Police are looking into a sex tour scandal after a foreign report emerged claiming that companies are offering steamy vacations to Western travellers with particular emphasis being placed on resort destinations such as Pattaya and Phuket.
Pol Lt Gen Thitiraj Nhonghanpitak, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), said Thursday he has instructed the Anti–Human Trafficking Division (ATHD) and Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to look into the case.
The move comes after the online site of Britain's The Sun claimed it had uncovered a number of websites, in both Thai and other languages, offering sex tours to Brits and other Western tourists.
Pol Lt Gen Thitiraj said tourist police and local police have ramped up crackdowns on gangs that deal in the sex trade in recent months, citing the recent bust of a swingers' party in Pattaya.
He said they will now expand the scope of their investigation to determine whether an organised crime gang of Thais and foreigners is heavily involved in the sex trade in Thailand.
Pol Maj Gen Kornchai Klaiklung, commander of the trafficking division, said all known sex trafficking gangs have already been blacklisted by the Immigration Bureau.
He rejected foreign media reports claiming Thailand is a sex tourism destination and that young schoolchildren can be found in some areas offering sex services to tourists.
Pol Maj Gen Kornchai said many girls may pretend to be younger than their true age and offer such services to tourists, adding that such "freelancers" are not affiliated with any tour packages.
"Police have arrested many women and ladyboys and none were part of organised sex tours. In most cases, they offered sexual services [independently] or through Thai or foreign agents [on an individual basis]," he added.
Police will also investigate if tour guides have been helping travellers by procuring paid-for sex partners, he said.
He said foreign media like to sensationalise stories to boost their readership but the reality is that the sex trade in Thailand is not that pervasive.
His comments were questioned by netizens on social media. Some pointed to notorious areas like Walking Street in Pattaya, which is lined with a-go-go bars where girls routinely dance in skimpy outfits and can be taken out of the premises by paying a "bar fine" of around US$30 (950 baht).
Pol Maj Gen Kornchai said police have also targeted websites that offer sex services, with hundreds being closed down in the last three months.
"It can't be denied that the sex trade exists. What we need to do is curb it,'' he said.
According to the Sun Online, Thai websites are offering Westerners packaged holidays with "fresh out of school virgins" and "ladyboys".
One company offers punters the chance to sleep with "young virgins", adding: "Be the first to deflower one of these young enchanting virgins,'' according to the British media.
All of the companies also offer gay prostitutes among their selection of tour packages.
One of the companies offers a seven-day package for US$1,400.
Another firm claims to offer a five-star luxury sex holiday with a "private pool villa on the tropical island paradise of Phuket".
One company based in Pattaya promises to deliver a "girlfriend" experience ("GFE") for the duration of the stay. Seven days cost just under $1.500, according to the Sun Online.
Meanwhile, police made headlines last week by raiding an illegal orgy at a hotel in Pattaya. Eleven men and 14 women were rounded up late on the night of April 21 in South Pattaya while attending a swingers' party, where revellers swap sex partners.
Police and soldiers stormed the room inside at the Ban Tulip Hotel at 11.30pm following complaints from residents that the hotel had been organising such parties. Guests had to sign up using a website and pay just 1,500 baht each to attend.
The party was being held in a room on the ground floor where 25 people were found naked and engaging in various sexual acts.
They included American, Canadian, Chinese, Malaysian, Singaporean, German, Thai, Cambodian, Indian and Ukrainian nationals. They were detained for further legal action.
Hotel operator Yang Xeng-chai, 53, a Chinese national, was arrested for violating the Hotels Act and illegally facilitating sexual activities.
On Feb 27, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thailand needed to upgrade its image to cast off the shackles of being a sex tourism destination following disparaging comments by a minister in Gambia that went viral.
"When anyone says something bad about us, we have to comply with and use the laws [to solve such problems]. Everything must be improved. We have to help turn Pattaya and other tourism areas into higher-quality tourist attractions and get rid of this [sex tourism]," Gen Prayut said.