sex tourism in Thailand

Sex Tourism In Thailand Research, Facts And Statistics

Thailand’s sex tourism industry sparks a lot of opinions, but few people really understand it.

As someone who has lived here for years, I’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see.

So today, I’m not here to talk about hooking up with freelancers or bar girls. Instead, I’ll dive into how sex tourism has shaped Thailand.

I won’t judge whether sex tourism is good or bad, but rather simply discuss its impact on the economy and present some harsh facts related to it.

And don’t worry, I won’t ask you to take my word for it because everything will be backed by statistics.


Current State of Sex Tourism in Thailand

Experiencing Thailand’s sex tourism firsthand shows you just how big and complex this industry really is.

Let’s dive into some eye-opening stats and personal observations to get a better understanding.


The Economic Scale

red light district in Bangkok

An average of 35 million tourists visited Thailand every year before the pandemic. Among which, I’d estimate that at least 20% come as sex tourists.

And interestingly, some popular sources claim that sex tourism makes up about 10-12% of Thailand’s GDP.

However, I believe this figure is exaggerated. The real number is likely around 3 to 4%. That is also huge considering that in 2024, Thailand’s GDP amounted to a staggering 4.63 trillion Thai baht.

This shows whether the numbers are exaggerated or not, sex tourism is an important economic driver for Thailand.

Besides the pimps, managers and the sex workers, there are other millions of people earn a living from prostitution indirectly. Just think about restaurants, tour companies, hotels and so on.


The Number of Sex Workers in Thailand

Honestly, it’s impossible to pin down the exact number of sex workers. Aside from bar girls, there are thousands of escorts and freelancers roaming around.

And if you’ve ever set foot in Pattaya, well, you know it’s like the sex capital of Thailand where you can’t walk a block without seeing a prostitute.

Several publications put the numbers of prostitutes working in “legal” businesses at about 250,000.

But the number might goes up to 1.2 million when taking into consideration self employed sex workers who are into this industry full time and part time.

It’s important to keep in mind the great number of university girls who on weekends practice the profession and those who has a sponsor (sugar daddy) to support them.


Presence of Ladyboys

Ladyboys have started attracting a large number of people to Thailand for sex tourism over the years.

According to this article by Reuters, there are at least 10,000 ladyboys working in Bangkok’s sex industry alone. And as you can see in this video there are many bars with only ladyboys…

The reason there are more ladyboy sex workers now is because it’s still tough for them to find regular, decent-paying jobs.

A significant number of employees in Thailand work in shops like supermarkets, restaurants, or retail stores. That pays no more than 10,000 baht a month.

Also, the demand for ladyboy’s services is increasing rapidly fueling the sex industry. So most of them find sex work a viable option given the circumstances and the demand.


5 Harsh Facts About Sex Tourism in Thailand 

Sex tourism might be a positive thing from an economic perspective, but aside from that, there are some serious issues related to it.

Let me shed light on those.


1. Pattaya is The Sex Capital of Thailand – Perhaps the World

bar girls in Pattaya brothel

I’ve often talked about how Pattaya is a literal “Whoretown” where you’ll find sex workers pretty much everywhere you go.

But did you know that it’s not just hailed as the sex capital of Thailand, but the entire world.

Roughly one in five people in the city have engaged in some form of sex work.

And with over 1000 lady bars and a countless number of prostitutes prowling the streets, Pattaya, takes debauchery to a new level.

If you ever visit the city, then make sure to follow a solid itinerary, otherwise, you’ll quickly feel lost.


2. Rising Number of Sexual Assault Cases

There’s an increasing prevalence of sexual assault cases in Thailand with over 7 women assaulted every day.

One of the main reasons behind that is lack of respect and understanding of boundaries, especially in the context of sex work.

Just because you’re paying a girl, doesn’t mean you can do anything you want to her. If you have any kinks then that should be communicated beforehand.

And in general, since women here are very receptive towards sexual stuff, both locals and tourists often overstep boundaries.


3. STDs Have Become a Major Issue

STDs are a growing concern in Thailand. According to a study, rates of STIs in Bangkok surged from 11.8 cases per 100,000 population to 90 cases per 100,000 between 2013 and 2017.

And nationally, it’s not much better, with rates quadrupling during the same period, jumping from 18.5 to 67.2 cases.

Now, some Agogo and Beer bars are starting to take safety seriously by regularly screening their staff. But the problem persists with freelancers.

You never know the last time they were tested, so the risk of catching STDs remains a real concern.

Take this as a reminder that you should never forget to use the rubber.


4. Women Often Only Do It For Economic Reasons

The sad reality is that around 70-80% of sex workers, especially women, enter the industry for economic reasons.

I mean, the minimum wage in Thailand is only 353 baht per day which is less than $280 a month

That’s barely enough to cover basic living expenses, let alone any unexpected costs.

For women who lack education or job opportunities, sex work often becomes the only viable option to make ends meet.

That’s the reason around 70% of Thai sex workers are from rural areas where there aren’t many work opportunities.

But in comparison to traditional jobs, sex workers are also paid more as they earn an average of 1,500 baht per encounter.

And depending on their beauty, daily earnings can exceed 3,000-4,000 baht.


5. Unfortunately The Sex Trade Is Still Illegal

Thailand Prostitute Serving Drinks to Her Customers

Most tourists would be surprised to find out that selling sex is against the law in Thailand.

Each year, thousands of sex workers get fined for breaking the Prostitution Act. The places that usually get targeted are massage parlors and Agogo bars which are registered as a part of the “entertainment industry”.

Police can raid these places without needing permission first, and just having condoms can make them think you’re involved in prostitution.

The work conditions for sex workers are often really bad. They don’t get many days off, and if they get hurt at work, like a dancer breaking her leg while wearing high heels, they usually have to deal with it themselves.

Even if ago-go bars pay a basic wage, it’s often less than the minimum wage, and they get money taken off their pay for small mistakes, like being late or not selling enough drinks.

Sadly, most sex workers have to put up with these exploitative work conditions.