There is a small soi (alley) in Krungthep (Bangkok) called Soi Cowboy. It is a privately owned street that is lined with bars. In addition to a drink, you can buy true love there, or at least the kind that lasts thirty minutes of an hour. This is hardly the only street in Krungthep – or the rest of the world – that is like this, but it remains an example of one of the more negative stereotypes that people have about the capital of Thailand.
From my perspective, though, Soi Cowboy and other similar corners of this town are less about the services offered by the locals and are instead more about the behavior of the visitors. Without demand there would be no supply. And what ugly demand it is, too.
Walking by Soi Cowboy on my way to an appointment with my Thai tutor, this was the scene I saw:
I think the problem is more than adequately captured in the sideways glance the motorcycle driver is giving them. Inappropriately dressed, these guys are the epitome of what’s wrong with farang. Ugh…
I also wonder if he’s just astounded that guy got his entire back tattooed with that “is it freud or a naked lady” optical illusion tattoo. Either way…it’s all wrong.
Sigh. Thailand really gets a negative reputation, and it’s totally ridiculous. A lot of times when I tell people that I’ve been there, especially older gays, I get a lot of winks and “Oh, I bet you had a lot of fun there, hehe” kind of stuff.
is it mostly foreigners that populate soi cowboy?ps. that’s a RIDICULOUS tattoo to have (on that guys back)…!!!!!
Well, they are everywhere. Ever been to Itaewon in Seoul? Or even Bar Street in Beijing?
So this is the red light district?
Is being shirtless the main problem with those guys?
Chris, I have to say that your blog is one of the reasons I really don’t share in this stereotype of Krungthep. I actually have images of a beautiful country with some amazing places to visit, and a list of food destinations too-long to keep track of.Like an artichoke, sometimes the layers must peeled away to get at the best parts, and perhaps those willing to take the time to peel it away are the ones who deserve to know what those best parts are. Until then, these “farang” will be left with the ugly, outer casing.Well written, and even more well photographed!
I’m afraid I don’t understand about the ‘shirtless’ bit, what is wrong with it? Is it frowned on over there ?
The Ugly American persists even as the world shrinks. And truly the supply/demand is what drives the existance of these spots… Interesting peek…
@Chatamanda – @Roadlesstaken – The shirtlessness is one of the main problems, although it isn’t the only one. Thailand is actually a very socially conservative, very religious (Buddhist) society. Bare shoulders, sleeveless shirts and blouses, shorts and short skirts are very uncommon except out in the smallest villages (and even then not that common) and are considered vulgar. The further unspoken problems here are based less on what they are actually doing at the moment – having a drink and a chat in the afternoon – and are really part of what they represent, writ large. Let me clarify that I didn’t interact with these particular men so they may or may not fit into the follow stereotypes. They are likely sex tourists who are in Thailand because they like the attention of pretty girls (or guys) who are economically disadvantaged. They have probably made little effort to learn anything about the culture and likely will not ever travel much further in Thailand than these districts.Two events that shape my opinions on these type of visitors: An internet aquaintence I met who came to Bangkok frequently. When we met for a drink to chat I discovered that in his half-dozen visits to Bangkok he had never been to any of the major cultural sites, nor had he ever explored anywhere else in the country. His opinion of Thais were that they were all gracious and attractive and it was easy to get them in bed.Another situation happened this past weekend: we were in a nice enough brunch restaurant and this visiting foreigner who was wearing a jacket with “Police” emblazoned on it (you can buy these things at the market) and walked in and joked loudly to the maitre’d that he was there to conduct an inspection. He proceeded to be loud and obnoxious for the next twenty minutes while the employees couldn’t figure out his joke, which he kept trying to explain again and again. Very annoying.@murisopsis – Actually, I think they aren’t Americans. Sadly, it isn’t just the Americans who behave this way.@rhapsodymuse – That’s very nicely written, Matt. Thanks for the kind words.@Wangium – One of them, yes.@Bodhiseeker – Exactly, which is why I mention that there are streets like this all over the world. In any of them, the visitors aren’t looking to see the country per se. Sexpats…@iskrak – Other than the employees and bar girls, it is entirely foreign men. There are no foreign women. Worth noting there is actually one of these streets that is geared entirely to Japanese and there is another area with a heavy focus on Middle Eastern men.@secade – Yes, the same response I get from some people when they find out I live there. Sadly for them, if they make those type of remarks to me I don’t hesitate to slap them down.@Steven – It is a really awful tatoo, isn’t it?
ugg sex tourists. they do piss me off sometimes.
Soi Cowboy and a few other streets in the Silom area are quite notorious for the bar scene. I’d try to keep my head down and walk in the centre of the soi, because some of the “mama sans” standing by the bars agressively pulled me by the arms a couple of times when I walked too near. 😦
@christao408 – Thank you for the explanation Chris. Some folk have no respect for the culture of the countries they visit and as for exploiting the locals for sex – it’s disgusting, especially when all one can say about a country is that it’s easy to find a bed partner!! That’s an awful opinion to give out !. As for that guy in the ‘police’ jacket, what a moron ! If I visited another country, I would want to see as much I could, to find out the differences between that country and my own. I’d want to visit places and see buildings that are ‘unique’ to that country. Like for example – if I went to Paris, I would ‘have’ to see that ‘leaning tower of Pisa’ for real – I’ve seen pics but I’d love to actually see it. What unique sights does Thailand have ?
Right now our sex tourism is not a major thing. But we are wasting the World Cip Soccer in a few months and I think that that will change. Apparently foreigners, especially the Europeans have expectations.
Ah… the ugly American (or perhaps European). It’s sad that they can’t find something better to do in such a beautiful country!
@Chatamanda – I think the leaning tower of Pisa is in Italy? But, good point.Interesting blog, Chris. I didn’t know Thailand was mostly a conservative country. I actually thought Thailand was plagued with sex tourism problems… and that their main form of income was from providing services to tourist – hence I saw a bleak view of the country.That’s why when I first saw the picture, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. But after reading what you’ve written, I guess they were showing no regard for Thais.
Oh Gee, Lol Thanks for pointing out my error, of course you are right, it’s the Eiffel Tower that is in Paris – Lol I checked before I posted this time. 🙂 @stepaside_loser –
I am wondering what types of toys they have in the store with the sign TOY. adult toys, or real toys?Great article Chris.
@ZSA_MD – Interestingly, neither. Sex toys, pornography, and other sex paraphanalia are illegal in Thailand both to sell and to bring into the country. Toy is just the name of the bar.@Chatamanda – If they have a problem with land subsidence, I suppose it might be the Leaning Tower of Eiffel. LOL With regards to Thailand’s sights, there is a fantastic amount of historical and cultural things as Thailand was the convergence point for Chinese, Indian, and Malay culture. There are two amazing sets of ruins – in Sukhothai and in Ayutthaya – and in Bangkok itself we have the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and the Temple of Dawn, all three of which are splendidly decorated religious complexes. Additionally, Thailand has some amazing natural beauty, both our incredible beaches as well as some spectacular mountainous areas to the north.@stepaside_loser – Which kind of illustrates how the image of Thailand as a sex tourism destination has really become very firmly planted in people’s minds.@TheCheshireGrins – Well, a few do… have to give them credit for it.@Umnenga – Interesting how pervasive it can be around the world. Western tourists come and the expectation of sex follows. And it isn’t just Western tourists – Japanese and Korean tourists here in Thailand are looking for the same thing.@CurryPuffy – Well, you are just so darn cute, how can they resist! LOL
@christao408 – HaHaHaHa Leaning Tower of Eiffel! Sounds like a great place for sightseeing and I would love the nature sights too. Have you any more pics from your sightseeing – perhaps some of the ‘nature’ sights ?
yeah, I also really hate that negative reputation that Thailand has, and hopefully one day I will be able to do something to help change it…btw, sawatdee pii mai!
@MAXIMO – Being a Thai who lives overseas gives you the opportunity to positively change the Kingdom’s reputation every day, just through how you live and talk about your mother country. Happy Songkhran to you, too.@Chatamanda – I’ll have to go back through my blog entries and highlight some for you. I’ve done some (although not as much as I’d like) touring around the country. Let me chew on that idea for you and I’ll find some more links.
With all due respect, your response to iskrak proclaiming “there are no foreign women” is not correct. Especially on weekends, foreign (mostly western) women are often 10% of the customer base. They come with their husbands/boyfriends or as a group. Like many of their male counterparts, they are there to watch the dancing and shows, not engage in any short-term rental of love.Also with all due respect, I find this particular entry very surprising. With so many topical items at hand, ranging from your trip to HK/Macau, the intrigue surrounding Saturday’s violence, the construction work at the Sathorn/Narathiwat intersection in support of the upcoming BRT opening, the April 26th trial runs of the SARL etc., you chose such a trite, everyday occurrence. And rather than bringing your typical nuance and insight, you covered it like Fox News would. Very surprising. I wonder if there isn’t a deeper story here.
@BR_fan – Thanks for your constructive feedback. You are right, there is a small percentage of women but by and large, the people coming to Thailand to rent Thai boys or girls for sex are almost exclusively men. With regards to your surprise as to my choice of topic and the depth (or lack thereof) to which it was covered, I’ll respectfully remind you that I started this blog with the sole purpose of keeping my family and friends informed as to my activities and observations while I live abroad. Anyone else who chooses to read and comment on my blog is very welcome but should remember the purpose with which I write.In my role writing this blog I am not acting as a journalist nor do I make any journalistic pretensions. My choice of topics and my editorial judgment is that of an individual and I reserve the right to choose whatever topics and to editorialize in whichever way I see fit.Thanks again for your feedback.
@christao408 – Thank You Chris, I look forward to that. I meant to ask before and haven’t seen any comments regarding it above – what is ‘Songkran Day’? It appears to be some kind of special occasion by the signs on display.
Chris, don’t you agree that every single country in our world (alright maybe not Vatican City but who knows what goes on behind all of those windows!!!) has a “red light district” similar to this? As you said, it is supply and demand, if there were no demand then no one would be offering the “service”. It wasn’t Soi Cowboy when we were there, it was Patpong and it wasn’t a small soi it was a big bustling district!! I knew quite few people that were stationed there with us that I would consider good ( or bad…as the case may be) examples of “Ugly Farangs” but it wasn’t only the ones who were frequenting the Mamasans on Patpong….it was also the ones who were constantly grumbling about the “inconveniences” of living in Thailand…how things were SO much better back home in America. Say folks..if you want to live in America there IS a solution to that!! I didn’t become as totally immersed as you are, while we were in Thailand but I did try and appreciate the beauty and advantages of living in The Land of Smiles…I adored the people, appreciated their culture, religion and way of living. I think I learned a lot while I was there…and as you have commented before…even after 30 plus years I still have such warm wonderful memories of wonderful Thailand!! You keep writing whatever you want to write…and if the occassional reader doesn’t approve…who cares??? Ruth Ann
I just cringe when I see pictures like this. This unfortunately is one of the sad realities of a smaller planet. A serious traveler would read up on local customs and know what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, wearing tank tops and taking pictures inside the temples – a big no no. Back in the days of film, you could see the strips of confiscated film hanging as a reminder not to take pictures inside the temple. I don’t know what they do know with digital cameras – just take the memory card? I hope so. At least in some countries (Canada is one) it does forbid child sex tourism. I’m not sure how effective it is though. Keep writing what you want to write Chris.
>__<; I have no words.. blegh. The thing that always bothers me is: you know that most “farangs” would never have such poor behaviour in their own countries.
@Redlegsix – Hi Ruth Ann. I agree that all (or nearly all) countries have red light districts but I don’t think all countries are sex tourism destinations. I’d like for Thailand to be seen in its broader context and not primarily for its reputation as a place where those ugly farang can get lucky with little brown boys or girls. Agreed, there is more to the ugly farang than just the sex tourism, but complaining about the inconveniences of life in Thailand is a fair bit different than engaging in economic exploitation. You recovered from your jet lag yet?@Jamorn – Well, they might have such poor behavior but I wouldn’t be hanging out with them! =D@ElusiveWords – The US has started getting very aggressive with prosecuting child sex tourism and the Thai government is to be commended for their work on this, too. The child sex trade has largely moved to other SE Asian countries. Sadly, it isn’t being eliminated, just shifted. Taking pictures in most temples here in Thailand is okay, although they generally don’t want flashes used.
@christao408 – Yep, jet lag is a thing of the past, I managed to stay awake most of the flight home. When we got back to the house around 11:00 pm I was exhausted and went right to sleep!! The next day I felt a little out of whack but by the 2nd full day home I was fine. I am just grateful that I didn’t extend my trip by a couple of days and get caught in Heathrow with all of those other poor travelers who’s flights were cancelled because of that volcanic eruption!!!!
Chris, I guess the reason that I didn’t pick up on the fact that you were talking about Thailand being a “sex tourism destination” because I just think of Thailand as so very much MORE than that!!! I think of the warm lovely people, the fabulous scenery, the way my horizons grew and expanded during the 3 years we were there. I didn’t mean to minimize the impact of the “sex trade” there in Thailand.
…as yet, as a “new reader” here, still remain far from caught up with all provided by you and others as your blog contents. still merely sampling when able. but i did happen to notice remarks about what some think atavistic. given extremes too familiar to me, normally without alternatives, as my reality, i’m inured to worse than deserves elaboration, tho even so, i’d prefer not merely to be terribly intolerant, etc., particularly if not accosted, in effect, in few other developments. clearly, here is an opportunity to say only a little as for much as i glean is a shared feeling about some measure of discretion in a reasonable timeframe, etc., and also in the context of a blog that, some might go on better to say, “vindicates” choices any number can make–and too, as they might enable such for others they meet, etc…. (thanks.)
now, very sorry…that attempts to correct (edit) some sloppy wording in my recent hasty “comment” failed when the comment “edit” option also (completely) failed. …i should post (submit) less, or better, etc.
@cdmcl3 – No worries. There are no points for style here and all thoughts and contributions are welcome, so long as they are respectful of others. Welcome and thanks for sharing.