The girls stand around poles, clad in tiny bikinis, looking entirely uninterested at the crowd of mostly expats (and sexpats) who sit around the stage, sipping watered down drinks and gawking.
Daniel and I were unsure about going to the Nana Plaza complex, a part of Bangkok’s red light district, but after a bottle of wine and a tasty dinner, we’ve decided to hop in a bubble-gum-pink cab and learn more about the seedy side of Bangkok.
Nana Plaza was never on my itinerary when I decided to hop a flight down to Thailand’s capital and spend the weekend with my friend. In fact, up until dinner, I had never even considered supporting the sex industry in Thailand.
Then, things changed.
As we sit on the balcony of Oscar, a delicious restaurant, which overlooks many a nightclub, he tells me about the book he has finished reading, “Private Dancer.” The novel tells the tale of a western man who falls in love with a woman who works at one of the clubs at Nana.
“I just want to get an idea of where the book takes place,” he says.
After some pondering, I decide I want to see it, too. Especially since the book has just been handed over to me and Thailand’s sex industry is one I am curious to learn more about.
So, we go.
The massive three-story complex makes my jaw-drop. Situated in an area with Muslim storefronts, I find it entirely ironic that there are woman here who are wearing next-to-nothing, a thick coating of booze sticks to the floor and walking — even outside — means passing through billowing cigarette smoke.
We stand outside, hovering under a roof to protect ourselves from the remnants of the rainy season and look around. It’s old men. It’s European tourists. It’s Thai girls and lady boys sidling up to them, acting interested until something better comes along.
“Should we wander around?” I ask.
He nods, and we begin to investigate the first floor. We peak our heads through the curtains as the doormen try to lure us in with “hellos,” and “girls.”
For the most part, everything we see is pretty tame — especially in comparison to what I’ve seen in Las Vegas strip clubs.
Finally, we settle on a bar on the second floor and walk in. A cocktail waitress with a flashlight guides us into the club, weaving us through high top tables to an open seat in front of the stage.
Around us, servers sit with men, giggling, talking, pretending to be interested in what they are saying with the hopes that the men will pay their bar fine.
The stage has about 10 girls on it, some holding onto poles, some standing around. They all wear black bikinis and all look ridiculously bored, barely dancing to the music. Occasionally, they sway a bit, but for the most part, there is a dull look in their eyes as they survey the crowd. In front of us, a girl readies herself for her time on the stage, primping in front of the mirror before she climbs up.
“This is lame,” I say, so we head out and climb up another flight of stairs to the even seedier stuff.
Sex shows! Ping pong shows! Naked!
I roll my eyes at it. I find it all utterly disgusting.
We walk past one club and peak in — there are lady boys doing a dance routine.
“Oooh, can we go in here?” I beg Daniel, excited at the prospect of actually being entertained and seeing — for lack of better words — a drag show.
He agrees and we head into the dark bar. A cocktail server leads us up a few rows of seats to an empty spot and sits down with us.
I don’t want her there.
“Where you from?” She asks, looking more at Daniel, who is seated next to her, than me.
“Europe and America,” he says.
“Ooooh. You on honeymoon?”
Say yes, Daniel. Then she will leave.
We both sit there, taking everything in. The drag show ends quickly and is replaced by some of the most gorgeous lady boys I have ever seen. I mean — they are more gorgeous than most females I have seen. But, like the club before, they seem entirely uninterested. Except a few who don props like fake eyeglasses, and show off their numbers with the hopes that someone in the bar will ask them to come off the stage and sit with them, order them drinks and then pay their bar fine.
I look down the rows of seats and see a woman straddling an older man. She licks his ear and he grabs her breast. I roll my eyes and turn around, saying softly under my breath “gross.”
“You buy me drink farang,” the woman next to us says to Daniel.
I smile, grab his hand and squeeze it.
“No,” he says.
Then, she gets up and leaves, clearly disappointed she has even wasted a moment of her time sitting with us.
I look back over at the couple and the man now is sucking on the lady boy’s breast.
“Seriously,” I murmur to no one in particular. “I mean … come on. This is just … horrible.”
We sit a few more minutes as my mind is blown by this entire culture, then we leave the bar. Leave Nana Plaza.
Grime still on my feet, we head towards a Thai nightclub to grab some whisky and get Nana out of our minds.