Bangkok may have earned a reputation over the years as a sex tourist destination for men, but this vibrant city offers its residents and visiting women so much more. Vast and sprawling, Bangkok offers countless cultural, recreational, and social activities to suit women. Be they backpackers, trailing spouses, single employees, or itinerant English teachers, more and more women are discovering the charms of Bangkok and its affordable hospitality.
The people of Thailand are welcoming and friendly and offer hospitality that is great value for money. Female Thais take health and beauty seriously, and the spa and beautification services on offer here are huge draw cards for visiting women. Then there is the famous Thai cuisine, excellent shopping opportunities, international expat groups and all sorts of activities for families, including cultural events and amusement parks.
Thai people are usually keen to make friends with foreigners, or at least practise their English. They might be a little shy in approaching you, but are always willing to be helpful and learn about other cultures.
Generally speaking, these people are honest and sincere and you’ll get so much more out your stay by accepting their impromptu invitations to share food or chat. If you feel they are taking you for a ride (expecting you to pay the restaurant bill for instance), be aware that it is part of their culture for the wealthier person to pay. They’ll show you plenty of respect in return; and besides, most of them earn a fraction of what you do.
Women hold a complicated, essential place in Thai culture. The standard pop culture image of the compliant, eager-to-please Asian sex kitten is grounded partly in truth, partly in myth. Thai girls are brought up to be modest, respectful ladies who will serve their husbands and make them happy. On the other hand, many of these same ladies work as hard, if not harder, than their partners – they usually hold the household purse strings and make major family decisions. Bear in mind that the loose bar girls you typically see in tourist areas are a fraction of Thailand’s female population and certainly not a true representation of moral habits.
Many Thai women are single mothers and sole breadwinners. In Bangkok you are likely to encounter cosmopolitan career girls with excellent English, as well as humble up-country women attracted to work opportunities. By learning some Thai you’ll find it rewarding and easy to strike up conversations with street vendors and market traders.
One of Bangkok’s major draws, particularly for women from Europe and North America, is the hot climate. Wearing tank tops, tiny shorts, and other revealing attire one usually associates with summer is perceived as impolite here, however.
Thai people tend to dress modestly and smartly. Although tight jeans and vest tops are popular with young Bangkokians, don’t expect to see them in bikinis. Don’t be fooled by the attire of the youth in Siam Square; Thais are very particular about their status and this is subtly reflected in how they dress and behave. As a foreigner you can freely mingle with upper class ‘hi-so’ ladies or banter with fruit vendors on the streets, but Thais are silently bound by far stricter protocol.
Prevailing Thai culture dictates that your clothing and hygiene reflect not only your self-respect, but also respect for those around you. That translates into bathing regularly and wearing clean clothing and, while bohemian style is fine, taking the unkempt backpacker ethos to the extreme will leave a poor impression among your gracious hosts.
It’s undeniable; the sex industry is deeply rooted in Thai culture, and was around long before American soldiers arrived here in the ‘60s. Today, the girlie bar scene is still going strong, thanks to loyal patronage from foreigners and locals of all stripes. As long as drought-ridden Isaan (north-eastern Thailand) offers few job opportunities, women willing to work in the sex industry will continue streaming into Bangkok.
Female travellers who feel uncomfortable about prostitution can avoid the scene easily, especially since former Deputy Prime Minister Purachai created ‘special entertainment zones’. If you stay away from Patpong, Soi Cowboy, and Nana Plaza you might not see a single go-go bar during your visit.
If your curiosity gets the better of you, it’s possible that you might find the whole scene entertaining and certainly won’t be the only foreign woman in the bar, though you should be prepared to buy overpriced drinks like everyone else. You’ll soon realise that apart from the sleazy-looking men, the whole scene is quite safe, relaxed and lively; unlike the underground prostitution scene of other countries. Bar girls often speak good English and are happy to chat openly with you if they are not particularly busy. They are simply trying to make a living according to a different set of morals.
Female foreigners who want to help prostitutes improve their lives can call EMPOWER (57/60 Tivanond Road, Nonthaburi, Tel: (02) 526 8311, Fax: (02) 526 3294) to see how they can make a difference during their time in Bangkok.
Visitors who bring their own little cherubs to the City of Angels will find numerous entertainment ideas. Thai people generally show unbounded patience with, and affection for, children; both their own and those of foreigners.
Women making a long-term move to Bangkok may wonder what bringing up a family here is like. Thanks to globalisation, expat family life needn’t feel radically different from the West. Many mums report better paediatric care in Bangkok than they would receive back home, and it is certainly much cheaper. Family travel in this region is cheaper than at home and is most colourful.
Chicky Net is the online social network for women who have either relocated to Thailand or who are visiting for a specific period of time. Here women can interact with each other, meet at events, and even join specialist groups that suit their own interests.
Women coming to Bangkok with young children can check out Bangkok Mothers & Babies International (BAMBI). BAMBI sponsors play groups, meetings for pregnant and nursing mothers, special holiday events, and countless charity activities. There is also a growing WOMBLES subgroup (Working Mums of BAMBI, Let’s Eat Supper) to support working mums. BAMBI members receive a monthly glossy magazine that includes articles about pregnancy, birth and parenting in Bangkok, as well as travel stories and children’s book reviews.
Pampering in Bangkok
Bangkok’s delights may sometimes seem to be offset by the stress of pollution, traffic and seasonal extreme heat. But unwinding here is much more affordable than in Europe and North America, so why not make the most of it!
Massage: you can opt for a Thai massage (usually about 200 baht per hour); reflexology (foot) massage (usually about 250 baht per hour); or an aromatherapy massage (around 500 baht per hour). Nearly all of the places you see on a well-trafficked sois (streets) offer regular, non-sex trade services. A reasonable tip for an excellent hour-long massage is around 50-100 baht.
Manicures/pedicures: a manicure or pedicure usually costs about 100 to 200 baht. If you want to splash out, consider doing both at the same time. Thai nail technicians in Bangkok are very talented and can do elaborately-detailed art on your nails for a few extra baht.
Shampoo and blow-dry: much more luxurious than back home, the hairdressers here will massage your scalp during the shampoo for about 10 minutes and style your hair any way you want. They will also often serve a complementary coffee, tea or soda while you flip through a gossip magazine; all for 200 baht.
Spas: those in search of a real decadent experience can go the whole hog and check into a day spa for any one of their programs, which range from a few hours for around 3,000 baht to a whole day in an exclusive establishment for 10,000 baht. Thailand has become a world-class spa venue, with a wide range of both affordable and luxury options.
This is page 1 of 3. See Page 2: Health and Safety for Women in Bangkok