Deena Guzder, for the Pulitzer Center
Thailand is often called the "Land of Smiles" and considered a tropical paradise full of friendly, spiritual locals eager to share their unique cuisine and pristine beaches. However, Thailand's elaborate culinary feats and sun-washed beachfronts are not the only reason why the country has become the playground of the rich and elite of the world. Conservative estimates suggest that 10% of tourist dollars are spent on the sex trade.
Behind the brothels posing as massage parlors is a painful story involving women trafficked from Burma, children exploited by pimps, and global economic disparities that allow rich tourists to make unchecked demands on impoverished locals' bodies. Recent political turmoil coupled with the global economic downturn has made the Ministry of Tourism reluctant to confront the industry, lest it give the outside world any impression that Thailand is not simply the "Land of Smiles."