Contiki Investigates After Guide Promotes Thai Ping Pong Sex Tours
Frequented by Aussie tourists, 'ping pong' shows are a bizarre staple of Thailand's thriving sex trade, where women perform tricks and shoot objects out of their vaginas.
Since the 1970s, Thailand's red-light districts have hosted 'ping pong' shows, designed to shock tourists.
In dark, dingy bars across the country, women perform "tricks" with their vaginas, shooting ping pong balls into cups, pouring coke into glasses, and lighting cigarettes from their private parts.
Some of the tricks are even more risky - with highly-skilled women pulling a string of razor blades out of their vaginas in daring displays.
In parts of Phuket, women often incorporate animals into the act, birthing live hamsters, budgies, fish and small rodents.
The shows are often spoken about as a "must-see" while visiting the developing country, but critics question whether the performances are ethical.
Some have dubbed the shows "human zoos" and argue they're economically exploitative, as girls from poor rural families make up the majority of sex workers in Thailand.
Others say the performers have a right to bodily autonomy and compare them to similar shows in Amsterdam.
But earlier this year Amsterdam's first female mayor proposed to close the famous red-light district there with the aim to fight human trafficking and reduce the number of tourists.
Twenty-one-year-old Sydney woman Maddy Flook was in Bangkok last year when her Australian Contiki tour guide asked if she wanted to see a 'ping pong' show.
While many of her fellow travellers handed the guide wads of cash to pay for transport and the entry fee, Flook said she refused to go.
"I just thought the whole premise of it was gross. If the women are doing it out of their own choice, good for them but I felt like there was some kind of exploitation going on," Flook said.
New Zealander Josh Thirds, 22, was one of the tourists on the same trip that took up the offer and went to the show.
He told 10 daily the performance appeared to be a "family business" which included a young woman, her mother and grandmother.
As part of the act, the "grandmother" blew out candles on a birthday cake for an audience member using her vagina muscles, Thirds claimed.
"It was our first night in Thailand and it was like a bonding experience for the group. It was just really awkward...," he said.
Contiki's managing director Belinda Ward told 10 daily the company is investigating the matter.
"We take the safety of our customers extremely seriously and do not condone them participating in activities outside of our tours that could potentially harm themselves or others," Ward said.
"Our trip managers are extensively trained to educate guests to travel responsibly and respectfully with our organisation. Customers are, however, free to explore the cities they visit outside of coordinated tour experiences.
"We are very serious about the welfare of our customers and, in line with our policies, all customers are advised on the safest areas to explore in their free time. Minimising the risk and the impact to customers and local communities is of utmost importance to Contiki."
More Shameful Than Selling Sex
While tourists often paint Thai women as inherently sexual or submissive, Thailand is an extremely conservative country and some venues do not even allow Thai people to watch the shows.
"[In Thailand] nudity is incredibly shocking, people don't generally even wear bathing suits to the beach," Lecturer of Criminology at the University of Kent, UK Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh told 10 daily.
"In terms of the moral hierarchy, women working in 'ping pong' shows are probably the lowest. It's even more shameful than selling sex," Sanders-McDonagh said.
While there's no reliable data concerning 'ping pong' shows, sex tourism contributes significantly to Thailand's GDP, Sanders-McDonagh said.
However, the performances remain a "grey area" in terms of the law in Thailand, leaving female performers vulnerable to exploitation.
"There's no legal framework to give women employment rights, It puts them in a precarious position," she added.
Apart from legal concerns, the biggest battle for performers is shedding the stigma, Sanders-McDonagh said.
"It's trying to figure out how to walk this tightrope of what's acceptable for a 'morally' right woman to do," she said.
"The biggest problem is the audience's reaction and it allows these kinds of myths about Thai sexuality to continue."
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