FILTHY PATTAYA AND BRIGHT EYES
Remko Tanis • 02 November 2018
There’s this song called Another Travelin’ Song by the band Bright Eyes, which came out in 2004. I must have played it dozens of times over the years, if not more.
One line in the lyrics, a little after the 2m45s mark, always jumps out at me:
I dreamed a prostituted child
Touching an old man in a fast food crowd
Reason is a trip to Pattaya, Thailand, I went on in early 2005 - not long after Another Travelin’ Song had come out.
Pattaya has a reputation as the absolute cesspool of Thailand, if not Asia. No other city in the region is as synonymous to sex tourism as this coastal resort town, only 100 kilometers southeast of the Thai capital Bangkok.
Lonely Planet has this to say on Pattaya:
The city itself is no tropical paradise; its reputation as a sex capital is totally deserved, with hundreds of beer bars, go-go clubs and massage parlours.
Although a veteran Thai TripAdvisor contributor counters:
The image most people have of a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah is really a result of careless and sensationalist reporting by various media around the world. It is true that there are many middle-aged men who have found they can afford to retire here often with a wife or girlfriend half their age – or at least “looks” half their age...who are we to judge? - ...but it is also a fun holiday resort and great value for money.
I’m siding with Lonely Planet on this one, especially after finding an online guide to ‘Pattaya Girly Bars’ which omits absolutely nothing when it comes to advice on how to get your rocks on. It was updated as recently as June 2018.
Prostitution is everywhere in Pattaya. Name what you’re into and you won’t have to search at all: it’ll smack you in the face while just walking down the street.
The city is home to a disproportionally large group of (mainly male) retirees from Europe. You’ll see them hanging out in the clichéd environments of British pubs, Dutch cafés, American sports bars. Often with local women nearby who are not seldom less than half the age the men are.
I mean, it’s doesn’t take much to guess what the atmosphere is like in these actual Pattaya bars:
Big Hugs Bar
Wonderful Bar 2 (Happy hour from 07h to 19h)
The local Hooters is a nunnery compared to these joints.
I was in Pattaya on assignment, to cover the murder of Dutch gangster John Mieremet, who was shot there. Residents I spoke with described their city as ‘a monument to holiday hedonism’ and ‘Thailand’s dumping ground, where old European men still get the attention of younger women’.
Walking on Beach Road at night is a saddening affair. The sidewalk is largely occupied by the unoriginal merchandise of intensely brightly lit souvenir shops.
While trying not to run into racks of knock off ‘Hard Rock Cafe Pattaya’ and ‘StarFucks Coffee’ shirts, you are continuously approached by sex workers who don’t take no for an answer. They will literally hang onto your arm until you shake it hard enough.
Side note: I have great empathy for these sex workers.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with them on this trip, but I think it’s safe to say by far most of them did not choose this life and have existential motives behind their very persistent approaches.
Only the McDonalds, KFC’s and Pizza Huts on Beach Road, sleek branches with interiors designed by someone in corporate headquarters an ocean away, interrupt the dystopian monotony of a long mile of cheap souvenir shops, fluorescent lights and the inundating presence of prostitution.
Every time I hear that line in this Bright Eyes song, I’m reminded of Pattaya’s Beach Road. It is most definitely the place where ‘a prostituted child touches an old man in a fast food crowd’.
On the way back to my hotel later at nigh, I walked on the other side of Beach Road - closer to the water - hoping to avoid the earlier scene.
Impossible, it turned out. Just like you know in a mall where to go for what (food court in the basement, outdoor on second floor, arcade and movie theatre at the top), you learn quickly Pattaya has its separate areas as well, each with its own range of offerings.
Instead of the female sex workers vying for attention on the other side of the street, this side of Beach Road is for those looking for male companionship. They’re just as persistent.
Oh, right. What made me think of all of this now is news of a Pattaya clean-up campaign I came across just now. A couple of months ago the local police launched an operation to ‘root out crime and make the city livable,’ as the chief put it.
Since the campaign was scheduled to last only six days, I’m not too hopeful it amounted too much more than token drug arrests.
The Pattaya Girly Bar guide I mentioned earlier was updated right as this cleanup campaign was ‘making the city livable’ and surely doesn’t indicate things being any cleaner.
I don’t know ‘Danang Dave’, but I think he has quite a good grasp on the many reasons Pattaya won’t shed its reputation as Asia’s Sodom and Gomorrah anytime soon. And he doesn’t even mention the sex industry (although hinting at it by naming human trafficking).
This is his comment on the clean up campaign, as featured on the Bangkok Post site: