by Hanna Ingber
During last month's visa-run, I met an old white man who said he moved from England to Pattaya for the sole purpose of getting laid. He said he's been in Pattaya for eight years, has slept with at least one different woman each day, and has calculated that if you add in his years as a taxi driver in England, he's slept with more than 4,000 women in his life.
He told me this during lunch in Cambodia. We were sitting at the Holiday Palace Casino and Resort with a motley collection of foreigners waiting to get their passports back.
"Aren't you embarrassed?" I asked, surprised he felt comfortable discussing his sordid - and expensive - sex life with strangers. Well, we weren't total strangers. Standing outside Thai immigration for three hours in the rain can be quite the bonding experience, but still.
"Why should I be embarrassed?" he responded.
"That you had to pay for it," I said. "I've never had to pay for sex."
"In Pattaya," he went on, sounding thrilled to educate the young American, "everyone does it. That's why we go there. You should come and see."
No, thanks. I'll stick to Chiang Mai. But there are quite a lot of old white men here, too. Why? What are they doing here? Also getting laid?
John (all names have been changed), 69 and originally from Michigan, moved to Thailand more than three years ago. He used to own a bar behind the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. "If you live in Chiang Mai and you're single," he said, "all you do is go to the bars and chase girls."
His friends, other retired white men, agreed that most single men in Thailand spend their free time having sex. (And if you are retired, you have a lot of free time.) One old white man - a very large American - reminisced about his days being single: "I was what you call a 'player'. We had an expression: 'Hog, dog, or frog.' I'd go after whatever - all girls."
And by "all girls", he probably means all Thai girls. His friend, Frank, said there is no need to bring foreign women to Thailand. It would be, as he put it, "like taking a sandwich to a banquet."
Sleeping with prostitutes - or what these men call renting bar girls - is so common for single men, there is an assumption they're all doing it. Phil, 58 and from Canada, said: "My friends around the world expect that it's happening for me as a single male."
And, indeed, they're right. Phil - on occasion - does pay women to sleep with him. Though, his friend Harry maintains, there's nothing wrong with that. Harry, originally from England and married to a Thai woman, made sure I wrote down all the reasons why prostitution should not be scorned, like it is in the west. For starters, he said: "Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and it's been going on since the beginning of time."
Slavery has been around for a long time too. Does that make it a time-honoured tradition? Many would say no. What determines if a behaviour should be preserved or eradicated? Who makes the decision and on what basis? Furthermore, if such arguments reflect morals and values - sacred principles - why do they change when someone moves?
Harry also argued that these women left school at age 12 and therefore have no qualifications. "If she's good-looking," he asked me, "what can she do? She performs for other people and then sends 80 percent of that money home. You can't say it's wrong - they're doing a bloody job."
Another retired American - fondly referred to as Young Joe because he's only 41 - ventured to explain the economics of dating in Thailand. He said that in the United States, a man might sleep with a prostitute once or twice and then never see her again. In Thailand, foreign men sleep with prostitutes and then "they all try to get the girls out of the bar, into the home, and make 'em a wife." He contended that this is problematic because the so-called bar girl was making 40,000 - 50,000 baht a month. To marry her, you need to give her that income so she can support her family or herself. Another problem, he said, is the so-called bar girl will have multiple foreign boyfriends, each of them sending her about 30,000 baht a month. She'll rotate their visits to Thailand so they never know about one another.
After a while, Young Joe and the others grew tired of the chasing.
"I've been here long enough," Young Joe said, "to know I can't make a bar girl work [as a girlfriend] - too many headaches, and I can't afford it."
The solution? These old white men settled down. John has sold his bar and - like most retired foreigners - married a Thai woman. He now socialises by going out to lunch at Chiang Mai's hotels or by dining with friends. When the young American looked bored by the old American's social life, he said: "Now, you really want to get boring?" He then pointed at his wife across the table and said: "She's a farmer!" His wife grows rice, soybeans, and vegetables.
Now don't get me wrong - not all old white men moved to Thailand to have sex. Some came here as businessmen and stayed. Others chose to retire in Chiang Mai because of its beautiful scenery, cosmopolitan feel, great restaurants, live music, tropical climate, relative safety, and/or high standard of living. Some said they travelled around the world before choosing Chiang Mai as the best place to live.
Other old white men settle down with a Thai woman, but continue to socialise by visiting the bar scene. Daniel, originally from California, drinks every night with his Thai girlfriend. They frequent the bars his friends own on Loi Kroh Street, known for its string of bars, drunk foreigners, and prostitutes. Daniel and his American friend, George, said foreign men quickly tire of sleeping with a different woman every night.
"It's not real fulfilling," George said. "Because we're old men and we have hearts, believe it or not."
Not all old men tire as easily. After lunch in Cambodia, our group of foreigners stood in line - in the rain - to get back into Thailand. The man from Pattaya started making passes at me, presumably trying to make me woman 4,001. "Don't go back to Chiang Mai just yet," he said. "Stay the night in Bangkok."
He was three times my age and not exactly picky. I snapped back: "I'm American, I don't sleep with old men."
Of course, in the United States, young American women sleep with old men too. But if the old guy had to pay for it, he'd keep it to himself.
Thailand is also infamous for its child-sex tourism;