“For Thais, we are nothing but Dollar bills” is what Neil, in his mid-forties and from England, claimed. I had met him in a hotel in Trat, south Thailand and close to the Cambodian border. He had been living in South East Asia since a couple of years. “When I first arrived here when I was 23 years old, young and handsome, a wise man warned me, ‘never fall in love with the girls here. They will play a game with you, pretend big love. And then they will rip you off, they will get all money out of you and finally leave you when you have nothing more to give.’ I followed his advice, and I was never taken in by one of those ladies.” He then told me about a waitress that used to work for him, “she was married to a Thai. At the same time, she had ten lovers, all white, none of them living here. She spent her time with her lovers whenever they were in Thailand so to get money out of them. Her husband even knew about it. I met those poor fellas, who of course all thought they were the only ones, completely fallen for her.”
His words made me sit up and take notice. I remembered James, who I got to know in Vietnam and who had told me a similar story. He had spent a couple of months with a Vietnamese girl, who apparently was married but separated from her husband. He told me that he cannot remember ever having had so strong feelings for a woman in his life, although he had been married before. They had even made plans together for the future – but then things were to turn out quite differently. She somehow changed her mind, got back with her husband and stopped talking to James who, at that time, had already spent several thousand Dollars on her.
James and Neil were not the only ones telling me those things. Of course, I had heard stories like that before, even seen a documentary about German men leaving their country and hoping for a better life with young and beautiful girls in Thailand. When I came to the country though, my intention was anything but getting involved into that topic and I definitely wasn’t going to spend time in Pattaya, Thailand’s party city and famous for exact those stories.
Island Koh Chang – anything but local
My plan was to relax at the beach, discovering beautiful landscapes and learning about local life. That was why I chose to travel to Koh Chang, one of the beautiful islands my travel guide from Lonely Planet had recommended.
Unfortunately, the guide is not appropriate for people who seek places off the beaten track. I had a very good time there, but rather thanks to two lovely girls from Germany/Switzerland, than for the reasons I had chosen this place: Because of its beauty, the island also became a very touristy place and beaches were filled with huge hotels and night bars. What I did not like about the place was the obvious distribution of power between tourists and locals: I didn’t feel that the girls were actually seen as real human beings. When they sat with us at table, it was rare for them to participate in our conversation, and no one really tried to make them get involved. The rule apparently was easy: I pay for you, you look pretty and do what I ask you to.
Don’t get me wrong – I am the last person to criticize that kind of relationship, if both are happy with the situation. But here’s the thing: To me the girls didn’t seem to be happy. It’s just the easiest, if not the only way to make money for themselves and their families. Once again, a proof for the unequal world we live in.
Thailand’s capital Bangkok probably is most famous for these inequalities. My time in the metropolis therefore was accompanied by situations that reflected those extreme contrasts.
I got to know two local girls from Couchsurfing. They showed me the city’s best places to go out, we had great fun together and I slept and their place – for free, the only “payment” they accepted was to listen to my stories and share travel experiences.
Bad decision: Looking for a ping pong show
On my last night however, I decided to go to see what tourists do in Bangkok. It might be inappropriate and morally wrong, but I was being too curious: I wanted to see a Thai ping pong show. Together with two English guys we made our way to a hidden and gloomy night club a man that had talked to us on the street brought us to. He mentioned a “happy hour”, and said that we would pay 100 Baht (about US$ 3) per entrance and per drink. Inside the club except for us there were only a few (old) women, some of them ladyboys. One started to dance on stage, or whatever you might call dancing. She put a cigarette between her legs and asked one of the guys to light it. When her vagina had finished to “smoke” it, she insisted in getting tips which made us feel uncomfortable and we decided to leave the club. At the exit door however they surprised us with the bill: 5200 Baht was what they wanted us to pay! Included were entrances, drinks and the “show” we had just watched. They showed us their price list: First drink 300 Baht, second about 600 and so on. When we refused to pay that huge amount, all women started to get really aggressive and said they would call the police. Insisting that we did not have that money, they finally opened us the door and let us go after having paid 500 Baht each. I spend more than I was prepared to, but it was worth it – now I got an impression about Thailand’s sinister nightlife and I know that it really is not worth time and money.
That evening, Neil’s words came into my mind again. Was he right after all? For those people in the club we were nothing but dollar bills. But surely there must be more lovely people like my Couchsurfing friends in Thailand! I was disappointed to have to leave the country with this bad last example on my mind.
Good ending story
The next morning, I had to take a cab from my hotel to the airport. I had problems with my phone, so the receptionist called a taxi for me and made sure that the driver knew where I needed to go. When I sat in the car already, the lady from the reception suddenly ran after us and knocked on my window. I opened it and she gave me my purse – I must have lost it in the hotel! Inside, there was probably as much money as she would have earned during a week or two, not to mention two credit cards. I was relieved and thankful – not many people would have been that honest.
Yes, Thailand is famous for sex tourism, which is a huge problem for many young women, and not acceptable, especially when it comes to children sex tourism. Many women see white people as dollar bills, because this is the way they were brought up. Sad but true, it would be hard, if not impossible for them, to earn enough money in another way. However, my Couchsurfing friends, as well as the receptionist and all the nice and smiley people I had met in Thailand throughout my journey, proved what I actually knew before – there is no “Thais”, just as much as there is no “blonds” or “blacks”. Everyone has their own character and their own decisions to take – and those will define their lives. Apparently, Neil had met so many people all behaving in the same way that he forgot that not everybody is the same and that generalizations never can be true.
I am so happy to have gained these experiences and met these people. Not only the good, but also the bad memories taught me life lessons and always will make part of me.