Male sex workers in Vietnamese brothels usually don’t ‘receive’ guests who are strange or have no recommendation from a certain acquaintance, as the service is banned here.
So, the opportunity to visit these brothels is quite limited due to security measures, especially after police arrested two male prostitutes in a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City last month in one of the first such cases publicly announced by local media.
Luckily, Tuoi Tre journalists were allowed to visit a few such businesses - meant to satisfy the needs of both women and gays – thanks to the assistance of ‘social peers’ who are officers of State programs intended to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases that have close connections with the brothel owners.
In return Tuoi Tre pledged to protect their identity.
Districts 3, 8, Phu Nhuan, Tan Binh, and Tan Phu have brothels with male sex workers.
They have many regular clients who are mostly single, divorced women and even elderly women. Normal price ranges from VND200,000 – 500,000 (US$10 – 25) per session, though as much as US$100 was charged once.
A number of African men have also come to the city to work as prostitutes in parks such as Le Thi Rieng in District 1, Hoa Binh in District 5, and Gia Dinh in Phu Nhuan District.
All of the brothels are disguised as barber shops, spa and massage parlors, or make-up shops. The places are ‘decorated’ with a couple of swiveling and collapsible chairs in the front hall, but these are rarely used as guests enter and walk straight to rooms in the back.
Each brothel has rooms for at least ten male prostitutes as well as rooms to ‘receive guests’. A reception room has minimal facilities, such as a pillow, a mattress, a light, towels, a shelf to store gel tubes and condoms, and a fan.
At a brothel deep down an alley off Truong Chinh Street in Tan Binh, the owner agreed to allow Tuoi Tre to have a brief look inside his facility. During the visit, six to seven men were sleeping on the floor, while others played cards on the first floor, where they queue up for guests’ selection.
After a man is selected, he follows his guest to the upper floor, which is divided into many small rooms of around six square meters in size. The rooms are in two categories - one with an air conditioner and the other with a fan.
At another brothel down an alley on Vo Van Tan Street in District 3, men begin their work day by 3:00pm. The sex workers there have strong bodies and attractive faces. The location is a three storey house rented for VND8 million ($385) a month. Numerous men were either watching TV or playing cards.
A woman around the age of 30, the owner, blamed one of the men for failing to alert her in advance before taking guests to her room. At the time she was lying with a sleeping man.
However, she was later happy to explain many aspects of her brothel. Pointing at a room with a locked door, she said there was a guest inside.
She admitted she has around 16 men serving only gays. “They receive guests in other rooms, and may also have guests in my room if the others are occupied,” she told Tuoi Tre.
She pointed at a man sleeping on a mattress and said he had had a guest late the previous night.
Male sex workers are waiting for clients in a brothel in Ho Chi Minh City (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
During the conversation, the door to one room opened Soon after the guest left, a waiter boy entered to pick up towels and throw them in a bin. Elsewhere, a well dressed, tall man who looked like a State official was about to enter a room.
“He is a familiar guest, coming here every week,” the owner said.
A young guy followed the guest into a bathroom. A few minutes later, they both left for their room, with only a long towel wrapped around their bodies, with trousers and shirts in hands.
The door was then locked and the light turned off.
Male prostitution in Vietnam has been on the increase in recent years, and it has not been dealt with effectively. Only a few cases have been discovered by local authorities.
Donn Collby, a researcher with the AIDS program of Harvard University, estimated that Ho Chi Minh City has over 10,000 male sex workers, and 8,500 others in Hanoi.
“They are exposed to high risk of the infection of sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.
A survey shows that 65 percent of male prostitutes in Vietnam are high school graduates and 19 percent have university diplomas.