BANGKOK, Thailand — A military coup in Thailand that began with Tuesday’s military imposition of martial law has already thrown the country’s lucrative sex tourism industry into disarray.
Located at the center of Southeast Asia’s Indochina peninsula, Thailand is no stranger to military takeovers. Since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the country has endured 12 such military coups, each of which has put considerable strain on the millions of Thai men and women who earn their livings hawking flesh.
“Here we go again,” said Bangkok-based brothel owner Thaksin Boonliang when told of the curfew imposed as part of the recent martial law declaration. “If I had a rian baht for every time a military takeover forced me to cease peddling the skin of defenseless women forced into prostitution by inopportunity or Russian gangs, then I’d have quite a few rian bahts.”
Brothel owners and their disenfranchised employees are not the only ones up in arms over the Thai military’s latest coup. Citing threats to the rights of all Thai citizens, the international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch decried the declaration of martial law as a significant step away from democracy that threatens the safety of all people in Thailand, whether they earn their livings performing sexual favors for foreign tourists of questionable repute or in a considerably less popular and lucrative line of work.
If human rights organizations are quick to note the potentially devastating impact that Thailand’s latest military coup may have on the now-junta’s citizens, sex tourists themselves are equally quick to note the feeling of helplessness that such military action has inspired on the streets of Bangkok, Koh Samui and Phuket, three of the country’s largest cities and trendiest sex tourism destinations.
“I’ve been coming here for years to enjoy the pristine beaches, local cuisine and Ab Ob Nuat parlors,” said retired Cleveland middle school teacher Carl Jenkins. “And I was really looking forward to this year’s trip after a friend and former colleague came back from a trip in March and raved about the ‘kathoeys’ who serviced him all week. But come 10 p.m. the streets of Phuket might as well be the streets of Cleveland. Everything is just deserted and depressing.”
Though Boonliang recognizes the threat martial law poses to the rights of all Thai residents, the 44-year-old notes that few industries are as handcuffed by such restrictions as the sex trade, which thrives on government indifference to its often heinous and legally murky practices.
“Who are the real victims here?” asked Boonliang. “The brothel owners and our customers, many of whom likely traveled halfway across the globe just so they could perform the type of depraved and unspeakable acts their home countries would never condone. I’ll be fine, but those tourists are the ones who the rest of the world should feel sorry for.”