Like every tourist destination in Thailand, Samui has a flourishing scene of bar girls, with gangs of young ladies standing around in skimpy outfits calling out to male passers by in an attempt to bring in trade for their bar and perhaps turn a trick or two for themselves.
These Samui bar girls are generally from the poor northeast of Thailand and send much of the money they earn back to their families. It’s, therefore, worth remembering that, whether or not you agree with the concept, the girls themselves do not deserve to be blamed or looked down upon. Sex work is work in Thailand, and should be understood from this perspective.
All the same, there are plenty of bar girls on Samui and sex tourism is a relatively obvious part of the Samui nightlife scene. Many visitors are surprised by the number of foreign men they see with a Thai girl on their arm. But sex on Samui is still not sold in the same way as it is in places like Pattaya, which promotes the sex trade on a much larger scale.
The bars on Samui tend to be low-key affairs; there are no big brothels and even the beer-bar complexes in Chaweng and Lamai adopt a more personal approach and, therefore, avoid the kind of hard-sell tactics that the likes of Pat Pong in Bangkok employ. Recently, slightly more sophisticated venues have been set up, such as Dream Girls in Soi Green Mango.
‘Temporary girlfriends’ are a much more common sight on Samui, with most foreign guys spending much of their holiday with the same girl, buying her presents and perhaps even providing a lump sum payment at the end of the ‘romance’ to help the family. There are also quite a few long-term Thai/foreigner couples living on the island, so it’s best to be careful before making swift judgments. Bars girls on Samui, as in Phuket and Pattaya, are part of the notable aspects of the island.
On the other side of the coin, men should always be mindful when visiting clubs and bars on Samui that appear not to be selling sex. Plenty of foreign guys find themselves in difficult situations because they think they got lucky with a lovely Thai girl in a club, only to find that she requires payment for her services the next day. Thai girls do not generally approach foreign men they have never met unless they have an economic need, so it’s best not to be flattered into thinking otherwise. For the uninitiated, apart from the obvious, one sure sign that you are at a girly bar is when the barmaid challenges you to a game of Connect Four.
Sex tourism is an exploitative business on many levels: customers exploit the currency difference to buy cheap sex, bar owners exploit the girls to boost business and, yes, some of the girls exploit their clients’ lack of savvy to make a buck. Whatever your opinion, the only time it is worth either passing judgment, or becoming involved as a non-paying customer, is when violence or discrimination are obviously taking place. Even then, bear in mind that in a commercial transaction, you may not be thanked for your help or interference.
Whichever way you look at it, the bar girl scene on Samui, as in other tourist places in Thailand, is considered an attraction for some and tolerated by the authorities who take a different ‘moral view’ of prostitution. Some enjoy it, others ignore, and for some it’s a job which they’ve chosen over working in a factory or rice fields. By and large, the bar girls of Thailand’s tourist industry aren’t subjected to unpleasant or harsh conditions.
Samui bar girls – how it works
The whole ‘girls for hire’ scene in Thailand is rather casual and unimposing, both for the punters and the girls. Mostly, the Samui bar girls are fun-loving, sexy girls trying to make a living in a fun way. It’s quite different from, say, the red light district of Amsterdam. But they are in it for the money and selling their soul, so some respect should be given. If the girl succeeds in having a genuinely fun time with you, a tip is encouraged.
Usually when you enter a bar, it won’t be long before one of the ladies has approached you, but if you’d rather sit alone and choose one, they’ll leave you alone. In the actual go go venues, they’ll press you to buy a drink. Drinks in Samui go go bars aren’t too expensive but there is a premium on the so-called ‘lady drinks’, which are about 120-150 Baht and generally watered-down. This is how girls earn their night’s bar wages.
Then there is the ‘bar fine’. When you have decided to take a girl home, you’ll have to pay this to the mamasan (supervisor), which can be up to 500 Baht, but usually 300 Baht. You should also agree to a price for the girl before leaving and this will be anything from 1,000 to 3,000 Baht (depending on short time or whole night), and how pretty she thinks she is. The later or ‘slower’ it is (like in the off season), the more negotiable they become.