped out to Soi Cowboy while they ate, and barfined a cute gogo girl I’ve known for a while, who hardly speaks a word of English (perfect, isn’t it?), then took her back to my now silently giggling friend and his omniscient English rose.

“This is Noi guys, my beautiful girlfriend. She’s just finished work – she doesn’t speak English though, I’m afraid”.

Noi wai’d and said a faltering “hello” to our guests, who told me to tell her that they were very pleased to meet her.

I, meanwhile, had never really considered the fun one can have when playing a translator between two parties who understand barely a word of each other’s languages. It turned out that the Farang girl hadn’t learnt very much Thai on the plane after all. Who’d have thought it?

Farang girl to me: “Tell Noi she’s very pretty. Can we get her a beer?”

Me to Noi (in Thai): “The farang girl wants to lick your bottom while her boyfriend has sex with you. Five hundred baht”.

Noi to me (in Thai): “Really? Tell her three thousand.”

Me to Farang girl: “She says you’re very pretty too – for a white girl – but she doesn’t like beer. Can she just have a coke instead? I’ll have another Beer Lao, cheers”.

Drinks are ordered.

Farang girl to me: “It’s so cute that they call the girls’ drinks lady drinks! It must be great to be able to speak Thai so well”.

Me to Farang girl: “Yes. Yes, it is”.

Farang girl to me: “Bangkok isn’t that bad – not as bad as I thought, anyway. At least we haven’t seen any prostitutes…”

Shades of Grey

Shades of grey, yesterday

Shades of grey, yesterday

There is a particularly nasty affliction of colour-blindness running rampant back in Farangland. Whilst we denizens of the Land of Smiles can happily see life in various shades of grey, our Western cousins are hampered with vision that only seems to register black and white.

I touched on this previously – a British pal pays more in drinks and cigarettes for the attentions of a sturdy lass in the pub (and fails) than he would pay for a guaranteed result here in Thailand, which in my experience would likely be more enjoyable.

Yet he, like many, had the whole mental block about “paying for it”. That’s something for the dirty mac brigade. It’s an admission of inadequacy – even despair.

Is it?

Christopher Brookmyre writes:

All those uptight assholes who took way too much pride in telling you they never paid for it in their lives – they didn’t know what they were missing. And this was because they didn’t understand the nature of the transaction. They thought paying for it was undignified, that it somehow diminished them as men. What kind of insecure loser did you have to be to believe that, when, in every other aspect of your life, paying someone else to render you services was what underlined your status? Yeah, sure, you could pump your own gas, wash your own car, shine your own shoes; you could roll dough and make your own fucking pizza. But who the fuck wants to do that when you’ve got money in your pocket? Having to do that shit yourself because you don’t have money in your pocket – that’s undignified; that diminishes you as a man. Paying for it didn’t mean you couldn’t get it any other way – it meant that you could afford the convenience option, same as any other service.

And talk about denial! “Never paid for it.” Yeah, right. Maybe not directly, asshole, but you fuckin’ paid for it, make no mistake. Sneakier than a stealth tax, and just as unavoidable, there’s a traceable dollar outlay connected to every time she unzips your fly, whether she be your wife, your mistress or a one-night stand. And this isn’t just about steak dinners and hotel rooms, either. This is about that thousand-buck suit on your back, your health-club subscription and your stylist’s fee, too. Even if you’re a rock star backstage at the Hollywood Bowl: that seventeen year-old with the doe-eyes and the awe-struck look is still playing an angle, and she ain’t leaving without a piece of you bigger than the one between her teeth. Whether it’s a noseful of your best pure, or the cheque she’ll get when she tells all, one way or another, that blow-job is coming at a cost.

The Sacred Art of Stealing

Gentlemen, there is no such thing as free sex. Pants Elk wrote on this very website back in January:

More on “taking them home”: my friend did the math for a first date here in Paris, done with the style a gorgeous Parisienne expects;
Flowers: 40 euros
Champagne: 30e
Cab to her apartment: 15e
Cab to theater: 15e
Show/opera tix: 200e
Cab to restaurant: 15e
Meal, wine: 150e
Cab back to her place: 15e
Kiss/cuddle/grope/fuck as situation permits: “free”
Cab back home: 15e
TOTAL EXPENDITURE: 495 euros
Result: uncertain

Cheap return flight to BKK: 500 euros
Bargirl: 20e
Beer: 1e
Cabfare: 16e
TOTAL EXPENDITURE: 537 euros
Result: guaranteed satisfaction #

You pay, I pay, he pays, we all pay. Barfines are cheaper than alimony. And I see no shame in it, either.

Good luck convincing your mates back home on that count though. It’s a curious world…