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Red Lights in Chiang Rai

September 24, 2010

From the FieldDeirdre Flynn is a long-term volunteer for The SOLD Project, living in the Resource Center and teaching English to the kids every Saturday.  She is helping SOLD prepare for future long-term volunteers who can help us grow our prevention program, The FREEDOM Project.  (Interested in being the next Deirdre?  Stay tuned to future posts!)

Recently Deirdre, Heather, and Rachel visited Chiang Rai’s Red Light “District” to investigate what the industry looks like here, just a few miles from where our scholarship students live.

Thanks to Deirdre for writing this post and allowing us to share.  Follow more of her journey at her personal blog.


There is a Red Light District in Chiang Rai. It’s a strange place, beyond the obvious reasons. It’s maybe half a New York City block and interspersed within are bars which are strictly for night life, not sex tourism.  The strange thing for someone like myself or with SOLD is that area and those bars are some of the only places to go out in Chiang Rai at night for a change of pace. The women who work at the other locations are a visible and friendly presence who frequently break in to delighted smiles if you acknowledge them  and ask how they are in Thai.

One night we passed a bar with an elderly man flat out passed out on the table. Head down, snoring, with beer bottles scattered around the table. A young Thai woman with a white bow on her headband sat nearby. Gesturing towards him, Rachel said “Faraung puay chay ting tok mak” (essentially that man is ridiculous). The woman burst out in such loud laughter, she clapped a hand over her mouth. Still giggling, she nodded yes.

The clientele is the stereotypical old(er) man in his Hawaiian shirt, and in one case, his pants held up with suspenders. Japanese men drinking heavily and surrounding himself with many women who have to giggle at his embarrassingly drunk behavior. Sometimes you see the young 20 something backpackers in those bars.

There is bar far down at the end of the surprisingly quiet road which is always bathed in pink light. Through the upstairs windows you can see the pink light décor carries on inside. The upstairs has curtains hanging from the ceiling, creating sectioned off sections should they be pulled closed.

We’ve noticed there are occasionally children down in that area selling flowers. In some places, particularly with Bangkok or Chiang Mai (or the South) these children are also available to be ‘bought’ for sex. Selling flowers is a front for those who pimp these children.

I don’t know for sure if the children selling flowers in Chiang Rai are being sexually exploited, but I do know they are in a unsafe enviroment both physically, emotionally and mentally, up way past a time a small child should be awake, in need for more than what they have and far too close to the reality and world of prositution.

As SOLD’s mission is prevention, we are researching on how to begin an outreach program for these children. We’re talking about the best steps to take to establish relationships and going from there.

Twice a year, we host a parent meeting to update scholarship families on recent news, distribute the scholarships, help the kids write letters to sponsors, and hear from guest speakers.

This year, we added something new: an anonymous survey for the parents.

When asked about trafficking in their village:

82% off all the parents said they believed their child was at risk of being sexually exploited.

85% shared that education, awareness, mentorship, and resources were the key to prevention.

15% believed prevention wasn’t possible at all

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