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How only 1, baht and an education changed and saved lives in a poor hamlet hidden away in the hills of the North. There is no convenient way to get to the province of Phayao in the far North; the closest airport is Chiang Rai, two hours away by car and there is no train line.
Its remoteness turns out to be its drawcard, for the countryside is picture- perfect with rolling mountain ranges, rice fields and rustic serenity. This is a town without any major department store. Only nine kilometres east of Phayao town is the district of Dok Kham Tai, and it is here our story begins. It is a story where we lift the veneer of serenity and delve into a social problem that almost wiped out an entire generation of the female population. For a long time, the name Dok Kham Tai was synonymous with prostitution.
It was a town that supplied the brothels and massage parlours of Bangkok with sex workers. Every March the daughters of Dok Kham Tai made the hour journey from Phayao to Bangkok with the blessing of their parents, in an annual migration that ended in the worst possible way for everyone except the procurers. Up until the s, it was compulsory for Thais to complete six years of education. A year-old was thus able to leave school and go to work, which was the only realistic choice for destitute rural families with no money for secondary school, and Dok Kham Tai was as poor as you could get.
Nobody is quite sure how it started, but a trickle of girls went to Bangkok and started working in brothels whose clients were mainly Thais. Thai men consider Northern women to be the most beautiful, with their translucent skin and Chinese features, as opposed to Western sex tourists who prefer darker Isan ladies. The girls of Dok Kham Tai were naturally beautiful, and soon these girls were sending money back to their uneducated and poor parents, who were able to build bigger houses and afford important things like gold necklaces and colour TVs.
It made their neighbours envious. How could a mother and father release their year-old daughter into the talons of such procurers? The answer is: willingly. Dok Kham Tai was one of the few places on earth where the birth of a daughter, as opposed to a son, was cause for great celebration — it meant that in 12 years, those parents would be rich. Any child of an impoverished family who sends back a couple of thousand baht per month is a saint. This, coupled with an acute lack of education, meant the parents of Dok Kham Tai happily released their daughters, at 12 years of age, to the brothels of Bangkok.