Thursday, 14 August 2008

Western men in Thailand ? —a few thoughts

This or this ?

Why do western men (farang—the local term for westerners) come to Thailand, and why do some of them stay in Thailand—is the attraction Thai women (ser-way mark mark = girls very beautiful) or something else?

The usual answer to this question is ‘Yes’ (to the former)! The common belief is that farang men come to Thailand for sex with Thai women (some come for sex with ladyboys, many Australian married men, so it seems—but that is a story for another day), however, I will put forward a counter view, that in fact most western men do not come to Thailand primarily for women, rather they come for the entire lifestyle experience—warm weather, low cost of living, a new environment, not being at home, away from their family and friends, an opportunity for greater personal freedom—and that the ‘Thai women’ are incidental.

Of course, I make all of these claims without any hard numbers, based solely on personal accounts, so I could be 100% wrong!

The western men I will discuss fall into two groups, the first are those who travel to places like Sukhumvit (the tourist/wealthy area of Bangkok), Pattaya, or Phuket (or any combination of those places). The standard belief is that these guys come in search of cheap and easy sex. This is true in many cases, however, far from all cases. My contention is that many men come to Thailand for a cheap holiday of a few weeks excepting a relaxed time, and that 8/10 of these men very quickly find a Thai girl friend. And many of these guys come back year after year and hook up again with the same girlfriend (maybe with a few ‘butterfly’ incidents along the way). Essentially, these guys will (or maybe not) visit a few bars and go-goes, maybe even bar fine a girl, but will then find a ‘real’ girlfriend with whom to spend a few weeks.

The idea I attempting to get across is that the stereotype of the man getting off the plane and then going directly to Nana (the famous nightlife area of Bangkok), or Pattaya for four weeks of bars, bordellos, and broads is not true.

On this topic lets turn to the most famous street of Pattaya (maybe the most famous street anywhere): ‘Walking Street’. If you were to walk along this street on most evenings of the year you will see many scantily clad enticing ladies inviting gentlemen into bars and go-goes. However, I strongly suspect that at least half of the men walking along Walking Street are simply looking, and would never contemplate entering one of these establishments. And, if one were to enter one of these establishments, you would find that at least half of the men present do no more than buy a few drinks and look, and never sample the merchandise. The percentage of men who ‘partake’ is relatively small.

sidebar: A common, minority occurrence is that of western lesbians coming to Thailand in search of sex, but no one seems to ever criticise this activity.

Lets turn now to another group of men and a different place in Thailand. Far removed from the busy lights of the big city, is the remote, poor, and rural land of Isan, in north eastern Thailand. Here you will find many western men who, find a Thai lady, marry a Thai lady, settle in a village or in a town, and lead a happy life (of course, you will find many farang men who did all of that, but are now unhappy as their wife ‘left’, but retained ownership of ‘their’ house—but that is another story for another time).

Many of these men did not originally come to Isan or even Thailand with this plan in mind. They come because of problems ‘back home’: the need for a long holiday, debts, unpleasant divorce (what other type is there?), no job, boredom, bankruptcy—problems. They come because they have heard that Thailand is cheap and easy, that the people are friendly, and it is a chance to rest and recuperate before moving on to the next stage of their lives. Then, while they are in R&R mode they will find themselves captivated by an attractive Thai lady, and one thing will lead to another.

Let me clarify a few things before I conclude this analytical analysis with my conclusion. I don’t have a problem with Thai women plying the oldest profession. There are many things which are far more destructive and exploitative, most of which are entirely socially acceptable—cigarettes and alcohol come to mind. As for exploitation has anyone seen the ‘girls’ working in the sweatshops—SORRY—‘factories’ in SEA, assembly gadgets and sewing expensive dresses for western women (the same women who then complain about the sexual exploitation)? Working in a bar is a far more attractive occupation than spending 12 hours a day assembling plasma TVs. I can also add that Thailand is not the only country in the world with sex-workers, even Australia have! (or so I am told)

After my extensive, but entirely subjective and anecdotal research, my conclusion is that the stereotype is wrong, and that the attraction of Thailand is not primarily its women folk, but the entire package: a pleasant social environment (friendly); a different social environment from that “back home”; cheap and easy living; low (most of the time) stress, and friendly, attractive local ladies (maybe not necessarily in that order).

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