Claim: Bangkok Brothels Causing the Thai Capital to Sink

Soi Cowboy, a red light district in Bangkok.

Soi Cowboy, a red light district in Bangkok. Source: Picture taken by flickr user moomoobloo in December 2005.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Illegal pumping of raw groundwater for soapy massages blamed for subsidence.

SINKING FEELING Bangkok could be partly submerged by 2030 because ‘soapy massage’ brothels are stealing groundwater causing the city to SINK

Thai cops have raided several ‘mega-brothels’ in the low-lying city which they believe are illegally siphoning groundwater

By Mark Hodge

25th January 2018, 9:50 pmUpdated: 25th January 2018, 10:11 pm

BANGKOK’s mega-brothels are being blamed for the sinking of the city by cops who say the gaudy businesses are illegally stealing groundwater for “soapy massages”.

The crackdown was launched after a trafficking raid on Victoria Secret massage parlour found evidence the venue was siphoning water to avoid paying pricey utility bills.

Investigators also discovered underage sex workers at the business and a ledger listing bribes to authorities.

Environmental officials say the illegal tapping of water contributes to the sinking of Bangkok, a low-lying city built on the banks of the Chaophraya river.

Experts have warned that parts of Bangkok could be submerged by 2030, chiefly due to rising sea levels and the draining of groundwater in the capital’s swampy soil.

Efforts in recent years to regulate groundwater use have drastically slowed the city’s sinking rate from a peak of around 10cm a year in the late 1970s.

But the massage parlours’ breach of regulations has revealed yet another way in which notorious venues fail to be above board.

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Its difficult to quantify how much damage illegal groundwater pumping is causing. Groundwater pumping is believed to have caused up to 10cm / year subsidence in the 1970s, as opposed to sea level rise of a few mm per year, so the potential harm to city infrastructure from illegal pumping is substantial.

65 thoughts on “Claim: Bangkok Brothels Causing the Thai Capital to Sink

    • sorta they did….”chiefly due to rising sea levels and the draining of groundwater”
      Of course it would kill them to put groundwater first………

    • It was implied that soapy bubble massages cause Climax Change. Increased warming, more frequent, more intense, faster rate of intensification… that kind of thing.

  1. Loss of groundwater? I reckon it is the jackhammering effect of the mega brothels. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to that is surely a ‘denier’.
    Certainly nothing to do with climate change.

  2. The whorehouse, that bribed public officials and utilized underage workers, was the subject of an investigation into to groundwater theft as it relates to avoiding utility bills.
    (dig a little deeper and maybe find that the groundwater use was an outcome related to the government health department crackdown on their practice of soapy water reuse…. But if you call it a shit hole country i’ll pretend to be personally insulted and i’m gonna tell on you)

  3. “Illegal pumping of raw groundwater for soapy massages blamed for subsidence.”

    Congratulations. In the context, there must be at least four ‘wrong’ interpretations to put into that sentence! I’ve been watching too much internet.

  4. One just can’t make this stuff up! Sounds like it would be OK if they were to pump the soapy water (with who-knows-what in it) back into the water table. Might flavor the drinking water a bit but what the heck!

    • About two million cubic meters of water are pumped from the aquifer every day. link That’s about seven or eight hundred million cubic meters per year. That’s around one hundred cubic meters per capita per year.
      Thailand, as a whole, uses around eight hundred cubic meters per capita per year. Obviously most of Bangkok’s water comes from other sources, mainly rivers. There are issues like drought, but it shouldn’t be impossible to make all pumping from Bangkok’s aquifer illegal. The trick is to get real enforcement rather than just providing one more lever for corrupt officials to use to extract bribes.

  5. One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
    Not much between despair and ecstasy
    One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
    Can’t be too careful with your company
    I can feel the devil walking next to me
    Siam’s gonna be the witness
    To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness
    This grips me more than would a
    Muddy old river or reclining Buddha

  6. Climate change raises sea levels and turns women into prostitutes, then prostitutes increase groundwater usage and cause subsidence. Double-whammy.

  7. Immensely vigilant Thai police might have found in the confiscated ledger the names of Mann, Gleick, Lewandowski et al who had ganged up on poor brothel workers to get the hockey stick further up.

  8. …and a ledger listing bribes to authorities….
    …with the last few weeks not filled in. Which was the reason for the raid….

  9. I believe it was the elephant and giant Germans who caused the sinking. It can’t be those cute little girls and katoeys.

  10. Less foreigners especially males and an assertive campaign against corrupt cops and officials.
    Unlikely though.
    Thailand is losing its charm rapidly.

  11. Progressive corruption and depravity is a first-order forcing of catastrophic anthropogenic cultural change and subsequent climate change.

  12. I was in Bangkok in 1970 during the wet season, moored to a buoy in the river loading rice from barges. The city was knee deep in water; all the dolly bird secretaries tripped along the streets with their high heels in their hands on the way to lunch.
    It happened every year and still does.
    Any loss of ground water would be replenished from the river before any noticable sinking effect appeared.
    Maybe just an excuse for the police to have a part …. er … carry out a raid.

  13. It is rather the vibration of thousands of beds which make the same effect as the pile-drivers. Hundreds of thousands climate refugees from cold Skandinavia travel to Bangkok to get some warmth.

  14. I’m curious about the details. I wouldn’t expect “soapy massage” of even many customers to consume so much water that pumping your own becomes cost effective compared to paying your water bill, but perhaps I underestimate the scale of usage and the cost of legal water, while overestimating the cost of stealing it. However, if pumping really is that cost effective for brothels with “dozens [of] private bathrooms”, I would think it would also be cost effective for a vast number of other businesses as well, not confined to that particular sector.
    The description of them “siphoning” groundwater also confuses me a bit. My understanding is that siphoning requires the output to be lower than the input, which can work for things like extracting groundwater from construction on a slope. But if Bangkok is sinking from groundwater extraction, surely the groundwater is under the city?
    Still, this is a Sun article with only one named person quoted, and he predicts no dire consequences, so who exactly is making the claim in the article, besides the sensationalizing author of the article, is not clear. I especially like how an unattributed claim from “experts” that *some parts* of Bangkok will be submerged by 2030, is magically transformed in a photo caption to “The Thai capital could sink by 2030, experts warn.” The idea that the skyscrapers pictured in the photo caption will be abandoned to rising water seems unlikely enough on its face, the idea that the few mm per year from global SLR would be a significant contributor by 2030 (12 years from now) is a non-starter.

  15. H. Allen Smith had an amusing tale of the naming of Bangkok in ‘Low Man on the Totem Pole’ (1940). It involved tribal princes, nubile virgins, bowsprits and the death of flies on honey.

  16. Looking around at NOAA’s SL/Tide site and at PSMSL’s data, in the general region of Bangkok, it’s easy to quickly see that this ‘built on a delta’ city is the only place for thousands of miles suffering from a threat of relative SLR.
    Ko Lak, Thailand: 0.08 mm/yr
    Quinhon, Vietnam: -1.05mm/yr
    Ko Taphao Noi, Thailand: 0.9 mm/yr
    Vishakhapatnam, India: 0.79mm/yr
    Here’s Bangkok – PSMSL:
    Global sea level rise is the least significant contributor to Bangkok’s pending subsidence disaster. Many studies/analysis of this are available.
    Sorry – little time to provide pics and links in the moment.

  17. If the Thai brothels pumped water out of the ground for soapy massages, where does the water go after the massage? To a sewage treatment plant, or into a river? Or could some of it seep back into the ground from whence it came?
    Methinks the elephant walking in the street might cause some local subsidence.
    By the way, notwithstanding the worries of a Democrat congressman, Guam hasn’t capsized yet. So, maybe Bangkok still has some high and dry years in its future.

  18. I worked in Bangkok in the 90s. The office building was a modern 10-storey one, presumably build on solid foundations some way down. Meanwhile the street was slowing sinking, so that every few years they had to add another step up to the front door.

  19. This is clearly a case of massaging the figures, though I’m suprised the ‘experts’ haven’t blamed sea level rise and of course man made warming as the ‘foundational’ culprit.

  20. Moral to the story: Don’t build your county’s capital on a swamp. I can’t help thinking immediately of this prize line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    “When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. And that one sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up.”

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