The problem of prostitution is endless. In addition to the many opposing parties, there are still a handful of supporters. Although considered immoral by most people, but the sex industry is still surviving until now around the world. No matter how intense the government declares illegal, it is not easy to make prostitution vanish from a country because there is always a need. In Southeast Asia, Thailand is famous for its sex tourism. Boonchutima (2009) stated that the government of the White Elephant has been trying to change the image by promoting other tourisms such as cultural tourism. But unfortunately, a thick Thai image of sex tourism has not changed.
Podhista (1994) stated that prostitution in Thailand does have a long history. The practice has been around since the days of Ayuthya (1350-1776). The Europeans who came to Siam in the seventeenth century had witnessed the practice of prostitution in Thailand (Poumisak, 1975, Hantrakul, 1983, Skrobanek, 1983, and Thanh-Dam, 1990 in Podhista, 1994). One of those Europeans is an envoy from France, La Loubère. In his note, La Loubère mentions an official who is referred to as ‘the man who buys women and servants to prostitute them’ (Thanh-Dam (1990:148) in Podhista (1994).
In addition, in Ayuthya period, there is a corvée system  in which all men must indeed leave the family and serve the feudal lords for six months (Podhista, 1994). It was at that time that the girls were believed to be the servants of the corvée when they were far from their wives. In the end, in 1960, commercial sex in Thailand became a sizable industry during the Vietnam War or the Second Indochina War (1957-1975). During that time US troops sometimes came to Thailand to rest and that’s when the Thai women used the opportunity to meet the needs of life by serving the soldiers of the United States.
Since then prostitution rampant in Thailand even survive until now. Although the government is reportedly being intensively launched tourism without sex and banned brothels to operate in Thailand, the fact is prostitution in Thailand is still active. In fact, Gugić (2014) says that prostitution in Thailand plays a role in the country’s economy. About 60% of Thailand’s national income comes from the tourism and sex tourism sector playing a major role in Thailand’s tourism sector. Every year, Gugić (2014) says about 10 million tourists come to Thailand and about 60% of tourists are male while 70% of the male tourists come for sex tourism. Therefore, every year there are more than 4 million men come to Thailand for sex tourism.
Ironically, when sex tourism in Thailand contributes a lot to the national income of the country, Boonchalaksi and Guest (1994) in one of his studies suggested that Thai prostitute enter into the world of prostitution precisely because of economic problems. Indeed, universally the economic problem is indeed a problem of all countries, especially in the region of third world countries. However, according to Podhista (1994), specifically poverty in Thailand occurs because of the government which puts forward the industrial and services sectors, but ignores the agricultural sector. Though Thailand is an agricultural country and most of its inhabitants work as farmers.
Poverty that occurs to farmers in the villages result the difference of economic conditions in the village and in the city becomes very lame. Not to mention based on Podhista (1994), in the era of globalization as it is today, consumerism and a high lifestyle has plagued the village. Thus, to meet the basic needs coupled with lifestyle demands, any job that generates a lot of money in a short time is well received by the public, including prostitution.
Not only farmers who faces poverty, DaGrossa (1989) revealed that in Thailand there is not enough job opportunities for young women from villages who less educated and inexperienced. In fact, in Thailand girls have greater responsibility than boys when it comes to the household economy. Therefore, farmers who face poverty will eventually be forced to involve their daughters into prostitution. Thus, a daughter from an inadequate family who wandered out of town to become a prostitute for the sake of supporting her family has been understood and considered reasonable by the surrounding community.
The traditional discourse in which girls in Thailand are responsible for living their families is still implemented today. In Phongpaichit research (1980) in Podhista (1994), the prostitute in the research sources admitted that they were indeed the backbone of the family. In fact, the fact those women who are unable to support their families are considered fail, not only by the family but also by the surrounding community. Therefore, unsurprisingly Thai women are ultimately forced to justify any means to meet these demands, even if it means they must involve themselves into the world of prostitution.
Thus, unsurprisingly that until now the practice of prostitution still exists in Thailand. Indeed the government has repeatedly tried to remove the sex industry in Thailand. However, it cannot be denied that the surrounding community has no objection to the existence of these practices in their environment because yet it is much in need, both from the side of women who need money to meet basic needs, as well as from the men to meet biological needs.
Proof of acceptance of prostitution in Thailand is evidenced by non-exiled brothels. The brothels are located among the residents. According Boonchalaksi and Guest (1994) brothels in Thailand even located close to places of worship and trade center. The existence of brothel in Thailand is considered normal, like normal offices.
Moreover, in one of documenter films about prostitution in Thailand by Austria’s director Michael Glawogger, Whore’s Glory (2011) showed how the practice of prostitution in exclusive brothel covered as a massage parlor in Bangkok named Fish Tank. The building of Fish Tank located and operated in the center of city crowd like an office building. The prostitutes of Fish Tank stand in the upper floor of the building which made from glasses and pointed laser to the men who pass them to invite customer. Not only the extravagant building, Fish Tank also has other employees like any other offices, such as customer service, waitress, parking attendant, and security officer.
Fish Tank is not the only brothel which covers its business as massage parlor in Bangkok. Furthermore, this kind of things is not only happened in Bangkok, the camouflage of brothel is spread across Thailand. It shows that prostitution has become an aspect of life in Thailand’s society and has been rooted. In fact, its existence is not harming or disturbing the surrounding community. The root that has been planted for the past decades and supported by the never-ending poverty, makes prostitution is hard to be vanished in Thailand.
Boonchalaksi, Wathinee dan Philip Guest. 1955. Prostitution in Thailand. Salaya: Mahidol University.
Boonchutima, Smith. 2009. Resistance to Change: Thailand’s Image as a Sex Tourist Destination. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University.
DaGrossa, Pamela S.. 1989. “Kamphæng Din: A Study of Prostitution in the All-Thai Brothels of Chiang Mai City”. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 1-7.
Gugić, Zrinka. 2014. Human Trafficking Under the Veil of Sex Tourism In Thailand: Reactions of the EU. Osijek:University of Osijek.
Podhisita, Chai, et. al.. 1994. “Socio-Cultural Context of Commercial Sex Workers in Thailand: An Analysis of Their Family, Employer, and Client Relations”. Health Transition Review, Vol. 4, pp. 297-320.
Glawogger, Michael. 2011. Whores’ Glory. Lotus Film. Austria, 110 min.
 Thailand dulu dikenal sebagai Siam.
 Seorang utusan atau perwakilan, terutama dalam misi diplomatik.
 Tenaga kerja yang tidak dibayar oleh seorang bawahan kepada bangsawan feodal.
This article was written by Nitya Swastika (in Indonesian), an Anthropology student, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, UGM, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).