Money can buy you beautiful friends
A growing number of men are hiring young women to accompany them on dates and public appearances, but sex is off the menu.
‘She texted me and told me where she was. I tried to act calm and cool on the outside, but I was very nervous. As I walked closer to her, my heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty.”
An average-looking guy and a life-time lonely heart, Pichai’s* chances of dating a woman with model looks have remained a fantasy for most of his 33 years. But anything is possible in Thailand, where money talks and the companionship of a beautiful young woman can be bought as easily as fancy clothes or a designer label watch.
“I just wanted to know what it feels like to go on a lunch date with a really pretty girl,” said Pichai.
Last week, Pichai contacted an agent who provides a “friend for hire” service. They negotiated a price of 1,500 baht with the condition the date was during the day and there was no expectation of a sexual liaison.
Pichai is part of a growing army of men who hire beautiful young women to accompany them on dates and public appearances. Sometimes they are businessmen, both foreign and local, who require a pretty woman to be on hand when a contract is signed. On other occasions they are hired to fill in as girlfriends at family functions and have even been employed by psychologists to go on dates to build a person’s self esteem.
There are thousands of young women taking advantage of the new trend, supplementing their daytime incomes and paying off student debt with part-time work as non-sexual escorts.
Some of these women come from successful families and act as contact points to get their dates introductions to the right business people.
DATE FOR HIRE
Anna was Pichai’s date last Wednesday when they met for a chat over sushi and green tea at a nice restaurant in one of the city’s gleaming shopping malls.
“Hello, I’m Anna,” she introduced herself. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you.” Anna is a beautiful Thai girl with light skin, long brown hair and expertly applied make-up. It’s obvious from first impressions she has outstanding social skills, and quickly puts Pichai at ease.
“All it took was five minutes and I felt very comfortable being around her,” said Pichai, adding Anna was attentive and friendly throughout their short lunch date.
At the restaurant, she spoke enthusiastically about her personal life, making Pichai forget he had paid for her company. She told him she is a 24-year-old student in her final year at one of the most prestigious universities in Thailand, and has been “doing this” since she was 18.
As a girl from a family of average means, Anna must earn extra income to support herself. She is willing to turn her hand to anything: baking cakes and making salads to sell at shopping malls, pet-sitting for her neighbours, working part-time as a model promoting various products and offering her services as a date for hire.
She doesn’t appear to be a sex worker with an elaborate cover story. She tells Pichai she is hired to have lunch or dinner with many different types of people, from young executives in their thirties to older businessmen in their sixties.
Sometimes, sexual harassment is unavoidable. Anna frequently suffers unwanted advances during dates, but she has always managed to get herself out of tricky situations. Sometimes she sorts it herself, and sometimes her agency steps in. While the agency sends her out to dates on her own, staff often drop in for a spot check or wait to meet her afterwards, to guarantee her safety.
“I spent a bit more than an hour with her and it was worth every single baht,” Pichai said. “She was professional and appeared to be a legitimate friend for hire.”
Natthakorn “Korn” Pongchawanit, 35, is a business-minded high school graduate who formerly ran a clothes shop. Six years ago, one of his regular customers, an older woman, offered to pay him to go out on a date with her.
The customer said she used to visit male host bars because she enjoyed the company of younger men, but she didn’t like paying for overpriced drinks and bar fees. She felt Korn was handsome and had a good personality, so wanted to date him, and eventually introduced him to her friends and network.
“I wasn’t sure what I was doing at the time but I played along,” Korn said. “I ended up getting the opportunity to meet many people. I earned much more doing this than in any other business I had been involved in before.”
He began taking on more clients, but was overwhelmed and found it impossible to fulfil all the requests for dates. That’s when he approached staff at a high-end host bar, offering them the opportunity to do a side job during the day. He gradually built his team from a few people to hundreds of dates for hire.
“I started out just offering male dates for hire, but expanded my team to include women and the business really took off,” Korn said.
Now he has more than 1,000 women on his books, ready to be hired for all sorts of jobs, from simple dinner dates to acting as travel companions. His business sounds similar to shadier parts of the flesh trade, but Korn says everything his company does is entirely legal.
He compares his business to a modelling agency that provides beautiful people for different functions. One thing he guarantees is that his agency does not provide sexual services. If a customer requests that kind of thing, he will immediately refer them elsewhere.
Of course, some similar agencies do offer more than friendly companionship. One company that Pichai contacted did give him the option of dating a girl who would provide “extras” and spend the night with him for a fee.
Anyone who thinks they can call Korn’s agency and get a date later that day ends up disappointed. He tells Spectrum all his clients must go through a standard screening process first.
Every customer is interviewed by Korn and his team. They are asked about the purpose of the date and their budget, in order to match them up with the right man or woman.
Once the team is satisfied, the customer is asked to provide a passport photo and leave a copy of their identification card with the agency.
The cost ranges from 1,500 to 5,000 baht for a lunch or dinner date, and more for a longer function, depending on the “quality” of the man or woman for hire. Some of the dates on his books are famous models, or daughters of high-profile public figures.
Korn says protecting his workers is his top priority. Agency staff are always on hand to help if there is a problem on a date. They accompany the dates on about half of functions, keeping their distance but waiting around to make sure everything is OK.
“Sometimes customers ask me why they have to pay so much to go on a date when there’s no sex involved, but I always tell them they will see the difference between the quality of our girls and those who provide sexual services,” Korn said. “Our girls are professional with great personalities and excellent social skills.”
Korn’s agency is known as one of the top three providers of professional dating services in Thailand. He said 90% of his clients require lunch or dinner dates, while the remaining 10% book men and women as part of his entertainment service.
The dating service is restricted to meals out. Clients are permitted to take their dates out for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner.
With the entertainment service, customers can take their dates to watch a movie or to a nightclub, on the condition they provide an itinerary of where they will go and at what time. The girls are expected to flirt with customers a little, but holding hands or a hand around the waist is as far as it goes.
SHE’S MY SISTER
Chanya “Ning” Pongchawanit began working as a coordinator at Korn’s agency three years ago. The 29 year old does not have the model looks of other women there, but goes out on the occasional dinner date when a customer wants a “girl next door”.
She spends most of her time liaising between clients and staff, and is charged with making sure the agency’s girls feel safe. But there are some assignments that only Ning has the skills to perform.
“We were contacted by a 16-year-old girl who wanted to hire someone to be her sister for a day,” Ning said. “I accepted the job myself since it seemed like it would be fun. I called her in and asked her why she needed our services. She said her real sister was very mean, but she wanted to introduce her boyfriend to her family.”
The girl came in three days before the date so they could get to know each other better. When the day of the date arrived, Ning took her young client to a water park and spent a whole day there with the girl’s boyfriend.
Ning did another job for a 17-year-old high school boy who had his heart broken by a college girl. Ning accepted the date because she feels she has a sisterly quality that puts teenagers at ease.
She spent a day with the boy, going to the movies together and for lunch. He thanked her later for having helped him get through a difficult time.
MORE THAN A MEAL
While traditional lunch and dinner dates make up the bulk of his business, Korn also gets requests from people who want to hire his staff for professional reasons. In the past few years, increasing numbers of clients have started asking for girls who know how to interact with high-level business executives.
“Some companies, particularly those working with Japanese firms, require the presence of beautiful and intelligent women at business dinners to help them seal the deal,” Korn said.
Besides business dates, he is also taking his agency to the next level by providing a service introducing clients to his network of connections.
“When people want to open a business, get a loan or embark on something beyond their abilities, they can contact me to introduce them to new connections,” Korn said. “I know the family members of important people, such as hospital owners and bank executives. They can guide you and your business in the right direction.”
Korn also provides a unique service for medical purposes, working with psychologists and therapists to provide friendly and beautiful people to date those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression.
“Doctors ask me to provide good-looking women to assist in therapy,” Korn said. “The doctor and patient then go out to eat with the girl. They say the presence of a good-looking person can help boost the self-esteem of some patients.”
There is another group of customers who request the presence of women born in certain years of the Chinese zodiac, or those with perfect physical features, according to Chinese physiognomy.
A man or woman with a prominent nose bridge is thought to have a money-attracting face, for example. All the date has to do is show up at a family dinner, or stand in front of the client’s business.
“I believe the date for hire service will be going strong for at least the next decade,” Korn said. “Online technology might make it seem like we have lots of friends, but people are lonelier than ever. People also want more than just friends these days — they want friends with beneficial business opportunities.”
* Names have been changed.
Take your pick: Hundreds of attractive girls work as ‘friends for hire’. Firms often hire them to attend professional functions and seal business deals.
Boyish charm: Natthakorn ‘Korn’ Pongchawanit started his own dating agency six years ago after an older woman paid him to go out with her.
Versatile girl: Chanya ‘Ning’ Pongchawanit works as a staff coordinator at Korn’s dating agency. She was once hired to pretend to be someone’s sister for a family day out at a water park.