Two weeks ago, T-bone and I decided to grab our last chance at a babymoon, and headed to Pattaya, a city 2 hours from Bangkok. We figured that if labour started, we’d have plenty of time to get back to Bangkok before the actual birth. And if not, Thailand’s police force is trained in the art of baby-birthing, so a perfectly pleasant taxi birth would be on the menu – basically just an all-around win-win situation. Proximity to Bangkok is the reason we chose Pattaya – this is also one of the two reasons that it is so popular with the expat crowd. Unfortunately, the other reason that Pattaya is a hotspot is because it is among the sex tourism capitals of the world.
The weekend ended up being pretty psychologically jarring. On one hand, we got to stay at a beautiful resort at the edge of town (I was reviewing it for a magazine article). Sugar Hut Resort is a series of traditional-style huts arranged around a pool in the middle of a huge garden. I couldn’t believe that such a serene place existed so close to the craziness of Pattaya. The bed was soft (unlike our bag-of-nails-covered-by-a-sheet in Bangkok), the coffee was decent, and the cold pool water was almost enough to compensate for the hot water bottle that I am carrying around in my belly. Plus, we got to watch peacocks and bats duking it out in the trees at night. We were happy campers.
On the other hand, when we did venture into the city, it was impossible to ignore the sex industry, which raised many of the questions and debates that I have begun tuning out rather successfully after a year-and-a-half in Thailand. Before we moved here, I assumed that I would regularly write about Thailand’s sex industry, but when I look at my blog archives, I can’t find a single post on the topic. This isn’t because I don’t care about the issue – I think it’s because it’s so overwhelming that I’m not quite sure where to start, and so I fall into complacency. I think this attitude is fairly typical among expats. There is a tendency to accept it as a part of life in Thailand, and to sort of roll your eyes about it, or think it’s gross and try to ignore it, or even to crack jokes about it. And this is assuming that you’re not one of the expats who is actively enjoying it.
In Bangkok, I generally tune out the sex trade – while it’s impossible to entirely avoid it, the bulk of it is concentrated in specific sections of the city (such as Patpong, Nana, and Soi Cowboy). In Pattaya, this wasn’t possible – it is literally everywhere. We walked by many go-go bars trying to find a restaurant for dinner, and when we strolled along the sidewalk by the beach after dinner, it was full of sex workers waiting for clients. While Pattaya sees a wide variety of foreigners (both tourists and expats), including many women and families, there is a distinctly male flavour to the place, and it is clear that many men are there to experience the city’s seamier side – “Good guys go to heaven, bad guys go to Pattaya” is a popular t-shirt. Things don’t always end well for these men(as evidenced by this article about expat homelessness in Pattaya), although I find it challenging to summon up much sympathy for them.
I’m not totally sure where I’m going with this post (maybe that’s obvious…) – maybe just feeling guilty about being complacent. When we first moved to Bangkok, I tried to get involved with an organization that helped sex workers leave the trade, but for a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out. And I don’t think that new-motherhood is the best time to be looking for new volunteer opportunities. However, I know that I want to lose the complacency. Sometimes it seems that everything about life in Thailand encourages a sort of inertia – the climate, the general “sabai sabai” (“take it easy”) attitude towards life, the expat bubble – and I want to start moving again. I am still trying to figure out what that might look like.
Our weekend in Pattaya felt like a bit of a metaphor for life in Bangkok – it can be easy to live in a cozy cocoon, but that doesn’t change the reality of what is going on outside the resort.