Thailand’s infamous reputation as an amorous man’s paradise need not dissuade women from travelling here. It’s entirely possible to spend months on end in the Kingdom and never encounter the more seedy aspects of life. Brothels and go-go bars catering to foreign visitors comprise only a tiny portion of the attractions here and are confined to areas that are easily avoided.
Single women travellers and families are visiting Phuket in greater numbers, and a wide range of people come to enjoy its beaches, along with the shopping, dining, spas, sailing, nature tours, and more. Even Patong Beach – a place known for having a raunchy nightlife scene – has shifted towards more family and women-oriented attractions in recent years.
Safety for Women in Phuket
The friendly and generous nature of Thais makes travel here easy and hassle-free for most women. Thais are also generally respectful of women and overt sexual harassment is rare.
You may get a bit of leering or sweet talk from Thai men, especially if you’re dressed skimpily or if they’ve been into the Johnny Walker, but it’s not usually something to be worried about. In general, Phuket is safe for women.
The ‘beach boys’ in particular are often more interested in chatting up the ladies than renting out their beach chairs and jet-skis. Some find this charming, others annoying, but it’s always done in a friendly, non-threatening way – simply brush off by ignoring them or moving away.
Violent crime towards foreign visitors is not common, though it’s wise to take the same precautions for your safety that you’d do anywhere – keep your bag secure, avoid walking quiet streets alone late at night and be careful about getting too drunk.
Steer clear of the beaches at night; there’s generally nothing happening on them after dark anyway, and it’s probably prudent for women in Phuket to avoid taking tuk-tuks long distances alone at night.
Culture and Etiquette
Though Thailand remains a male-dominated society, the image of a woman as simply the ‘elephant’s hind legs’ – quietly and dutifully following her man – no longer holds true in this rapidly changing society. Women in Thailand occupy powerful positions in business, government and academia, and are often the sole breadwinner of the family. Making up more than 60 per cent of the workforce, Thai women are seen as an engine of Thailand’s impressive economic growth.
The bargirls most frequently seen by foreign visitors in go go clubs and beer bars are generally considered to be better off than those servicing the Thai market, as no one’s holding them there against their will. But since prostitution remains illegal in Thailand, all sex workers remain on the fringes of society with no access to the social benefits enjoyed by their sisters in more respectable professions. Nonetheless, it’s a relaxed scene and many of the girls find the environment safe and sociable. Some even meet future husbands there.
The hot weather makes it tempting to clothe oneself in as little as possible, but dressing modestly is the norm in Thailand. Even when swimming, Thai women will usually don a t-shirt and shorts in favour of a bathing suit or bikini. Many European women can be seen sunbathing topless on the beaches, but this is frowned upon in Thai society. Because of the non-confrontational nature of Thais – and the importance of the tourist dollar – female visitors are never asked to cover up, but if you want to show respect for the culture, don’t do it.
When visiting a temple, wear shirts that cover the shoulders as well as long pants or a skirt. Tube tops and spaghetti-strap shirts are a definite no-no. As well, be aware that women are not to touch monks in any way or hand things directly to them, and when passing by a monk try to lower your head to show respect.
In social situations, public intimacy between men and women is rare, and it’s more common to see two male friends walking hand in hand than a couple. If you’re out with a group of Thais, you may be expected to foot the bill as you will be perceived to be the wealthiest among them. Since salaries are generally quite low here, it’s likely to be true, so don’t be offended if you’re handed the tab.
Typically, Thai people do not criticise others openly and even offering some feedback can lead to a loss of face; therefore, it’s culturally insensitive to make forthright comments about perceived injustices to women in Thailand or situations that you find offensive to your equality values.
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