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Tourism In Phuket, Thailand - The Russians Are Coming
Russian Mafia In Thailand
When I first arrived in Thailand just over 10 years ago, there were a lot of Russian tourists in Bangkok. The area near The Grace hotel was a common hangout for Russian mafia types as well as freelance Russian working girls. During this time the Russian mafia also controlled much of the nightlife scene in the beach resort of Pattaya, just an hour drive outside of Bangkok. These days the Russian mafia remain firmly implanted in Pattaya, with a stranglehold on organized crime including prostitution and drug trafficking. It would appear that the Russians have left Bangkok, whether they simply lost interest, or if the Thai government and law enforcement forced them out is not clear. What is clear is that they have their sights focused on Phuket, and it appears that the local corrupt Thai politicians and law enforcement are welcoming them with open arms.
Since the Tsunami in 2004, Phuket has changed a lot, one of the most noticeable changes has been the increase in Russian tourists. Of course not all of the tourists from Russia are involved with organized crime, however those who are have made a big impression. While the Russians won't win any awards for being the most friendly tourists, they have a reputation for spending big money on luxury hotels and private boat charters as well as anything else that might tickle their fancy. Property developers seem to be thrilled with the prospect of more wealthy Russian investors and potential buyers with deep pockets. Local businesses in Phuket are scrambling to get a piece of the new Russian market, translating their websites into Russian language, and targeting more of their advertising toward the Russian tourists.
The nightlife scene in Patong has also changed, with the opening of new Russian owned clubs employing Russian girls as "dancers", something that has been going on for years in Pattaya, but is quite new to Phuket. The last time I visited Phuket I saw Russian girls out in the street on Bangla Road, dressed in school girl uniforms, inviting tourists into the "Moulin Rouge". I decided to go in for one drink, just to see what all the fuss was about. I saw naked blonde Russian women all over the place, giving "not so private" dances. When I looked at the menu, I noticed that the cheapest beer would cost a staggering 10USD, so I decided to pass, and I just walked out.
I found a few things about this club to be a little shocking, not the least of which were the two uniformed police officers that were seated at the entrance. Just a few years ago, The Shark Club (Phuket's most famous nightclub) was shut down by the federal government for an incident involving nudity. Live shows involving nudity are illegal in Thailand, although it seems that law enforcement normally turn a blind eye to such things. One thing that is normally a serious matter, is working without a work permit, and it seems fairly obvious that there is no way in hell that any of these "dancers" would have work permits.
It is also quite ironic that you have a bar in the heart of Phuket's entertainment district, charging 10USD for a beer, so patrons can watch sleazy blonde girls shake their moneymakers on stage. Surely this wouldn't be appealing to North Americans, Australians, Europeans? The only people I could imagine would have any interest in this outrageously overpriced entertainment would be local Thai mafia, and Asian tourists that might find this some sort of novelty.
The Thai government has recently stated that they are trying to transform Phuket's image from a place that caters to "family tourism" as apposed to "sex tourism". If they want to be taken seriously, they will have a lot of cleaning up to do. Reports of unexplained deaths, violence involving tuk tuk drivers and jet ski operators are still far too common in Patong beach. I would recommend that people with families stay clear of Patong, and spend their holiday in Kata - Karon or Nai Harn if they are planning a trip to Phuket.