Every year during the high tourist season, Phuket Island becomes a home for several thousand ladies. They come from all parts of Thailand – although primarily from the far north and northeast - to work in the various bars on the island.
These are the bar girls of Phuket. Most of them are young, which by Thai standards means they are under 25, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some will stay on the island after the high season is finished and many will leave.
Some people, influenced by stories in the media and by their experiences in their own countries, believe that the life of a bargirl is a sad tragedy and that they are victims to be pitied.
In a way they are victims, of course. They are victims of a Thai economy which does not provide nearly enough job opportunities with decent incomes or working conditions.
The girls that come to Phuket, however, do not usually think of themselves as victims. They view themselves more as adventureous explorers.
In their adventure, they anticipate making a lot of money, having fun, being glamorous, meeting people and making friends, learning about different cultures, and perhaps finding a husband.
The story that these young ladies are held in bars as prisoners of evil bar owners is just that. It is a story.
While working in a bar is not easy, and there are ways in which bar owners can pressure girls to make money for them, the young ladies are basically free to come and go as they wish, and they often change employers, in fact.
In all but the best bars, the ladies probably have more power in the employee-employer relationship than the employer.
It isn't always easy for individual bars owners to recruit ladies. Recruitment is usually done by ladies for the bar owners, either by the wives of the bar owners or by ladies who have worked in the bar in the past. This could be changing, however, as big entertainment complexes increasingly manage a varitey of entertainment facilities under one roof or in one soi.
What is the life of a bar girl like? Well, it depends to a large degree if one works in a beer bar or a go-go bar. Go-go bars are considered to be a step or two above beer bars in prestige. Girls selected to work in go-go bars must be considered sexy to get the job. They must dance some of the time while they are working which can be physically strenuous, so they are probably physicallly fit, although, of course, some just stumble around the stage.
They are paid higher salaries than girls that work at beer bars. Usually they do not live on the premises. Some might live alone, although it is more likely that they share a room with two or three other ladies. One must remember that keeping expenses low is often an important goal for many of these ladies. The bar might help pay the rent.
In return for their higher salaries and relatively high level of independence, they are usually expected to secure a certain number of customers every month who are willing to pay a bar fine and take the lady to their hotel. Those who do not meet the quota are "fined". A certain amount of money is taken out of their salary.
Thus, working in a go-go club can be stressful, and a major assumption of the job is that that the ladies will have to spend the night out with customers a certain number of times a month. Most girls that work in go-go bars do not object too much as the payments they receive from customers usually add up to much more than the salary they get from the bar. Aside from this, however, their daytime hours are their own to do with as they would. Most choose to sleep most of the day.
Working in a beer bar as a regular bargirl is probably less stressful but can be more confining. It can also be very, very boring because ladies spend a lot of time sitting and waiting for customers. And, of course, customers can be boring, too. Many of the ladies working as regular beer bar girls live in a room in or over the bar.
They are often expected to get up everyday and help with the cooking and the cleaning, although they can usually sleep late by normal standards!! They are usually free to roam around town as much as they want after they do their chores, and they are free to go to the hotels of customers after work. This is encouraged by the bar owners because they can collect a bar fine from the customer.
It is, thought, usually not a job requirement that they catch men. They are, of course, required to be at the bar when it opens, usually around 19:00 and to be fun and good companions to the men who come to the bar.
Usually, the ladies become very good at playing a variety of games, including pool or billards. Working in a beer bar actually gives bar girls a better way to get to know customers than working in a go-go bar.