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Welcome to Bangkok: The fast-food makeover of Thailand's sex industry

Economic crisis, and changing consumer tastes, have altered a key part of Bangkok's booming sex industry.
Bangkok bar girlsEnlarge
Thai bar girls dance at a go-go bar in Bangkok's red-light district of Patpong on December 3, 2008. (Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images)

BANGKOK — Let me start by stressing it’s not a good idea to describe your profession as a “freelancer” in Thailand.

It doesn't matter if you're a writer, photographer or a graphic designer.

In Bangkok, freelancer is a term generally reserved for a prostitute who isn’t affiliated with a bar.

Using that same logic, “looking for freelancers” might get you more than you bargained for.

Unless, naturally, you are in Thailand for that kind of thing. That would be you and about a million other men.

After all, Bangkok hasn’t become the sex capital of the world because they make fantastic green curry. (And it truly is fantastic!)

It’s become the hot spot for sex tourism because of its liberal attitude toward “compensated dating.”

Yes, it is dating in a very broad sense of the word, but it isn’t just about the sex.

Being in Bangkok for the first time — and still full of preconceived stereotypes — I am consistently surprised how much of what happens in the sex scene here is hardly about sex.

It used to be that lonely men from the West traveled to Thailand for a few weeks at a time and hired a “freelancer” here, think companion, for their entire holiday.

This girl would become their “girlfriend” for a limited time and would get added benefits of being taken along on holidays and shopping trips, sometimes year after year.

While these sort of arrangements still happen, Bangkok’s sex scene has become largely the fast-food version of itself.

The competition is huge and the girls who work in bars must accrue a set number of customers each month or they get penalized.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis of the last few years has sent many of them to the street, trying their luck as “ street freelancers.”

But with the “Hangover Part II” crowd that tends to frequent Bangkok these days, it has become increasingly harder to find customers willing to pay for a whole night, let alone a week or month.

So freelancers have come up with new rules to cope with today’s fast-paced environment that their mothers‘ generation of companions hardly had to deal with.

Take, for example, the gruesome and competitive practice of “per session” pricing.

A British man I’ll call Jack learned this rule the hard way and he was quite surprised how the Thai sex operation works.

Being single, able and willing — and lonely in Bangkok — he decided one night he would pay for sex, something he could hardly do back in Europe where such behavior would quickly give him all kinds of labels.

Jack was quite happy when he found out that prostitutes here only charge about $30 per night for the kind of love Western women required weeks of wining and dining for.

Except, as Jack painfully learned, the price wasn’t for a whole night.

It was for a shorter version of it, colloquially called “come and go night.”

About seven minutes after they walked into a hotel room, the freelancer asked Jack to get out. He asked why, since he thought he paid for an entire night with her.

The freelancer, however, had no mercy.

“You come you go,” she barked.

Only in Bangkok.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/wanderlust/thailand-sex-industry-tourism-economic-crisis