When Lee and I first arrived on the streets of Bangkok,
we were overwhelmed by the chaos that surrounded us – sizzling street food, honking horns, and crowded sidewalks. Everything was neon colored and every taxi driver and vendor shouted for our attention.
It took a while to get used to this constant barrage to the senses, but eventually as we spent more time in Bangkok and then traveled to Phuket, we started to feel a little more comfortable.
But perhaps we got a little too comfortable – as I’m pretty sure there was a night when we missed the obvious signs of something naughty disguised as something normal.
Sexual tourism is big business in Thailand and there are many “massage” parlors in which much more than a massage happens behind closed doors. It’s pretty obvious which massage parlors are legitimate and which are fronts for sexual services. We had gotten pretty good at spotting which businesses were seedy and which were not, but not on this night.
We were in Phuket and we were looking around for somewhere to eat dinner. We would often simply eat street food, which is cheap and fantastic in Thailand, but on this night, we wanted to sit in a restaurant away from the heat and chaos of the street. We had tried many of the restaurants near our hotel and we were wandering the streets, looking for something that was the right balance between affordable and appealing.
We stumbled across a restaurant with reasonable prices and a menu with a large selection, so we decided to give it a try.
What’s the worst that could happen, right?
When we entered the large and dimly lit restaurant we were greeted by the friendly waitress: a young, slender Thai woman wearing a very short dress. We were led to our table, but she seemed surprised when we started to order our food. After running to the back to check something, she took our order.
While waiting for our meals Lee and I were engrossed in our conversation about something else, but we kept getting distracted as we looked around the restaurant and noticed how odd this place really was.
“Why do they have seven waitresses on when the restaurant is almost empty?” Lee remarked.
He was right, there were an abundance of waitresses standing around holding menus — and they were all young, beautiful women in short dresses. It did seem odd to have so many staff members working on such a slow night. However, sometimes restaurants are overstaffed, so we thought we’d give them the benefit of the doubt.
Our food arrived and it was disappointingly mediocre. I had pasta and it seemed like the sauce had come straight from a jar from the supermarket. However, eating Western food is hit or miss in Thailand sometimes, so we still decided to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt. As we ate, we noticed a few more odd traits about this restaurant.
A few other patrons arrived at the restaurant as we were eating, but after a while, we noticed they were all men dining by themselves. They didn’t order food, they would simply order a beer. We weren’t sure if we were imagining things, but then after one of the lone diners drank his beer, he headed to the back of the restaurant instead of leaving through the front door. Why wasn’t anyone else ordering food? Why were the only other diners solo men? Why did our waitress look so confused when we had actually ordered from the menu? Nothing about this restaurant seemed to make sense to us.
Slowly, we started to put the pieces together
as we whispered to each other over our flavorless, generic pasta and we started evaluating just how absurd the situation was.
I’m not saying this restaurant definitely was a front for a brothel, but I’m not saying it wasn’t. We will never really know for sure. (And if it was, it certainly fooled us at first!) But the entire situation was pretty strange indeed, and I’ll always wonder what was really going on in the restaurant that wasn’t a restaurant.