Arabs Now Scarce on Bangkok Sin Strip


Hard times are visiting the hotels, bars and sex shops of Nana Road, a favorite hangout of visiting Arabs until the murders of three Saudi diplomats and the Persian Gulf crisis.

For Arab tourists, most of whom were Saudi, Nana Road was a ready source of the sex and drink they could not enjoy in their own strict societies.

"Now I have to go out with Westerners," said Alisa, a 24-year-old prostitute. She said some of her friends had abandoned the trade and returned to their villages.

Alisa said her monthly income dropped by more than half after the murders, to 10,000 baht ($390). Lately, she has had no Arab customers at all.

Three officials of the Saudi Embassy were shot down on Bangkok streets Feb. 1. The Saudi government, impatient with the slow Thai investigation, suspended acceptance of Thai workers and advised Saudis to stay away from Thailand.

After Iraq seized Kuwait on Aug. 2, citizens of the gulf states have been preoccupied with matters at home. Iraq barred foreign travel for its nationals soon after the invasion and Kuwaitis cannot leave.

Flights to Bangkok from the Middle East have been curtailed. On Sept. 9, Thai Airways International indefinitely suspended its four weekly flights to Saudi Arabia.

According to Tourism Authority figures, 130,751 tourists from the Middle East visited Thailand in 1989. They included 54,984 Saudis, 18,530 Israelis, 9,865 Kuwaitis and 47,372 of other nationalities.

The latest available figures show 52,828 tourists from the Middle East in the first six months of 1990, or 7,716 fewer than the same period last year.

Arabs, once conspicuous in their white robes, have virtually disappeared from Nana Road.

Robert Pee, assistant manager of the Rajah Hotel, said Arabs previously occupied 15% of the rooms, but the total fell to 5% after Iraq occupied Kuwait.

Nikorn Sirijaroenwat, captain at the Nana Fondue Grill, said Middle Easterners once accounted for 95% of his customers but now were only 10%. European and Thai dishes have been added to the menu, he said.

At the Gulati tailor shop, the proprietor said: "We have to rearrange the shop so that it will appeal to Westerners."

Not everyone is unhappy about the decline in Arab tourism.

Some hotel owners did not accept Arab men, complaining of destruction of property in hotel rooms and "orgies" with local women.

Several bars run by Western expatriates have signs saying Middle Eastern customers are not welcome. Some of the owners worked in the Middle East, and say they resent serving people from countries where they had faced punishment for drinking alcohol or trying to strike up friendships with women.

Few Arabs frequented Patpong Road, the best-known sin strip in Bangkok, which caters largely to Westerners, resident expatriates and Thais.

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