Prostitution in Thailand is illegal. A person soliciting the services of a prostitute is liable under the Prostitution Law if the solicitation is done “openly and shamelessly or causes a nuisance to the public”, the penalty being a fine of up to 1,000 baht. Although in practice prostitution is tolerated. In fact, prostitution is practised throughout the country. The sex industry is huge in Thailand. For this reason, local officials with commercial interests in prostitution often protect the practice. In 2003, the Ministry of Justice considered legalising prostitution as an official occupation with health benefits and taxable income and held a public discussion on the topic. Legalisation and regulation was proposed as a means to increase tax revenue, reduce corruption, and improve the situation of the workers. However, nothing further was done. Since the Vietnam War, Thailand has gained international notoriety among travellers from many countries as a sex tourism destination.
The precise number of prostitutes is difficult to assess; estimates vary widely and are subject to national and international controversy. A 2004 study by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul from Chulalongkorn University estimates the number of sexworkers at a total of 2.8 million sex workers. One estimate published in 2003 placed the sex trade at about three percent of the Thai economy. There may be as many as 10,000 prostitutes on Koh Samui alone, an island resort destination not usually associated with prostitution, and that at least 10% of tourist dollars may be spent on sex.
Although centres such as Bangkok (Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy), Pattaya, and Phuket (Patong) are often identified as primary tourist red light areas, with Hat Yai and other Malaysian border cities catering to Malaysians, prostitution takes place in nearly every major city and province in Thailand. Patpong (Thai: พัฒน์พงษ์, “Phatphong”) is an entertainment district in Bangkok, Thailand, catering mainly to foreign tourists and expatriates. While Patpong is internationally known as a red light district at the heart of Bangkok’s sex industry, it is in fact only one of numerous red-light districts of Bangkok.