pailin, Battambang Province – The decline of gem trading and illegal logging around the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin has severely damaged the border town’s once-lucrative prostitution business, local brothel owners lamented Monday.
With 17 working girls in his employ, Long Serey runs the largest operation in Pailin’s red-light district.
He bought his brothel two years ago for about $1,500. Now Long Serey says he would sell out for $1,000, and maybe open a market stall instead.
“Before we could make $100 to $125 a day, but now the most is $50 to $75” per day, said Long Serey, 43. “The main reason is the logging is finished and the production of [precious] stones. People go to dig stones for maybe one week or two weeks and come back with nothing.”
Government crackdowns on illegal logging ended the once-flourishing timber business, said Long Serey, though conservationists maintain that there are now just fewer trees to cut.
Aside from the current financial woes, Long Serey said business is also plagued by the bill-skipping, pistol-waving sons of Pailin officials, his only clients of late.
“I don’t know what to do with them because they have the gun, and I don’t have the gun,” Long Serey said.
Customers pay 10,000 riel ($2.50) for sex in his brothel—half of which the girl keeps, said Long Serey, adding that he also feeds his female staff.
But with fewer customers, there has been less money for food, and Long Serey has encouraged his prostitutes to look for work elsewhere. The problem is, they have nowhere else to go, he said.
As Long Serey spoke, his staff, who had been laughing over a card game nearby, began to disappear inside. He explained that they were going to bathe, put on make-up and then ride motorcycle taxis around Pailin town for the last half-hour before nightfall. It was a marketing effort of sorts, Long Serey said.
“I am very disappointed by my business. Before, I saw a lot of people make this business, and it looked like they made a lot of money easily,” she said.
Suffering from the town’s lean times, at least four Pailin brothels have shut down in the past six months.
Khieu Vandy, 51, opened her brothel in 1991. She said she now supplements her slim profits with farming. Every Saturday and Sunday Khieu Vandy, her husband, and her 14 working girls go to her farm to plant or harvest corn.
She agreed with her neighbor and competitor, Long Serey: The lack of loggers and gem traders had bitten into Pailin’s sex trade.
“The girls are always free, and we go to bed early,” Khieu Vandy said. “Business is bad,” one of her employees agreed.
Pailin Deputy Governor Keo Horn said Tuesday that the slump in the town’s sex trade was the result of fewer visitors rather than the flight of illegal loggers.
“There are fewer people to enjoy the prostitutes, not because of logging, but because there are fewer visitors to Pailin,” he said.
Denying that the town’s boom years were built on the profits of felling border forests, Keo Horn said he expected Pailin’s newly opened border crossing with Thailand to improve the local economy.