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My foot taps to the beat of the band as I wait in the tiny outdoor area behind Interbar in Chiang Mai.

It seems like I’ve been standing in front of this dingy little mirror and dirty sink for more than five minutes.

I’m not drunk, but I’ve had a few drinks as I wait for the bathroom to free up. Whoever is in there certainly is taking their sweet time.

Finally, the powder blue door swings open and out walks a scraggly-haired guy with a silly grin on his face.

I stand there, confused.
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I’ve been waiting for the woman’s bathroom.Β 

“Oh,” I stammer, looking to the men’s bathroom door, which is open. “Sorry, I didn’t realize …”

He casts a quick glance at me, then walks away. As I walk into the bathroom, I nearly collide with another person, who follows him out at his heels.

One of the bar’s cocktail waitresses.

Music for getting it on?

“I’m so sorryyyyyy,” she coos to me, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

Oh. My. God.

I am at a loss for words as I realize what has just happened.

Him. Her. A blowjob in the bathroom.

I go into the toilet, but the thought of what has just gone on in this little backroom bathroom has rendered me pee-shy. Instead, I head back to the picnic bench in the dimly lit bar to meet my friends, Katie and Adam.

It’s the second night I’ve been to this bar since I’ve been back in town from volunteering at Elephant Nature Park.

Two nights earlier, when I wentΒ from hut to haute and checked into the Rachamankha Hotel, I had been at this tourist hot spot located just outside Thapae Gate with some of the volunteers. Armed with a bottle of whiskey and Chang beer, we had sang along with the cover band and made friends with other travelers.

Tonight, it’s entirely different.

“You won’t believe what just happened,” I say as I lean across the wooden table to my friends. “That guy at the bar and the little server in the American flag shirt just came out of the bathroom together. She was wiping her mouth.”

“And?” Katie asks.

“I mean … I guess I’m just surprised. This place doesn’t seem like a prostitute bar.”

Katie and Adam both look at me and laugh.

“D,” Katie says as she takes a swig of her beer. “This is a sexpat bar.”

“A what?”

“Sex. Pat.”

“What does that mean?”

“Basically, creepy men come here to have sex with the pretty girls who work here, or who hang out here. They get drunk on the men, do whatever, and make money.”

I take a better look around me.

The cocktail servers aren’t like the prostitutes across the way, clad in too short and too tight dresses. But, they are cute. And the men, well, they stand around, beer clenched in hand, leering and looking at the girls like they want to eat them for dinner. One man, probably a grandpa in real life, has his wrinkled arm wrapped low around one of the girls waists as she sits with them at his table. She giggles, he pulls her in tighter, nearly salivating.

Grandpa’s sexy socks.

“Sexpats,” I say, toying with the word. “Well … OK.”

I know about Thailand’s sex tourism industry. I know there are prostitutes. Sex shows. But, at Inter Bar, it just doesn’t feel right. It’s backpackers. And then the slimy men standing around.

So, I guess it is.

I watch intently the rest of the evening, eyes glued to the single guys who come in and out. I follow the girls as they lead men out of the bar, into the back, and then back to the bar again. It happens a few times in the night.

By the end of the evening, we’ve made friends with our cocktail server. I’ve even oblige when she curls into me, singing “you buy me a shot, yesssss?”

They’re so cheap, I don’t even care.

When we get our check, I take a look at it. The shots are priced differently. Two are cheap. One is expensive.

I flag our friendly (and now drunk) server down.

“What’s this?” I ask, pointing out the price discrepancy on the bill.

“My shot,” she purrs, smiling. “You buy me shot.”

“Yes, I buy you shot. But I’m not paying more for yours. Make it the same price as the others or take it off the check.”

“Ohhhh … okayyyyyy,” she says, not in the least bit surprised I have made this request.

I wonder how many other people don’t even notice the higher price.

She comes back a minute later, the price now the same as mine.

“You so nice,” she says, wrapping her arm around me.

Yeah. But, I’m no sexpat.

We leave that night and head to a bar in the old city. One packed with backpackers looking to get laid. For free.Β 

67 comments

    1. I don’t even know what that truly means, but since you’re not the only one who made the SEO comment, I guess we shall see. That means lots of searches on my site for bjs, eh?

      Like

    1. Ahahaaaa. Seeing your comment made my entire day. Yes, it is my boyfriend. What was his band? Death Star? That last night there was soooo fun. I miss us at interbar. Which can only mean one thing: reunion.

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  1. I was creeped out a lot around SE Asia. I don’t know what weirded me out more seeing 90-year-old men all over what looked like 15-year-old girls or backpacker guys that seemed alright before acting the same way. People just go nuts in Thailand. I don’t think I could ever get used to it. But good for you for speaking up on the shots!

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    1. I had heard a lot of the sex tourism industry there, and the implications of supporting the sex shows (girls are basically forced into it), so I had a distaste for it. The 90-year-old thing got me. After that grandpa danced with her, he came over and started talking to us. Of course, I was forced to dance with him (thanks to some egging on from my friends), and when his hand reached for my ass, that was the end of that. It’s like Vegas (or I should Nye County where prostitution is legal), people think because it is acceptable, they must partake. While it is regulated here, I doubt there is any sort of anything over there. As for the shots, I’m not paying more money for being nice!

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    1. Nah, you’re definitely not. I wasn’t hip to it either. I had never even heard of the word until I was at that bar. I would have never even known what was going on unless I hadn’t been waiting for that bathroom. #clueless

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    1. Haha!! I didn’t even think of that. My SEO skills are seriously lacking!! But, yay, if I get some new, um, readers. πŸ™‚ We’re going to have to meet up when I get to town!

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  2. Oh dear. What an experience. Amazed you stayed the night. I would have hot tailed it out of there as soon as I learned it was a sex pat bar. and those socks!!! Well, does anything need to be said!

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    1. While it was seedy, the bar was still a lot of fun! I wasn’t going to hire any of the girls, and while I was disgusted to watch the men and girls, it was an interesting study in human behavior.

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  3. First I have to say that Chiang Mai is an amazing, gorgeous city and I would go again and again. I have such fond memories.
    Though it does have that one sort of “red light” street though, leading from the old city center to the night market, full of very interesting bars. I always got creeped out, wherever I was in Thailand, by the old, not so attractive guy out with the pretty young (underage?) girl. Ugh.
    Have you read Only 13? I picked it up at the Phuket airport and couldn’t put it down. The girl’s website is here: http://www.only13.net/ it’s pretty depressing.
    By the way, I’m almost done with my Italian elephant blog, I will be sure to send a link!

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    1. I haven’t read that book but will definitely take a look. I know the young girls at the sex shows are enslaved, which I think is terrible. And of course, tourists only fuel the fire by spending money to watch. Definitely send me the link when your post on elephants is live. Would love to read it and share!! And yes, Chiang Mai IS an amazing and gorgeous city. It’s going to be my new home. πŸ™‚

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  4. I hadn’t heard of “sexpat” before – it fits! We walked down Loi Kroh a ton when we lived in Chiang Mai because it was the most direct route from the Old City to our apartment. We never went into any of those bars, but our walks were always entertaining. When Kali would walk by himself he’s always get solicited, and once a super tiny bar girl came over and picked him up… and he’s 6 feet tall! It was weird.

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  5. I spent my 23rd birthday in a sexpat bar in Pattaya, Thailand – though at the time I didn’t have a word for it. It took me awhile to figure what was going on…I’d be talking to one of the bar girls, then she’d leave for 20-30 minutes, come back and we’d pick up the conversation again. Being my birthday, I was offered “free” lap dances in exchange for buying shots…how thoughtful πŸ™‚

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  6. I can’t help but feel sad for the girls. Made me think of my 36 hours in Thailand over a year ago. Beautiful country, but things like this just make it depressing. On a lighter note, that was very nice of you to buy the server a shot even though she tried pulling one over on you! πŸ˜‰

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    1. Yeah … had I known she was going to upcharge me for it, I would not have. But, then again, it was sooo cheap, so I didn’t really care. It was the principle more than anything else. I feel sad for these girls, too.

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      1. I know this comment is abit late, but a couple of points…
        “Lady drinks” are always more expensive than the regular customers’ drinks…..you could both be drinking coke, but the customer’s would be twice the size and half the price of hers. But one thing to remember is that the girls get commission on lady drinks, usually about 30 baht/drink, that comes out of the extra cost. By making her change the lady drink to the normal price she lost that commission…….
        Don’t feel too sad for these girls, they are not enslaved, they are there by choice, to make (relatively) big money. The ones you should be sorry for are girls working in the Thai brothels, out of sight to most tourists. These girls are often burmese “illegals” who are virtually enslaved.

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      2. Yeah, I had NO idea that was the case. I’ve learned though and will never offer drinks to anyone again. I don’t need to pay double. I’ve heard about the girls who are enslaved and I don’t support any of those places. I don’t even support the bar girls … it just goes against my own beliefs. Plus, I read the book “Private Dancer” which just turned me off to the entire culture.

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    1. NOOOOO!!! Chiang Mai is an awesome city!!!!! I absolutely loved it, even with this. Don’t stay away … you’re going to have to come and visit me and the elephants!

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  7. I knew Chaiang Mai was seedy, which is why I had avoided it all these years. I think way too many people go there to experience this kind of stuff. And that is sad.

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    1. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression — I really LOVED Chiang Mai. There is this aspect to it, as with many other places in Thailand and other countries, too. Even here, in Las Vegas, there is prostitution. It may not be as pronounced in the nicer places, but it’s there. Personally, I am glad I went to Chiang Mai and I am going back to live there. Yes, people do go to places like this specifically for this, but it is not the reason I went and did not impact how I felt about the city. To me, it was a funny story … and a gross story … but not something for which I based an opinion about a place on.

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  8. I’ve never been to a place like that, but I think it would totally creep me out. I’m glad you were able to get that shot priced the same as the other ones. Crazy night!

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  9. Yikes, I know these places aren’t /that/ rare, but it still makes my skin crawl. The perfect illustration why you always want to spend time doing a bit of research into the character of a fellow backpacker/traveller before anything romantic happens on the road. Sounds like a bucket of laughs though!

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  10. I found the sex tourism in Thailand and Laos really off putting…. It s just such a shame that these girls feel obliged to sell their bodies to have a better life. I really hope that tourism can improve a country and it’s economy for the better…but stuff like this…. ick

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    1. It IS offputting, for sure! And sad. But, just like with animal tourism, unless people care enough to learn about the impact they have, it won’t stop.

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  11. I noticed some of the seedy bars when walking from the Green Tulip hostel in the old city to the night market in Chiang Mai. It was kinda disgusting, but compared to Bangkok, the sex tourism in Chiang Mai is just a drop in the bucket.

    It completely grosses me out to see older guys with younger girls. Regardless of the country. I wrote a whole blog post about Thailand: The Ugly (and also covered the Good and the Bad). http://renegadepilgrim.blogspot.com/2011/10/thailand-ugly.html I share a story about a guy I was standing behind in line at the movie theater. It still makes me mad to even think about.

    The whole objectification of foreign women by nasty, old, creepy Western men just makes my skin crawl.

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  12. Eurgh I think this sexpat phenomenon is common everywhere in Asia, but to different extents. Here in Korea, you’ll see gorgeous Korean girls with fuuuugly western guys at least 10 years their senior – she gets treated like a princess, he gets laid, but you never ever see the couples talking together, just walking. Or drinking. The girls don’t need the cash, but the country is very materialistic and they want all the nice things that’ll have their friends, “ooh” and “aah!”

    A sexpat bar would totally creep me out though. I have a very visual memory and don’t think I’d be able to get grandpa’s sexy socks out of my mind. Bleargh!

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    1. As awful as it is, I find this way of life really fascinating. I wish I had a background in psychology and anthropology and could delve into this and look into the behaviors, the acceptance, etc. of this. The socks were bad. He was worse! I had video of him dancing. And, when he came over to us and his hand reached behind to grab my ass? Shudder.

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  13. My skin feels so creepy crawly right now. I know it happens, but what disgusts me is thinking about how many of these men probably return home to their wives and kids who have no idea about their extracurricular activities. Ew. Just ew.

    At the same time, I would probably be fascinated just like I am by prison shows. I just want to understand where that mindset comes from, and what makes people do what they do in Thailand vs. at home.

    But my skin still feels creepy crawly.

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    1. I know. It is gross, eh? Like you, I am fascinated though. In that horrible, train wreck kind of way. There are few cultures where I really want to get inside the mind of the people, like this and also the gypsies in Romania. The story there is so interesting, so sad …

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  14. I absolutely love this. It looks like I’m a little late to the party, but I guess better late than never. And, not only am I late to this party, but I haven’t been to Thailand or a sexpat bar. So, I’m a sexpat bar virgin. With that said, when I get to Thailand, other than visit my 1st sexpat bar, what three places need to be on my Thailand bucket list (ex. place, site, activity, restaurant, type of food, beach, etc.)?

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    1. Thank you!! I used to not be ok with the sexpat/bar girl scene, but as I have lived here, I have learned more and more about this. I actually know quite a few bar girls now and understand why they do what they do. I’m not an expert on all of Thailand, but if you come to Chiang Mai, definitely a visit to Elephant Nature Park to hang with rescued elephants, some walking street wandering/shopping, going out on the town in Nimmenhamen, and getting lost in the Old City. πŸ™‚

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  15. Never seen so many ‘holier than thou’ people on one message board.
    To all the women going ew..gross..etc. – if you grew up with the same circumstances as those girls, you would be doing the same thing – and NOT feeling ashamed. Prostitution in Thailand is open – and not something that its citizens or its government are the least bit ashamed of.

    What’s normal to one person is ew…to another. Veal (prematurealy killing a young calf to enjoy its meat) – commonly eaten in most western countries – is considered gross in several countries. To me, killing a young calf (WITHOUT any possible consent) is far worse than having consensual sex with a girl who doesn’t see it as shameful to get paid for it.

    And to all the men on their high moral horses – ‘ha ha ha ha..gimme a break’. There’s not a SINGLE one of you who would do anything different if you found yourself close to your life’s end – with few loved ones left – and loads of money that you cannot take with you. NOT A SINGLE ONE! So spare me the ‘that’s not right or I would never do that’ lectures – and give those old sexpats (and thai women) a break.

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    1. It is a cultural difference. I have no problem with the girls here who do this, I understand. I am friends with girls who work in the bars. I get it. BUT, I understand where many of the comments are coming from in terms of the western perspective. As a western women, I was raised differently. You are right, what is normal to one is not normal to another. I have zero problem with two adults sleeping together, whether or not money is on the table. It is their choice. That being said, I also know many, many older gentlemen here who do enjoy Thai women’s company. I have no problem with that either. My problem is when these women are treated with disrespect — which I see quite regularly. We are all human and deserve compassion and some people come here and think it is their right to treat people less like people and more like objects.

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  16. I agree with many points posted above. First I think it’s horrible that anyone is enslaved in the sex industry. Second, I think it’s very pretenious to say things like you love Thailand and it’s people, but disapprove of how some of them earn their living (the difference being consent). Then I think, grow up people. Old men, with money and power, have been bedding young girls since the dawn of time.

    I’m not saying it’s right. And I’m glad that it’s not the norm everywhere, and certainly hope that the economics in places like Thailand change so women are given opportunites to provide for themselves and their familes so they are not compelled to be in the sex industry. However to be so shocked that western men are participating, many of them married or involved and doing it in secret, is naive and shows a lack of understanding around men and their sexuality.

    Good post though!

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    1. I’ve lived here long enough where I find nothing that happens here shocking! πŸ™‚ And, I get why it happens, entirely, and don’t judge the girls at all. I know what they are looking for and understand it completely.

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  17. 75% of Thai men use the services of the prostitutes regularly.
    That happens “undergroung”, and some of the girls might be forced to do it.

    However, the girls you see in the bars with foreigners, are sex workers willingly.
    You would be surprised to know, how much some of these girls earn.

    In other words, most of the prostitutes in Thailand are not “sex slaves”.
    It’s also stupid to claim, that they do it because don’t have a choice.
    In every country, you find people who are willing to sell THEIR body for the green.
    Besides, they choose their customers.
    I’ve never seen a bar girl forced to go with anyone.
    Also, most of the foreigners treat these girls with respect.

    Anyway, this is a very complicated issue, and most of the people commenting here, don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

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    1. Hi Jackie, thank you so much for weighing in. It is a very complicated issue, and most people do NOT know the entire story. I wrote that post before I moved here and since have had an expert provide his insight into this world on the blog, too. You are right, these girls are not forced into the industry. They do it to help their families back home and to have better lives. It is their choice. Having lived here and had bar girls as friends now, I would point out that not all foreign men treat them with courtesy or respect. I have seen them treated like objects quite often.

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    1. Haha. I don’t know if I agree that every guy who comes to Thailand falls into the “sexpat” category. I think some come and end up dating/in relationship with Thai woman … that is to be expected. The ones who come with the goal of participating in the sex tourism/finding a Thai wife to support, would fall into that.

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  18. The old men who go with young women in Thailand are deluded for the most part, they really think it’s not their money that makes the difference, they actually think that young Thai women find them attractive This is what their money really pays for, self-delusion!

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    1. Yes, but it also provides comfort to them. I know many men who were/are with younger Thai women. I don’t know that they are delusional — many of them see the relationship for what it is. They provide financial support and in exchange, the women provide the normal “wife” duties which extend beyond sex.

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  19. Thailand has the worst tourists, so many of them are not interested in Thai culture or language, they just treat it as cheap place to get drunk and have sex. Thais think we are all like that and we are all disrespected because of these sleazes.

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    1. It’s a bit of a blanket statement to make, but I have definitely seen some of the worst behavior from tourists/expats in Thailand. It’s like rules go out the window and it is the Wild West. But, it extends beyond that. The general lack of respect for the culture floors me. I get the bar girl industry, entirely, and understand why the women do what they do, and — to an extent — why the men do, too. Not every man with a bar girl is sleazy and not every man treats these woman simply as a sex object. I know many men who met their partners at places like this and who ended up caring for a bar girl. There is an interesting dynamic in Thailand in regards to this. Also, the local men do the same thing, just not at the same bars as the western men.

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  20. I knew Chaiang Mai was seedy, which is why I had avoided it all these years. I think way too many people go there to experience this kind of stuff. And that is sad. yes

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