I am a Cultural & History Buff, not a night party owl. My mother loves beaches and mountains. So visiting the heart of Phuket’s nightlife- Patong was not on our priority list. Ashrith has been on boy’s trips to Thailand multiple times. I had heard about the party vibe and walking streets so much that I wanted to witness it myself.
Somewhere we wanted to see how walking streets work. How different prostitution in Thailand is different from Amsterdam? How does Patong come to life in the night while it was almost empty as if there had been a zombie apocalypse in the afternoon? Honestly, we wanted to see how sexy boys/girls/transgender people get to sell their business.
This is how I and my 55-year-old mother explored and experienced Phuket Walking Street in Thailand.
Ashrith’s friend Roopesh during their “Partying” trip to Phuket – You see guys wearing weird masks like this at Phuket Walking street in Patong.
History of Sex Workers in Thailand
At Old Coffee station in Old Phuket, mom and I sat and read a few articles to decide if we should go to the Walking streets or not. Here is the summary of our little research-The dark story starts in the 1300s where Thai women were gifted to men as Slave wives as rewards for winning wars and other achievements,
So a single woman was passed on to many men. Prostitution was legal and was taxed by the Thai government in the 1700s. After abolishing slavery in 1905, the slave wives under feudal law had no financial support, and hence the sex work flourished better than before. Japanese occupation during world war II encouraged massage parlours that offered sex services. US Military servicemen used Thailand as a resting place during the Vietnam War, leading to a massive increase in rural poverty and prostitution. Thailand’s government itself funded prostitution as they saw an enormous amount of money through Sex Tourism.
Is Prostitution Legal in Thailand now?
The way the walking street in Phuket (and other places) work, we quickly assume that Sex work is legal in Thailand, but not! Today, under the 1996 Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, prostitution is prohibited. But everything happens so openly here – That means there is a Grey area! The government may declare it illegal, but people and clients have found out their ways of bartering sex in the form of Massage parlours, Beer Bars and many more! There are even freelance workers. Rates of each typology vary apparently.
Sadly, poverty has led lakhs of rural Thai people to take up this job. Many Thais consider it the best option to make quick money to help themselves and their families. The industry has grown so big that we saw “Non-Thai” sex workers too (They weren’t South-East Asians)
Entering Patong area of Phuket
On the second day in Phuket, I had to take up an hour of mock driving lessons at Aussie divers at Patong in their office premise pool. After the mock dive, we were sure we would go to Karon point or the Big Budhha point for the sunset. But once we were out on the street, it was shocking to see a less crowded city. There was hardly anyone out on the road that is most famous for having a buzzing crowd. Chiang Mai is known for tranquillity and serenity. It had people on the street, even when it rained. But what happened to that Patong Ashrith and zillions other travel bloggers talked about?
This definitely made us wonder “Does Phuket have a walking street?”
The wandering began with the greatest doubt and drilling. You name a cuisine, that restaurant is there in Patong. Egyptian, Greek, Turkish, Indian, South African, Japanese, Israeli, and Russian. – All restaurants looked empty and weren’t ready to take customers in for lunch.
We met a couple from Poland who were confused and looking for a place for lunch like us. Somehow we settled in restaurant i-Kroon and had tasty Mango sticky rice with them. The couple wasn’t happy with the sober vibe of Patong and left for Old Phuket for a better lively vibe. In contrast, mom and I decided to remain at Patong and know why Patong was dead.
Where is that hyped and vibed Patong street???
We walked through the empty walking street to reach Jung Ceylon mall to get some Go-Pro camera accessories for Ashrith. I was told that this stuff is super cheap and good quality at that mall by my Scuba diving trainer. The streets were so empty that the infamous massage parlour looked shut forever. The restaurants were arranging one fish at a time in the ice basket slowly at their own pace.
The Bangla walking street atmosphere was opposite what Ashrith and other bloggers explained. “Non-tourist season” must be the reason we thought and walked ahead to the mall. The Jung Ceylon mall road was full of songthaew and private taxis with more people on the street. Most were waiting for their bus, and others were haggling with the taxis. As soon as we stepped inside the mall, we could hear the buzzing sound of thousands of people chatting like bees buzzing. Jungceylon mall is where the crowd had settled.
The sleepy streets of Patong and overcrowded malls of Phuket
I realised soon that all tourist packages drop a bus of tourists to shop here. It was kind of overwhelming at the beginning, but watching the madness here is fun. After buying the Dome lens for Ashrith’s Go-Pro on the topmost floor for a lower price, we settled in one of the lounge chairs, watching the buzz, because it was raining outside. Like us, two other women sat next to us, watching the insanity. People shopping here seemed super excited. Their faces were filled with the immense joy of finding the treasure at the lowest price. They continuously talked with their companions showing fingers at various shops. Every minute, one group of people walked out of a shop with a bag full of items. Mom and I were the only ones with just one box in their hands. We preferred shopping in Old Phuket than in this mall.
What happens in Bangla street?
One of the most famous Pubs in Patong is Tiger Night club apparently.
Once the rain stopped, we stepped out to the walking street at 8 PM. The Patong street was re-birthing. The shops were open with vendors shouting out 100 Baht in a peculiar town. The fish oil smell was filling the air. Crab and Lobster legs were getting broken, and some were already getting boiled. The Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants had their Chicken Shawarma hung rotating on the fire. Most pubs had re-arranged the seating, and the attendees were busy inviting tourists from the streets. The red and blue neon lights glowed more than before. The curious tourists were on the roads, but party people had to arrive yet. Our walk continued noticing 100s of Indians and Indian restaurants to the overcrowded beach.
Kaboom! by 9.30, The road was all lit, and the crowd had begun to arrive at Bangla walking street. Agents were calling out loud for the sex shows. Girls and boys were grabbing their chairs at pubs and clubs. Boxing show announcements popped up everywhere. The scene is totally different from afternoons. Men dressed in casual T-shirts tucked in wearing nice denim asked randomly,” Do you wanna boom boom – you want a boy or girl.”
There were performers every 100m. A magician was doing his trick with cigarettes. A girl stood there with a huge signboard stating “Happy hour”. With flashing lights behind, LED Signboards kept blinking “Beer lounge”, “100 sexy girls”, “Bikini Beer”, “Big boys here”, “Happy hour and happy ending” with the loud music.
I had experienced a similar vibe in Amsterdam. But it was the polished version of Bangla street. But mom was in complete shock to know this side of the world. We had forgotten and had zoned out reading the signboards until a man wearing a yellow Polo T-shirt and jeans asked us, “Do you want to watch the Ping Pong show.”
Then mom observed the crowd – there were many people like us, checking out the sexy scenes. There were all sorts of people. People looking for some hot action, people who were stunned, people who wanted to make money and some who were angry at the whole selling sex thing.
Is it weird for regular women to check out Phuket walking street?
Mom’s hesitation and worry if the place was safe for two women vanished when she saw old couples and family crowd wondering and wandering. She was so surprised that she was ready to pay the man for a ping pong show, without knowing what it was. I didn’t mind if she wanted to, but I had to let her know that the girls use their vagina to blow the ping pong balls out! Laughing hysterically, she said no to the man, and we walked ahead.
The pretty and smiling sex workers of Bangla side roads.
The side lanes with smaller shops opened to the main street where there were more massage parlours! The girls/ladyboys wearing deep-necked, skinny yellow T-shirts and blue-pink Sarong sat on a low-height stool beside the footpath. Smiling and talking, they were trying to seduce and invite the customers. While some customers took the famous foot massage behind transparent doors, some walked to the opaque rooms further inside the shop for some action. Mom and I stood there staring at the beautiful girls with straight hair and makeup, wondering if they liked what they did!
In Amsterdam, girls/boys stand in the glass window with neon lights. But here, they stand right beside the street. The haggling conversations and what every customer wanted were happening without any barrier. Staring at humans as if they are non-living prop is inhuman. But we could not help it. This side of the world is so that they are also used to people staring at them!
Mom and her love for long Silky hair
My mom, being herself, didn’t mind talking to them while many stood and stared at them – “How come your hair is so silky and straight? Do you use any Thai herbal shampoo? I also want hair like you.” She laughed and said, “My hair? I apply coconut oil often & I straighten it every day”, and turned to the other side to talk to the actual customer.
My mother waited for her to finish talking and continued to speak, “You are gorgeous. Can I have a photo of yours”. She smiled and nodded!
I am sure my mom would have begun a sociological survey on how working on walking streets would be if the girl entertained my mom. Of course, who wants to lose a potential client during peak business hours on a non-tourist season.
We made our way through the crowd and heard party music from multiple clubs; we came to another lane, where girls and boys dressed sexily were waiting for clients individually. So I am sure some work for particular groups, and others work individually as freelancers. I was asked if I wanted a big boy for the night. Nodding my head for no, we left for our beloved Old Phuket at 11 PM by an overpriced taxi- because there were no Songthews in Patong after 8 pm.
Darkness & Glamour
After Mom and I came back, a few people even asked me if Thai women are relaxed about sex? Are Most women in Thailand into prostitution? Is it only foreigners who go on Sex tourism.?
We have stayed in many homestays run by women in Thailand; we have taken boats rowed by women in Ayuttaya and taken taxis by women-run agencies. My sailing trip captain was a woman; my scuba diving boat captain was a woman – So labelling Thai women as sex work is illogical and Thai women aren’t relaxed about sex just like many of us.
How glam! I am sure there is a lot of darker side to this hot part of the nation. Human trafficking, forced child sex workers, thousands of AIDS patients and clients robbed by sex workers. Reading more about similar places like Kamatipura and Honduras, makes me wonder what kind of world we live in. On the contrary, I even came across those who are into sex work out of passion. I admire, respect and feel happy for those who take up and continue in a profession of their passion- So kudos to them.
My Verdict on sex workers at Phuket Walking street
After all, I was a tourist walking there for a few hours. So I can’t comment on ethical-sociological issues of the walking street. But I just wish whoever works here never gets abused (physically & mentally), makes enough money for whatever their requirements are, and does it voluntarily without getting forced. I won’t say it is the place mom or I loved most. But, the walking street in Phuket is a must-visit to witness to know something like this exists in the world. Walking street is safe for women tourists, but being conscious and dressing conservatively here will definitely help you.
What are your thoughts on Walking streets? Let us know in the comment section below.
Can you travel to Thailand post covid?
Latest Update as of March 22 2022 – Thailand depends on International tourists to a great extent and it was affected severely post Covid. Fully vaccinated travellers are allowed to enter the nation now. Check their official website to know more on Thailand Covid Protocols for Travellers