My Friend is Not a Sex Tourist (in Vietnam)

“I HATE that guy… Argh I’m so jealous… Getting married… tsk.”

This was the reaction of my boyfriend and I’s tour guide in Halong Bay, Vietnam, when we proudly told him we were heading back to Ho Chi Minh city for a wedding. Our friend was to marry a Vietnamese lady in her home in Saigon.

He’s from London, half-Egyptian and half-English, but a Londoner. She’s lived in London for a long time, although spent her childhood in Vietnam, and they’ve been together seven years. They used to work together. They’re both in their twenties.

What’s the problem?

festivals in vietnam

For every Vietnamese person we told about the wedding, there seemed to be a very big one.

My friend is not a sex tourist, and it felt like every time we said ‘our friend is getting married in Vietnam’ we had to follow it up with some sort of disclaimer, like the above.

Not that it’s even any of our new Vietnamese acquaintance’s business, but out of friendship duty I’d always reply that they’re in love, have been for a long time, and will continue to be.

Sex Tourists in Vietnam

I know exactly what they were implying. It felt weird, to be challenged and accused all in one.

I wouldn’t have bought it up around the other wedding guests, or even said anything beyond me and my boyfriend but the day before the wedding another friend mentioned the questioning he’d endured, and everyone around the table quickly agreed with a story or three to tell.

Even on the way to the wedding

Once we’d told our spritely driver that his taxi full of westerners was going to a wedding he didn’t hesitate in expressing his displeasure either, before we’d even got a chance to mention our disclaimer. He kept going, not in a mean way but just matter of fact, and told us what a problem there was in Vietnam with locals marrying off to wealthy, old foreigners.

“I had a girlfriend, niiice [outlines boobs], seeexxxy body. She left me to marry a rich old man from England… All the beautiful ones do it… No one left for us”

Where to go in Vietnam

“I ask you, why do they do it?” Still him, looking in his rearview mirror at us in the back.

“They die quicker?” I offered, not wanting to make any judgment that could be deemed racist, chauvinist or just not what I meant, either way.
“Ah ha, yes, exactly!” He liked that answer.

“All the best people are leaving Vietnam.”

Sex Tourists in Vietnam

Evidence everywhere

To prove his point in Hanoi we saw a totally obnoxious, gross and old Australian guy chatting away with some backpackers at a Bia Hoi bar n the street. He had a Vietnamese beauty by his side.

She was petite, a good 30 years younger, well dressed and just sitting there with her arms folded while he continued to shout and harass anyone who’d listen. I was watching them and he’d occasionally put his big, white, mottled hand on her slim leg not in a loving way but marking his territory to the young backpackers he was shouting at.

She couldn’t join in the conversation as it went too fast, or perhaps, didn’t want to.

And there goes the judging. She might have been madly in love with him, who knows?

Sex Tourists in Vietnam

Sex tourists in Vietnam

During our chat the day before the wedding we’d all admitted that when we saw 50+ aged guys by themselves anywhere in Vietnam we all thought ‘sex tourist’.

I spent pretty much every moment of my two weeks in Vietnam with my boyfriend, but other friends, mostly guys, who’d been travelling by themselves before the big day all had some sort of ‘sex story’ to tell.

Sex tourism in Vietnam is a big thing.

Whether it was lady boys, brothels, hookers in bars or beautiful women feeling them up and then trying to rob them in broad daylight, there was a lot of sex-related crime going on in Vietnam in our collective experience. And whether or not they were at the top, the ground work was being done by women.

Vietnam for a month

Vietnam is a poor country – the monthly minimum wage is equivalent to £55. I guess it can seem tempting and too easy to use your body rather than your mind to get money. I just felt so sorry for the young Vietnamese girl with the Ozzie and it surprised me it was so prevalent, it was the same story in every part of Vietnam we visited. According to the taxi driver rich westerners ‘taking’ their women is genuinely a big problem in Vietnam.

“The girls need an education. More options to make money.”

Amusingly, but with some seriousness, our light-hearted taxi driver told us that all these goings on made him fear for his race.

“My new wife is not so pretty, and our children have suffered for it. What will happen to all the future generations if the beautiful people leave?”


  1. I am an older guy. There is no reason for sex tourism. In my country all you have to go to is any local shopping center and you will find an Asian massage parlor. A lot cheaper than a plane ticket. They keep us old guys alive. An old guy??? Viagra works, but after a few times you lose interest because the purpose of the relationship is not there. During the Depression in the ’30’s in my country work was hard to get. If a working man was married to an attractive woman and they needed more work hours, doing the boss was not a big deal. It is a matter of security. Old guys that can afford to can take care of a generation of family. Besides, the reason why a man pays a woman for sex is for her to go home. lol

  2. Very interesting read… I’ve been living in Saigon for 2 years and this is something that struck me from the very first moment I set foot in the country. But talking about it here is quite taboo. People will always argue that “you never know, they might be in love.” Which may be true for some of them. But come on, not all of them, that’s quite obvious.

  3. Although in Egypt we don’t have sex tourism on that scale, but still we have that corruption that force the locals to rip off the tourists, or look after getting married to foreigners!
    Like Vietnam, its the same case when it comes to marring from foreigners, Egyptian women mostly get married to wealthy Gulf Arabian older men from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, but since Saudi & Kuwaiti ladies can’t get married to foreigners easily due to the laws & traditions, the Egyptian guys are after the European & western girls to get another nationality & flee the country!

    1. Yikes. It’s all so complicated isn’t it? I guess everyone’s just trying to get by and make a living, however they have to do it. It’s a crazy world!

  4. I think your first assumption about the guy in Hanoi was probably correct Vicky. I love people watching when I’m in Bangkok, Soi Cowboy and Nana are best places to see the freaks. The best example would be, a old man walking down Soi Cowboy, I think he was in his 70’s, wearing sandals, socks just below his knees, short shorts, disgusting Hawaiian shirt and clearly thinking he looked like Brad Pitt walking along with his temporary girlfriend. I stay away from those types, it’s bad for a travel bloggers reputation 🙂

  5. I was in Hanoi for 4 days in June 2014. I didn’t notice many older western men at the Bia Hoi corner, in fact myself (46) and my friend (41) were probably the oldest western men there, never too old to party with cheap Bia Hoi though 🙂 I spend most of my time in southeast Asia in Bangkok, it’s quite easy to get away from the sleazy side if you wish. My wife is younger than me, she is Thai, she lives with me in the UK, I’m not rich and nor is she, a perfect happy ending…

    1. Thanks for your comment Graham. I’m sure it’s not every night – and who am I to judge hey? They might’ve been mad in love. I guess I just wanted to present the two different stories on the same subject to see what people thought and what their experiences were. Happy to hear you’ve found your soulmate 🙂

  6. It is easy to judge! A 50-something, obnoxious white guy with a beautiful Vietamese girl 30 years younger than him? Of course she’s in it for the money. Maybe they will “grow” to love each other, but the initial attraction is about the economic disparity between them. They’re both taking advantage of each other! And as observers, we can judge and understand that it’s not making a statement about either’s morality (or lack of it) but about the postcolonial realities of the developing world.

  7. This was a really interesting read. Although I personally didn’t experience this while I was in Vietnam, I did while I was in Thailand. It’s so hard not to judge, because like you said, they may be madly in love! It’s just what society has banged into our heads I think

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