Due to prolonged lockdown, pandemic and fear in the minds of the people, the red-light districts of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, once throbbing with dance music and a rainbow of neon lights, have gone quiet and dark.
A 2003 government study put the value of the industry at $4.3 billion, according to Empower, a local nongovernment group that supports sex workers. A former Thai politician and massage parlor owner raised the figure to US$6.4 billion in 2012. Estimates of the number of people the industry puts to work range from 100,000 to 300,000.
Empower and others say the vast majority are now out of a job, and quickly burning through their modest savings and belongings.
In the good time, a massage-shop worker could earn up to US$ 250 per month – three times the minimum wage – from the throng of tourists that would sweep in and out of Chiang Mai, a city in the hills of northern Thailand, famed for its gilded temples and cleansing retreats. The monthly minimum income of an average sex worker was more than US$ 500.
But, since the Thai government imposed a nationwide lockdown March 18, halting most business and inbound flights, though, her clientele has vanished — and with it her livelihood. With the country’s bars, clubs and massage parlors forced shut, the pandemic has pumped the brakes on a billion-dollar business.
But – here is the good news.
With new confirmed coronavirus cases per day mostly back down to the single digits, the government started allowing restaurants, barbershops and some other businesses to reopen earlier this month. Thai government is considering lifting the lockdown fully by the end of March, although every foreigner visiting the country will require a 14-day quarantine, unless been vaccinated.
The bright lights of Bangkok’s Soi Cowboy and the country’s other hedonistic hot spots will flicker on again, the bars will open their doors, and the customers will be back, if slowly and in smaller numbers than before.