Nana Plaza is the world’s largest sex complex.
Visiting was like walking into a living hell. Nothing I write will be able to convey how disturbing it was. It was like something out of a horror movie--except it was real.
As I walked in, I noticed a man walking toward me through the shadows. His clothes were disheveled and his eyes were ruthless and chilling. With a smirk, he looked me up and down like I was for sale. I felt violated just making eye contact with him. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest and my face getting hotter as I clenched my fists and tried to suppress my rage. It was a small taste of the hell lots of people endure daily. I set my eyes straight ahead on the ground in front of me and promised myself I wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone else.
Nana is a couple stories high, and is completely enclosed except for a small entrance on one side of the complex. In the middle is a large shrine where sex workers leave offerings in hopes of getting high-paying customers. The first few stories are filled with brothels and bars, and the top story has motels that rent rooms at hourly rates. Late in the night as the bars start to close, traffickers bring out their victims to auction them off.
The further I walked into this nightmare, the darker it became. Each story was grimmer than the last. In the other red light districts I’ve visited, prostitution is glamorized. The women put on big, fake smiles to attract more customers. But in Nana, the women don’t have to sell themselves. Other people sell them. Outside each brothel and bar, pimps and madams rally customers. Inside, customers do as they please.
I saw things I wish I could unsee.
The stench of sweat and stale cigarettes hung in the heavy air. I clung to my teammate’s arm as greasy customers brushed against me on the crowded sidewalk. I tried to tune out the sound of pimps and madams screaming at me to come into their bars. It was suddenly too much to bear. I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I felt sick to my stomach. I had to get out of there.
Thankfully, I was able to leave as easily as I’d come. My heart aches for people who aren’t so fortunate, who are exploited or trafficked, whose daily realities aren’t within their own control. My heart breaks for the pain they endure.
If your heart is broken for people trapped in the cycle of prostitution and you’d like to support the ministry I’ve been working with, you can do so through this link: https://warinternational.org/donate/ (choose "missionary" and "Killar" from the drop-down menu.)
Love these memories from my weekend trip to Krasang. I had so much fun playing with the kids and experiencing village life. Thank you to the talented Ashley Owens for putting this video together! It captures the gorgeous scenery and relaxed pace of life so well.
The other night, I visited a karaoke bar with my team. We usually do bar outreach Bangkok’s most popular red light district, a tourist hotspot where the hangover was filmed. It’s full of neon lights and is always packed with visitors. This weekend, we wanted to do something a little different and go to a local bar instead.
It was much smaller, less glamorous and filled with locals. As I walked in, I noticed the familiar smell of cigarette smoke, the beat of pop music, the background chatter as the bar started to get crowded. I had been warned that this was going to be a difficult night, that I needed to brace myself for what I was going to see; but so far, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.
And then I saw it. A glass wall with women behind it, just like in the documentaries I’d watched. Somehow when I saw fishbowl bars in documentaries, I’d always imagined that they were rare, and that they were in the darkest, dirtiest parts of town. But this was just an average local bar. It dawned on me that this is just the norm here.
The women behind the glass played on their phones, reapplied lipgloss and chit chatted with each other while customers on the other side of the glass examined them and bargained the prices of each woman they wanted to buy. The women are called by assigned numbers, not by names. These people were treating them like commodities, like property. Almost like a bike or a boat you could rent for a few hours and then return. And everyone was acting so casual about it. It was sickening.
Once they’d chosen a woman to buy, the customers could rent a private “karaoke” room at an hourly rate. It’s one thing to watch something this repulsive happen in a documentary, but to experience it firsthand was surreal. I felt physically sick, like I was suffocating. I had a conversation with a girl younger than my sister, then minutes later watched her leave with a customer she’d just met, looking back at me with a forced smile as she walked away. It made my stomach drop.
As infuriated as they make me, I don’t think the customers who buy these women (and sometimes men) are the enemy. They’re broken, and their actions are the product of a corrupt way of thinking. There’s not a quick fix to the complex, heartbreaking issues of exploitation and trafficking. But there are lots of small steps that can be taken to fight against it, to advocate for people who are being exploited, to bring hope and healing.
We need nonprofits to support women and men leaving prostitution, lawyers and social workers to bring justice to people who perpetuate sex trafficking, better job opportunities so people aren’t forced to turn to prostitution out of desperation to provide for their families. We need change, hope, and justice. I’m forever thankful for each of you who bought a t-shirt or donated to support my trip. I’m changed because of the chance I’ve had to serve women and their families, and walk beside them as they build new lives.
If your heart is broken for people trapped in the cycle of prostitution and you’d like to support the ministry I’ve been working with, you can do so through this link: :https://warinternational.org/donate/ (choose "missionary" and "Killar" from the drop-down menu.)
Note: I’m not including any photos in this post for privacy and security reasons, but I recommend watching this documentary if you’re interested in learning more about fishbowl bars in Thailand and different types of prostitution around the world. It's available on Netflix.
Thanks for stopping by. A little about me — I have a latte each morning and drink about 7 cups of tea a day (I'm not exaggerating.) I live in Atlanta where I'm going to law school. I like long distance running and I love my city and I love exploring our beautiful earth. I believe in being vulnerable, following our passions & being free.
I started this blog to document and share my favorite moments while traveling. This is a place where I process my ideas, share the aches and joys of my heart, speak truth, and shine light on the beauty I see in the world.
I've realized that what I probably love most about traveling is the same thing I love about writing — the way it connects me to myself and other people. I hope as you read my words, you feel connected to our shared humanity.
Thank you for reading. :)
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