Turnabout is foreplay

A young Thai woman far outside her comfort zone wanders the red-neon-bathed back alleys of Mong Kok in Hong Kong, trepidatiously trying to look through the darkened windows of sex shops and following the signs up rickety stairs, on the hunt for a very specific souvenir.

  • Published: 30/12/2012 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

A posh new Bangkok club offers a "six-pack party", with minimally clad male models showing off ripped abdominals. What had been expected to draw a trendy mixed crowd became, as an organiser described it, a mob of aggressively amorous females and a testy security situation.

Off of Surawong Road, a female Japanese expat goes to watch boy-a-gogo shows where well endowed young men from northeastern provinces perform hard-core acrobatic sex acts. Afterward she calls one of them over and, for an agreed upon 2,000 baht, takes him home.

At a ladies' lounge on Ratchadaphisek Road, fair-skinned men hired for their culture, humour and manners entertain well heeled female professionals, hoping to find the "sugarmama" who will pay for their university studies or new car. Several such clubs have opened around the capital in the past few years, some with over 100 hosts at a given time ready to tend to the needs of female customers.

Such scenes speak to a collective trend of a female population more aware of how they want to be gratified and braver in seeking it out. In a city where sex is ubiquitous and extroverted, with entire districts catering to men on the prowl, women who have suffered philandering husbands and lovers - as well as divorcees or those largely bypassed in the dating game - are increasingly bold in getting their own.

LADIES’ CHOICE: Women crowd male entertainers at a ‘six-pack’ party at a trendy club that became very lively, to say the least—part of a new vogue in Bangkok of entertainment aimed at women.

NOT ALWAYS THE GENTLER SEX

Levels is a trendy new sixth-storey nightclub on the glitzy club strip of Sukhumvit Soi 11. From a quiet beginning earlier this year, it is now very popular on weekends and event nights. One such night was a "six-pack" party last Friday, with minimally dressed male models showing off their muscles. It was the successor to the first such event two months ago, back by popular demand.

Events manager Chutima Ongsanthia told Spectrum it wasn't a surprise that the first party was successful, but the way it unfolded was something she'd never experienced before.

"The women were really aggressive. But that goes to show how women have been overlooked for so long."

There were some physical fights between women competing to lavish attention on certain models, she said, and arguments between ladies and their jealous boyfriends.

There was also some mild harassment of the models and sexual propositioning.

''The women were difficult to handle even for our security team,'' she said. ''They were completely outnumbered.''

Some party-goers had expected a large gay male contingent to show up, but turnout was over 70% female, a mixture of locals and expats, said Ms Chutima.

She said she expects the trend to continue and that there will be more events at Levels and around the city catering to girls' nights out. Rival clubs are already looking into similarly themed nights.

''In the Bangkok scene,'' said Ms Chutima, ''there is a lot of entertainment for men and not enough for women. There is a new kind of woman in Bangkok _ a young, professional and dynamic crowd not interested in Bangkok's 'traditional' nightlife. It is a breath of fresh air when the tables are turned.''

'PRINCESSES FOR A NIGHT'

In the past few years the number of ''host bars'', or clubs aimed at heterosexual female clientele, has risen exponentially in Bangkok. Some, especially those whose hosts can be ''bar fined'' (solicited for prostitution), keep a very low profile, to the point of not even having a name, website or publicising their location. Some are free to enter with pricey drinks, while others charge covers of about 1,000 baht for non-members. Many of these establishments refuse to admit men, while others make exceptions for men in the company of women as well as for gay men _ although the latter are generally discouraged. The dozens of host bars around Bangkok catering to gay men would be a better fit.

The female-only clubs are largely a new phenomenon. Most are off of Asok-Montri or Ratchadaphisek roads. One is on the top floor opposite the Grammy Building on Asok. Another one nearby is called House. There is also the well known 18 Plus 1 in the Sermmit Tower (www.18plus1.com), which boasts over ''100 men ready to take care of you _ handsome, warm, courteous and friendly''.

On Ratchadaphisek Soi 3 is a restaurant cum host bar called Nice Club House, while on Soi 13 there's the Mon Lady Club. Near Sutthisan MRT is a large new club called Sha Sha Club (www.shashaclub.com), where only women are allowed. It targets middle-class to higher end professionals and housewives and promises to ''deliver a night of fun for you ladies'' with ''handsome slim guys with warmth, humour and fun who know how to flatter the ladies''.

On Rama IX Road is Prince Entertainment (princeentertainment.biz), which ''employs handsome quality that will provide fun every night because you are a princess of the prince of the night''.

We spoke to one frequent patron of such clubs, an unmarried Thai woman in her late thirties who works in finance. She said she's not looking for anything serious at the bar she regularly attends on Asok Road. Sometimes she goes with friends, other times just by herself.

''I go to relax,'' she said. ''I work hard during the week and I can have a drink, and the men come to me and I can choose who I want to talk to. It makes me feel a little like a university student again, when I was popular with the boys. If I sit with a different host the next time, the one from before looks hurt. I know it's mainly an act, but it makes me feel liked.''

She said she hasn't paid a host for sex, although it happens. Some clubs don't want to know about the liaisons, while others want their share of the money. A friend of hers paid 5,000 baht, including the ''bar fine'' paid to the club, for all-night intimacy.

''The boy wanted to see her again and called her a few times, but she was afraid it might get serious and he'd make more demands. She stopped coming to the club for a while, but I think the boys know there's nothing serious in it.''

She still has the looks to turn heads, raising the question of why she would pay for a man's attention. ''Flings from bars and clubs can be emotional, embarrassing and messy _ competing against the prostitutes, and others casting judgement. Most of the men who try to pick you up in nightclubs can't be trusted. Women who have a bit of money want a context where they have more control of the situation. They want to be taken care of.''

GO-GOS 'LIKE A NAUGHTY MOVIE'

BAD VIBRATIONS: An officer shows off substandard sex toys for women at a campaign against exaggerated health-product advertisements, organised by the Food and Drug Administration.

Soi Twilight is one of the city's few options for female sex tourists. Known more formally as Soi Pratuchai, it lies off of Surawong Road and is filled with aggressive touts trying to get you into the boy-a-gogo bars that line the lane.

Considered low class by Thais, it is a popular strip with gay Western males and Asian females, especially Japanese, who can usually be spotted taking in the nightly acrobatic, explicit sex shows. After the shows, the dancers sometimes walk around in speedos, or semi-erect wearing nothing but a condom, hoping someone will buy them a drink. While the majority of customers are gay, the majority of ''go-go boys'' _ most of whom come from the Northeast, especially the Khmer-speaking communities of Si Sa Ket, Surin and Buri Ram provinces _ are bisexual or even straight. As long as the customer pays (prices start at 1,500 baht for short-time sex, plus 500 baht bar fine to the club), most are willing to entertain either gender. If fact, many prefer women, who they say are kinder.

One worker who called himself Joe, a short and thin but strong-looking Thai man, said he's been working at one of the more popular clubs for nearly a year. The best customers, he said, are Asian businessmen, such as those from Taiwan or Hong Kong, because they're the most likely to want a long-term arrangement and give him an allowance until they're back in Bangkok. More common are older Western males, but they usually pay less and demand more, he said, while Thai men just look down on him. Joe said physical abuse by male customers is not uncommon.

''Women are nicest,'' he said. ''And some of them are very beautiful. I don't know why they come here.''

Although one female Japanese ''bar-fined'' a boy and left before we could speak to her, another Japanese expat, 27, who works in telemarketing, explained to us the attraction of these venues. When she has a friend visiting from Japan, she said, she can take her to a sex show at Soi Twilight, and it will be the experience of her trip. ''Tokyo might have places like this, but we'd never be able to afford them. Here it's like something from a naughty movie. It's crazy.''

Has she or would she ever pay a man for sex?

She shook her head, then paused to reconsider. ''Well, I don't have a boyfriend ... Maybe,'' she said.

PATTY AND THE VIBRATOR

PLAYTIME POSTPONED: Sex toys worth more than 100 million baht are displayed at Department of Special Investigation offices after raids in the Yaowarat area in July.

Sex toys are illegal in Thailand. Under Section 287 of the Criminal Code, distributors, producers, exhibitors or advertisers of ''obscene materials'' face combinations of fines of up to 6,000 baht and jail terms of up to three years.

What qualifies as obscene is a grey area and the definition is enforced strictly or loosely depending on the political and social climate. A small number of ''erotic boutiques'' have opened in the past two or three years, such as Hidden Closet at the Mansion 7 mall on Ratchadaphisek Road, catering mainly to women trying to spice up their sex life. Novelty condoms, edible underwear and furry handcuffs are on sale, but vibrators and such are notably absent.

Hard-core sex toys can be seen sold at street stalls along Sukhumvit or Silom Roads, in Chinatown and even in some shopping centres and night markets, and if you ask around you can find them easily enough. But they are sold, much like pirated Rolexes, in contravention of the law.

The quality of such contraband is often suspect, and many women prefer to purchase while abroad. In countries where they are sold openly and legally, young Thai women on an international work trip occasionally hope to return with a certain souvenir.

Patty, not her real name, 28, bought a vibrator at the request of a friend during a recent business trip to Hong Kong. On the final day of the conference she ventured into the back alleys of Kowloon and saw ''Adult Toys'' written on a window, and climbed the steps to enter a shop brimming with cosplay outfits, hard-core toys, condoms, lubricants and sexual miscellaneous. She'd never seen any of it before, and there were many items whose function she couldn't imagine.

''What do you recommend?'' she whispered to the only female clerk.

''That depends what you like and what you want to do.'' She made a quick but expensive call to her friend in Thailand and then settled on a certain silicon vibrator that looked fairly solid and of good quality.

''Care to try it out first?'' asked the clerk, as Patty blushed. ''I mean, shall I put the batteries in so you can take a look at how it works?''

''That won't be necessary,'' Patty said hurriedly, paying HK$360 (1,420 baht) for the item. The next morning at the airport she had no checked luggage, so the vibrator was found as it passed through the X-ray machine.

''Is this going to be a security risk?'' asked the official. To her relief he didn't take it out of the bag in front of the other passengers.

''No, sir.''

Thai customs was the more serious side, since if the souvenir was found it would be confiscated at the very least, and might involve a large fine. But she passed through without an inspection, and two days later could deliver it to her friend. The verdict, when Patty later asked, was favourable.

''The best present I've ever received,'' said her friend with a grin.

THEY’VE GOT MALES: Soi Twilight has a number of clubs where women, both local and from overseas, as well as gay men, come for sexual services provided by Thai male sex workers, who are largely bisexual.

WALK ON THE MILD SIDE: VIRGIN'S VERSION

While intimations of sex are ubiquitous in advertising and the media, there is still a large, sheltered sector of the female population in Thailand with less of a need for casual sex or to be flattered at lounges or titillated by dancers or toys.

In a popular culture enamoured with sex appeal, such women provide a sense of perspective.

One attractive 24-year-old businesswoman, from a conservative Thai-Chinese family, said she has never had a boyfriend.

She lives with her family, and since her home is full of nosy aunts who are constantly going through her closet and drawers looking for clothes to borrow, there is little time or privacy for amorous thoughts, much less illicit toys or excursions.

"I never do anything to get sexual gratification," she said. "I mean, I've had erotic dreams sometimes but I've never masturbated or used any sex toys on myself.

"It might seem surprising to you, but ... when you've never experienced the real thing you won't miss it and you can live without it."

I'LL HAVE HIM TO GO: SEX TOURISM FOR WOMEN IN REGION

As a destination for female sex tourists, Bangkok is low-key and the scene is confined mainly to Silom and Surawong roads. The majority of the patrons of high-end host bars or escort services are Thai or expat professionals, well-heeled housewives or female sex workers on off hours trying to turn the tables for a change.

Expats living throughout the region provided some insight into the scenes in their areas.

In Phuket, a small lane north of Soi Bangla caters largely to female Japanese tourists, and sex is on offer, with women able to choose among Nigerians, Thais and Westerners. In Thai beach destinations such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangnga, it is not uncommon for Thai beach boys, tour guides and "rent boys" to have sexual relations with female Western backpackers in exchange for gifts or actual cash. Other destinations in the region are far better known in this regard.

Bali, especially the beach town of Kuta, is a larger, more organised centre for female sex tourism, with many Australian women travelling alone for that reason.

In Sihanoukville, Cambodia, there is a small gigolo scene for female Western backpackers serviced by local motorcycle taxi drivers.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Nigerian expats are known to charge US$25 (766 baht) an hour to service mainly older Vietnamese housewives or divorcees in their forties. Around two dozen provide the service out of shared houses in Tan Binh district. Other areas such as Nguyen Kim Park and adjacent Nguyen Binh Kim Street see women and gay men pick up Vietnamese men for $25 to $50.

About the author

Writer: Ezra Kyrill Erker

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