Will people think I'm a sketchy guy for visiting Thailand?
May 8, 2019 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to visit Thailand, and I finally have the time and money to do it. Only problem? I'm a single dude in his early 40s, and I'm worried that people (e.g. dates) will assume I went there for sleazy/sketchy reasons. Is this really something I need to worry about? And if so, is there a way to mitigate this?

Wanting to do all the typical adventure travel stuff there. No interest in sex tourism.

It would be sad if I had to avoid Thailand as a travel destination, but I'm not a sketchy guy and I don't want anyone to think I am one.

I guess I could just go there and not tell anybody, but that's not how I am. I like to talk about my travel adventures!

Is this really something I need to worry about? And if so, is there a way to mitigate this? Or do I just need to strike Thailand from my travel itinerary altogether?
posted by apostate street preacher to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (46 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're in your 40s. It's time to start ignoring what other people might think of you and start doing stuff you want to do because you want to do it.


posted by hydra77 at 11:03 AM on May 8 [35 favorites]

I would consider anyone who drew this conclusion to be unworthy of my time. Do the trip. Enjoy.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:04 AM on May 8 [9 favorites]

Oh gosh, that would never cross my mind. Take a bunch of photos on your adventures to back up your claim that that was why you were there!
posted by missmobtown at 11:04 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]

I think it's fine. I think you just say something like "I am really looking forward to my trip to Thailand because I've always wanted to see an elephant" or something similar, contextualize a little, or tell a white lie and say you're going on some sort of tour. Thailand is worth visiting. Do not worry about this.
posted by jessamyn at 11:04 AM on May 8 [9 favorites]

There's a sleazy side to just about any travel destination. Just tell people about the actual reasons you are going, and afterward about what sites you visited, etc.
posted by beagle at 11:04 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]

I lived in Amsterdam for close to a decade. When I returned to the US, dates who responded to this piece of information with Beavis & Butthead style "huh huh huh huh" responses I knew were not for me. As ominous_paws says above, the dates you'll want to see again will be very excited to hear about all the wonderful things you saw and did there.
posted by pammeke at 11:08 AM on May 8 [13 favorites]

Absolutely do not worry about this. I couldn’t imagine drawing that conclusion about a man just because he went to Thailand. And I’m saying this as someone who unfortunately has encountered lots of guys who actually *were* in SE Asia for sketchy reasons (I used to live in Cambodia).

You can usually - albeit not always - tell the difference between gross sex tourists and guys who just like going somewhere interesting on vacation pretty darn quickly.
posted by faineg at 11:09 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]

The kind of people who visit Thailand for sex tourism will exhibit other red flags for people avoiding relationships w someone who would want to do that.

The kind of people who would visit Thailand for its beaches, nature, and touristic/spiritual sites give off those kind of vibes.

The rest of your personality will take care of this for you one way or another. Go and have fun!
posted by cacao at 11:10 AM on May 8 [22 favorites]

you can't control the free associating people who don't know you might do when you tell them you went to Thailand, but if you

a) don't mention sex tourism, like, don't be all "I certainly didn't go there for the sex tourism!"


b) are able to articulate what made you want to visit Thailand and what it was like to see/do those things,

then I don't think you need to worry about this.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:11 AM on May 8 [28 favorites]

1 trip? wouldnt think anything of it. habitual vacation destination of a single dude your age? potential red flag (but even then it would need some contextualizing for it to be worrisome).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:11 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]

I'm a woman and one of the things I was most amused by about going to Thailand was how many people in the US and guidebooks in the US were *obsessed* with giving me advice about avoiding sex tourism (seriously, *every* English guidebook has a section about how sex tourism is bad, but turn the page and... here's some places to go related to sex tourism and some helpful Thai phrases like "can I touch your (female body part)"). Sex tourism was not a part of anything I wanted to do in Thailand and it was sooooooo easy to avoid: the sex tourism stuff is very highlighted/marked, and no one is trying to tempt you or trick you into going there.

It's the listener's problem for assuming Thailand= sex tourism, but it's a very pervasive thought so it's worthwhile to be aware of it. I went and discuss the normal tourism things I did. See Wat Arun in Bangkok-- it's amazing.
posted by holyrood at 11:12 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]

If you told me you were going to Thailand I'd assume it was for the food.
posted by Max Power at 11:14 AM on May 8 [33 favorites]

And the beaches and Buddhist temples.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:19 AM on May 8 [6 favorites]

Remember Thailand is a destination for water sports in the south and jungle hikes in the north (don't forget to do some of the remote temples, they are really amazing). Oh, and the food, that's actually one of their chief exports - (many Thai restaurants are actually subsidized by the government as a form of gastronomic diplomacy). Go, enjoy. Take lots of pictures.
posted by ptm at 11:19 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Unless you come across as sketchy in your home country, most people aren't going to assume that you're sketchy outside of it. The only people I know that expressed any interest in sex tourism were creepy in person here.
posted by Candleman at 11:21 AM on May 8 [9 favorites]

If you are really concerned about it, and I appreciate your concern, I would take lots of pictures and maybe even post them regularly while there. This is what I did Tuesday morning. This is where I had lunch Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon I visited the... Tuesday night I went to dinner for Thai food. (Do you know what they call Thai food in Thailand? Food. Ouch bad dad joke that needed to come out of me.) Here is what I did Wednesday morning, etc. etc.

If it appears as if you had no time for it and it appears as if you are so excited about just tourism things, most (all?) people will not think twice about the sex tourism angle.
posted by AugustWest at 11:29 AM on May 8

Consider where you are going, if you’re going to Pattaya I would wonder why, if you’re going to Ko Paenhang I’d have other thoughts (ya basic), etc. Work out why you are going and where. I have never even seen anything “untoward” in Thailand, but I actively stay away from anywhere there might be more than two white dudes :D
posted by Iteki at 11:30 AM on May 8

Dude, the guy I thought was the love of my life did visit Thailand before we met and I thought that made him cool, not skeevy. I think the majority of people don't even remember the sex-tourism aspect when they think of Thailand unless someone reminds them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:34 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]

The only times people will think you've gone to Thailand for sex tourism purposes are 1) if you are otherwise giving off "I'd go somewhere for sex tourism" vibes, which, your awareness of the issue suggests strongly you aren't giving off even unintentionally; and/or 2) if they themselves are the sort of creeps obsessed with going somewhere for sex tourism who view the world through that lens, in which case, who gives a shit what those creeps think?

Signed, my 40th birthday trip included Marrakesh and Amsterdam but anybody I've ever talked to knows I'm square as hell and assumed (correctly) I mostly took pictures of architecture and public spaces.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:58 AM on May 8 [8 favorites]

Yeah I could conceivably date men in their early 40s yet was all "Um what? Perhaps he means he's white and is concerned about his interests having a religious and/or cultural appropriation bent?" at the initial premise of this question (not saying they do!) and then stopped briefly at "Medical tourism? But that isn't really bad...??" before getting to sex tourism.
posted by teremala at 12:03 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]

Thailand seems to be a fairly popular family vacation destination, at least among people I know (as indicated by Facebook, anyway); the whole "heh heh wink-wink say-no-more" reaction seems not only parochial, but about 10 years out of date. It's roughly as edgy a destination as Vegas or Cancun. I'd be ready for hipsters to roll their eyes at you because duh everyone knows Thailand is booooring and tell you that you should have gone to Laos or Indonesia or maybe Vietnam instead.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:06 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I was chatting with my boss years ago, and he mentioned that he had been to Thailand twice: Once with a bunch of his friends for a couple weeks right after college, then again years later on his honeymoon with his wife. Knowing him, those were... very different trips.

In his words, "Thailand has something for everyone."
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:11 PM on May 8

I lived in Thailand previously. Based on my personal experiences, well over 90% of western men visiting / living in SE Asia engage in sex tourism. Among single men probably closer to 95%.

Not that all western men do, I knew many who didn’t. However generalizations exist for a reason. People who assume SE Asia attracts sex tourists are not wrong.

I would echo the advice given above that you proactively share what you are going while there - for example cooking classes , scuba, whatever.
posted by seesom at 12:15 PM on May 8 [18 favorites]

I'd only assume sketchy intentions if it's someone who has already sent up lots of sketchy warning flags in my mind during previous interactions. Enjoy your trip!
posted by quince at 12:18 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't give your motivations for visiting Thailand a second thought unless you hastened to clarify that you were going for non-skeezy reasons. Basically, this tweet is instructive here.
posted by superfluousm at 12:18 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Overall, I agree with the sentiment that if someone immediately assumes you went to Thailand for a sex vacation it says more about them than you.

But, you could launch into it with something like using "southeast asia" as a travel destination instead of saying Thailand right off the bat. Those that don't choose to ask further will likely hear "Asia" and assume you mean Japan/China or something. And maybe those that ask for more details are actually more educated about things.
posted by jay2dadub at 12:24 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

In 2004 at age 50, I traveled Thailand for 2 weeks. Left the country on a Friday, 2 days before the tsunami. Upon returning to work on Monday, the first thing people said to me wasn't about my trip, wasn't about the tsunami, and wasn't directly about Thailand. They'd seen the TV news which included coverage of the affected tourists. Everyone was suprised that, as they put it, "real people" / "normal people" and families visited Thailand.
posted by Homer42 at 12:49 PM on May 8

Are you someone who talks about your vacations? If you're doing typical tourist stuff there, people probably aren't going to assume that you went for other reasons. If you're tight-lipped about normal vacation activities for no real reason, that's a thing that could raise suspicions.

Someone else upthread mentioned that assuming that Thailand = sex tourism is kind of a parochial response. That's coming from the perspective of international travel as a norm, but if you're talking to people who both don't travel internationally (for reasons other than visiting family) and don't really know people who do, you might get some weird reactions.
posted by blerghamot at 12:51 PM on May 8

I would not assume you'd gone there for sex tourism. A lot of people I know went to Thailand at some point, either for sports or just general tourism, including myself and my husband, and it'd be weird to assume you were doing anything other than that. Go and enjoy.
posted by tautological at 1:00 PM on May 8

I've been to Thailand twice. The first time I was really going to Cambodia but Bangkok worked much better for flights and the second time was on a trip with my wife (then girlfriend). No one's ever made a comment about sex tourism to me and if they did I'd think something was wrong with them.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:18 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]

There's a kind of look the sex tourist folks have, and if you don't give off that look/vibe, this won't be an issue. Thailand is awesome. Be mindful of the ethics of any animal stuff you do, that's all (elephant rides, "wildlife tour" etc.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:48 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]

Mate. Who cares what some randos think.

Go on your holiday and have a great time.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:09 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]

It sounds like this is just one of many international trips you’ve taken in life, which makes it clear that you enjoy traveling to new places. In that context it’s not weird at all. I agree with the above advice not to preemptively say “but I DIDN’T go for sex tourism,” because that makes it weird!
posted by sallybrown at 2:18 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

If I met a guy in your demographic who went to Thailand I would assume it's for the awesome exchange rate, the food, the pristine ocean beaches, the spiritual tours/landmarks, the surfing, maybe muay thai training if you're athletic, etc. Just don't mention sex tourism! just don't bring it up. If someone else asks you about it, then you can tell them you avoided all that and explain what you DID do while you were there.
posted by zdravo at 2:31 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

If you were a blatant misogynist and talked about how chill Thailand was, I'd think you were a perv. If you're a normal dude who talks about how you learned about 3 different kinds of flowering trees, or an elephant ride, or your favorite mountain hike on your trip to Thailand, I wouldn't give it a 2nd thought.
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:00 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I do know someone whose knowledge of Thailand is largely informed by the "me love you long time" scene from Full Metal Jacket. (I'm aware that was Vietnam; this woman probably doesn't.) You're probably not worse off for being unable to date these people.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 3:52 PM on May 8

I knew a guy who went to Thailand for sketchy reasons. We all knew he was a creep years before that. I know lots of other people who've been to Thailand for non-sketchy reasons and no one thinks they're creeps for going because they're not creepy here.

Have fun in Thailand and don't worry about what people think.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:32 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go against what seems to be the prevailing opinion here. Some people are going to think this of you. I wouldn't let it bother you or stop you from doing something you want to do, though.

My father (sixties) regular goes to South East Asia. He loves traveling and if I ever mention to friends/acquaintances in passing that he is in Thailand, Vietnam, etc. the very first thing they ask me is if he is a sex tourist. Every. Single. Time. It doesn't matter which of my social circle it is. That's always the first question they ask. I'd say the only people that don't ask that are the other people really into traveling. They always want to know what city/region/whatever.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 4:56 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]

Having spent a lot of time in Asia and SE Asia, I agree with seesom above. Sex tourism is pretty widespread among western men visiting that part of the world. And I think folks who claim that they can tell who the sex tourists are (because they “act creepy”) are rather naive about how commonplace paying for sex is in some places.

So honestly, if a single 40-something guy mentioned his solo trip to Thailand, I would be (very mildly) on the lookout for other sex tourist red flags (multiple trips to sex industry parts of Thailand, trips to other countries that attract those kinds of tourists, objectifying comments about women) but if nothing like that came up, I wouldn’t judge or think twice about it.

If you want to go to Thailand you should go! I’ve traveled to 50+ countries as a solo woman and plenty of people think I’m weird for it but I’m so glad I didn’t let what other people might think stop me from having some of the best experiences of my life
posted by horizons at 4:57 PM on May 8 [14 favorites]

I'm on Team Who Cares. You are a grown-up and you can go where you want, but I guess as a thought experiment I'd ask "would you worry about this if you were going to Las Vegas?" Because there is a lot of skeevy stuff in Las Vegas, but I usually assume people going there are either not mathematicians or want to watch Those Blue Guys or really want to sweat profusely.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:01 PM on May 8

If the young people on Reddit's /r/travel and /r/solotravel are anything to go by, Thailand (along with the rest of South East Asia) is destination #1 for backpackers of that age. The main "joke" I hear that comes up when someone says they went to Thailand is about all the "ladyboys."

Pattaya is the town for the sex trade, although the Thai gov't is vainly trying to Disneyfy it. You could say you went to Chiang Mai, but that has the reputation of being full of "digital nomad" douches all trying to get rich by drop-shipping crap to America or by writing books about getting rich to sell to newbie "digital nomads."

I agree with forbiddencabinet that you will hear those comments, and I think the best way to deal is to wave them off with "nah, I didn't go to Pattaya, I went to ..." and mention what you did there. That way you let them save face (they're right that there's a part of Thailand which matches their prejudice), while you come across as more knowledgeable.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:59 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]

One of my college professors would rave about how wonderful Thailand was and how much he liked spending his vacations there. He was also a misogynistic asshole, talked non-stop about how North-American women are unattractive and unfeminine compared to Asian women (who really appreciate the company of White men), and spoke bitterly about his ex-wife. I basically assume he went to Thailand for sex tourism (and I had concerns when I found out he was hosting young female Asian International students in his home).

If you come back from Thailand talking about all the fun adventure travel stuff you did, and you are not making a fuss about all the attractive women you met there, I am not going to assume you are like my college professor.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:43 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]

Thailand is a relatively inexpensive place with a huge diversity of nature and great food and I love the cities, too. Just go and enjoy. Be yourself, skip the Beer Singh t-shirts, and bypass Pattaya and you'll be fine. Enjoy! It'll be awesome.

Planning my first trip back to Bangkok in almost twenty years at the end of the month so I'll be the 52 year old paunchy balding white guy by the pool. Great. I used to travel in Thailand quite often, and often by myself. Same for other destinations associated with sex tourism like Cambodia. It's a drag. Some people will assume that's why you are going. So will people at hotels etc. If there are families in all the other rooms and at the dining tables and you're the single middle aged white guy, a few people will think you're sketchy. That's just the way they are. When you get back, the people who make that assumption about you self-select out of you giving a damn about them, or you just think, "Yeah, that's them." It doesn't matter what you do. I went to Bangkok for a month to study massage at a temple and I still got the "Wink, wink, nudge, nudge" from some people.

Talking about this trip, immediately one old friend immediately went for the sleazy joke. He's a self-described rude old bastard, and I just chalk it up to him. But he's a solid friend so I just move on. Work just wants me to get all my receipts lined up properly and colleagues wish they were going, too. Reactions say more about the people who have them.

And, if people think about it, there is no need to go to Bangkok. Heck, I live right in a district of Tokyo well-known for sex work. There was a guy parking a truck with a sign board advertising for 'young women to make a lot of money part time in "cabaret" and "relaxation salons" late nights' right in front of my station yesterday afternoon. For years I used to stand under a huge neon sign advertising soapland every morning waiting for my train to work. The only people who ever made a hyuk-hyuk joke about sampling the delights of where I live? Cops.
posted by Gotanda at 11:51 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

"90% of western men visiting / living in SE Asia engage in sex tourism."
This is offensive nonsense but a good demonstration of the attitudes you may encounter OP. I went to Vietnam over Xmas / new year and when it comes up, give a brief summary of what I did and enjoyed (hikes, sup/kayak, food, history) - haven't had any hint of suspicion in those I've discussed with but then as above, depends on the type of people you meet...
posted by JonB at 5:17 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

The other thing you can do is turn it around on people - anyone who makes a comment about the sex tourism to you, you make a horrified face and say "maybe that's why you would go, but I went for - " and describe something amazing you saw there, or food you had, or cool people you met, thus redirecting the conversation to why you actually went to Thailand.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:02 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Checking back in after my ten days in Ayutthaya and Bangkok and can report that:

* At three hotels: one (cheaper less touristy, seen better days, but cool DocoMomo architecture) made sure I didn't have any extra guests coming to my room or they were going to charge me, but the rest treated me like every other family or couple guest.
* Two tuk-tuk drivers offered me the usual on the street (one escalated rapidly--"Tuk-tuk? Shopping? Massage? Blowjob?" in less than a second which was some kind of record).
* And one Filipino grad student gave a presentation at Chulalongkorn University about the linguistic landscape of sex work in Thailand. Sex work is a real thing there like every other place in the world.

Everyone who spoke to me when I got home just said I looked like I'd had a good break and/or wished they could have gone. (Several of them even more so after I described the conference sessions I had been to and people I had met.) So, just go and do your thing. Tell anybody who cares about the extravagant or mundane stuff you did as long as you liked it. And, hell with the rest of them. Nobody gave me any "sketchy" side eye, but that's because they are good people.
posted by Gotanda at 6:15 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

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