Pattaya, one of the world's most renowned seaside resorts, thrives on tourism in general and prostitution in particular, even though the flesh trade is illegal in Thailand. Known for its notorious and flourishing sex trade, the tourist resort does not only have Thai women offering their bodies for sale, but others who come from the far corners of the globe and who are, ironically, given a one-year tourist visa when they arrive.
Authorities reluctantly admit the number of foreign prostitutes in Pattaya is increasing every year. Although crimes related to prostitution have not caused any alarm bells to ring in the tourist resort, Pattaya's police chief Pol Col Noppadol Wongnom is getting concerned.
Pol Col Noppadol, as well as local Mayor Itthipol Khunpluem, are both worried that the number of foreign tourists visiting Pattaya might gradually decline if they no longer feel safe in the world-renowned resort.
They have good reason to worry _ there is a lot of money at stake.
Many tourists and expats call it ''Paradise on Earth'', while others know it as ''Sin City'', a place where worldly bliss for many is available at a small hotel just around the corner. One of Pattaya's main businesses is the flesh trade, run either on a voluntary or forced basis, with many poor local women seeing it as a place to make some quick money. Pattaya attracts a large number of ''customers'' from abroad, who come into the country as tourists, businesspeople, retirees and include residing expats, and these ''customers'' generate a colossal cash flow in and around the town.
As much as 60 billion baht in cash was spent in Sin City by an estimated six million tourists, including Thais, in one year, according to Charnyut Hengtrakul, a former counsel attached to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. Of that huge sum of money, a large portion is spent on sex for sale.
The authorities apparently choose to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to prostitution, which is not considered a real crime there. They have said that nothing could be done as long as the flesh trade was carried out in a ''voluntary and hidden'' fashion and money changed hands in secrecy.
Authorities have cracked down on drugs and burglaries throughout the tourist city, but prostitution has prospered alongside money-laundering businesses mostly run by foreigners, said one local source who did not want to be named.
Gone are the days when Pattaya was a popular destination for American GIs on R&R in the '60s and early '70s, who loved it for its beaches and booze. Today, only the foolish would bother to swim or dive in the dirty water in the bay. Many now choose to take a boat to Koh Larn, a nearby island, to enjoy the sun, sand and sea.
Both Thai and foreign visitors admit Pattaya has thrived because of its night-time entertainment, and there are about 70 go-go bars and 800 beer bars in the city, and at the majority of these establishments the biggest money-spinner is often sex for sale.
In every nook and cranny of the city there are hundreds of first-class, second-class or no-class hotels, high-rise condominiums, foreign-owned beer bars run by Thai women and glitzy go-go bars where there are ample opportunities for prostitutes to ply their trade day in, day out.
The women in Pattaya's sex-for-sale business cater to a wide range of clients, and while most prefer farang (Western) customers or Arabs, there are also the boisterous tourists who party day and night, affluent businessmen and even grumpy old retirees.
Among Pattaya's foreign prostitutes are some from Russia, followed by Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Very few, if any, are believed to be running their own sex businesses independently.
Under the guise of running various vaguely-defined businesses in town, Russian pimps, both male and female, collect their share of the profits directly from these young foreign prostitutes on a daily or regular basis.
The number of Russian prostitutes and those from the former satellite states of the Soviet Union was thought to be only a few hundreds during Pattaya's low season, but their numbers increase dramatically during the high season, which runs from October until March.
So how much does it cost for a one night stand? It depends.
If you're a regular, farang client, you'd pay at least 1,500 baht for a single activity known locally as a ''private dance'' or a ''short time'', which lasts no longer than one and a half hours.
The price asked for a short time can sometimes double, and it does not depend on the prostitute's looks or abilities, but simply on the possibility that the customer is new in town and ignorant of the going rate.
For farang customers, a full night of sex, known locally as a ''long time'', with a Russian prostitute can cost 4,000 to 5,000 baht.
For Arab customers, the going rate is 2,000 baht for a short time late in the afternoon, while the rate may double for an overnight session.
For Thai customers, spending some time with a foreign girl is more expensive. They pay at least 2,500 baht for a private dance late in the afternoon or early evening, and at least 2,000 baht for late night, short-time sex.
In only a few cases were long-time private dances offered by Russian prostitutes to Thai men. But for Thai men who insist on staying overnight with working girls from Russia, they have to shell out the hefty sum of 10,000 baht or more.
Russian pimps are said to collect roughly more than half of the money earned by their prostitutes, and in some cases as much as 70% is taken from women who have only recently arrived.
In most cases, the air tickets that bring young Russian women from Moscow to Bangkok, which cost up to 70,000 baht, are paid not by the prostitutes but by their pimps. The pimps get their investment back quickly in this illicit, yet highly-profitable business.
At times the pimps and girls get an opportunity to make more than the regular hourly rate when a customer asks a Russian prostitute to stay with them for a number of weeks, or sometimes months. The customers, mostly foreigners or Arabs, have to pay a lump sum, which amounts to much more than the hourly or nightly rates.