Before I left for Thailand, I read some random article about packs of wild dogs roaming the streets of Bangkok. I was skeptical of the horror stories people were fond of sharing about Thailand. I wasn’t worried about getting sold into prostitution, or having a stranger lure me into acting as a drug mule. But the story about the dogs scared me.
I usually opted out of the nightly excursions to random bars with my fellow study abroad students. Thai bars in Chiang Mai are mostly fun because of cheap whiskey buckets. Since I wasn’t going to partake of the cheap whiskey buckets, a loud, smoky party with other foreigners rarely seemed worth it. But when our program director was headed back to the States, the whole group decided a karaoke night was in order. “Alright,” I thought, “karaoke sounds entertaining. And a night out with professors isn’t going to get wildly out of hand.” So, we piled in the back of a rot dang (basically a pick up truck with a covered bed and benches) and told the driver to take us to a karaoke bar. He looked confused, but nodded and delivered us to a remote bar in an empty parking lot. Neon lights buzzed above the bar entrance, outlining music notes, and a few sultry silhouettes.
Inside, the decor was harshly modern, with stainless steel panels on the wall, some red, vinyl booths, and a black and white checked floor. At 11 pm, the place was empty save a couple of Thai guys sipping beers at one of the booths. Thai women in five inch heels, and five inch skirts, quickly escorted our group to an upstairs karaoke room. The room was lined with a long vinyl couch that curved around the walls, with enough space to fit our whole group of 20 or so. The women scrambled to get the karaoke machine working on the large TV in the room. “How odd that a karaoke bar isn’t really set up for karaoke,” I thought. People started ordering beers and whiskey buckets. The wait staff started bringing in beer after beer, opening them before anyone indicated that they wanted one.
I sat on the red vinyl couch, my legs sticky with sweat. The smell of perspiration seemed to hang in the air. Unsurprising, I guess, considering the ever present dampness of my own brow. But there was something about the body odor that seemed to emanate from the couch and the walls. It unnerved me. I walked out of the room. My roommate, Blaine, followed me, along with our friend Jon. Techno music blasted through the deserted bar. I started to dance. What else was there to do? I was only aware of some vague discomfort. I didn’t want to go back to our hostel. And I still wanted a fun night out. So I grabbed Blaine’s hand, pulled her out toward wide open expanse in front of the booths, and wiggled around in the most embarrassing way possible. Who was going to see me? The five inch skirt waitresses? The amused group of Thai men at the other side of the bar? I didn’t care.
Jon watched us with a raised eyebrow, but said nothing. Some foreign men started trickling in. A white guy walked over to Jon and started chatting. After he left to get a drink, I went over and asked Jon what they were talking about. “He’s German. He was wondering what you girls were doing in here.” “What? What do you mean, ‘doing in here?'” I asked, my stomach clenching a bit. “This is not really a karaoke bar. Those rooms are not for karaoke. 150 baht for the room. 250 for the girl,” he answered, carefully taking in my reaction. “You didn’t notice who was coming in here?” he asked. I looked around. Blaine and I were the only women in the bar aside from the Thai waitresses. I’d become so used to being a curiosity, I hadn’t even noticed the stares of these men.
My stomach felt like it was falling. I remembered the smell of the room and tried to keep my mind from following through on any of the thoughts that were pouring in. 350 baht, that’s ten dollars. “Do you want to leave?” Jon asked kindly. I nodded weakly, turning to Blaine who looked similarly pale. We told the group we were leaving, and walked out. “Should we tell them what this place is?” I asked Jon. “I think they know, and don’t really care,” he answered.
Outside, now there were dozens of men, reeking of alcohol. We walked quickly toward the line of tuk-tuk drivers. They reeked of alcohol, too. “I’m not riding with them,” I said firmly. We walked out to the street, expecting to quickly find the one of cabs that constantly crowd the roads. The streets were empty.
So we walked. And walked. I couldn’t stop thinking about those women. Just the stares of those men felt slimy. I thought about the German man who apparently lives just across the street, and frequents the bar nightly. A pack of dogs started walking behind us. Maybe not a pack. Maybe just two or three. We crossed the street and they didn’t follow. I had read about prostitution in Thailand. I knew that it was disturbing and rampant. But unlike the mangy packs of roving dogs, it didn’t seem so very dark and terrible. Before I came right up next to it, it didn’t seem so horrible at all.