Bangkok, Thailand is famous for many things but nothing else as strange as ping pong shows. A walk through the red-light district of Soi Cowboy or down the main backpacker haunt of Khao San Road will show you just how popular this tourist attraction is. There are countless men approaching you with ‘set lists’ yelling ‘ping pong, ping pong’ and making popping noises with their mouths.
‘When in Rome, do as the drunken tourists do’
I was out with some people from my hostel and a few buckets had been put away when we got offered a free taxi ride to the ping pong show. Sure, I’m in. This is what you do in Thailand right?
Entry was 300 baht and included our first drink, we had a choice of Chang or Chang. We found some seats amongst a room of 100 people all faced towards the centre stage. We’d missed the start of the show but on stage was a young Thai girl rolling around the stage naked, as a bunch of drunk tourists – both men and women – yelled, cheered and jeered at her.
She looked rather upset, but I put it down to the fact that she might have just been having an off night; I decided to wait for the next performer. Out she came; similar age, maybe early 20’s, then off came her gown. All she wore now was the same depressed and sullen expression that she shared with the last performer. Now I felt uncomfortable.
Three minutes later I decided to leave. I wasn’t prepared to sit there and support something that was so totally and morally wrong. Initially just the fact that the premise of the show was girls doing a job they hate; to be laughed at was enough to make me call it quits. The following morning I decided to dig a little deeper and found out it was much worse than I had imagined.
Most of the girls in the show are immigrants from neighbouring countries (usually Laos and Cambodia) and most of them have ended up there by way of human trafficking. They often receive as little as 2 nights off per month (working from 6pm-sunrise every other night). As far as compensation goes they’ll make around 6,000 THB per month (12 hours a day, 28 days a month) while in comparison the average wage is around 13,000THB (and somewhat higher in Bangkok although I can’t find accurate numbers on that).
Like any other business it’s powered by supply and demand and as travellers we have to take responsibility in not supporting exploitation of those that are less fortunate than ourselves. The only difference between us and them is that we happened to get lucky with the genetic lottery and be born into relatively wealthy western countries where thankfully exploitation of this kind is far less common.
It’s upsetting that my second post on this beautiful country had to involve something so negative but I hope that in sharing this it will discourage others from seeing the shows.
I’m aware my opinion may be controversial and would be interested to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter too.