Most passersby walking under the bustling Thonglor BTS station and past the mufflerless tuk tuks speeding by will probably miss this place. Hidden behind a row of newspaper stands and food carts sits what appears to be an unassuming Bangkok cafe: The Green Lantern.
While the first thing to come to mind might be a famous Marvel superhero, the cafe’s owner, 40-year-old Watjanasin Charuwattanakitti, associates it with something very different; the green lanterns that Thai brothels used to leave outside of their doors to indicate that they had paid taxes, before the profession was outlawed in 1960.
“They call it the red lantern district, because they see it in the movies. But in Thailand actually, we used the green one,” said Mr Watjanasin.
The Green Lantern cafe plays host to the Museum of Sex -- an exhibit that opened in December, devoted to the history of eroticism and the sex industry in Thailand.
Ancient arts: The cafe's owner, Watjanasin Charuwattanakitti, 40, poses in front of the entrance to a room in the Kamajijitra erotic art museum, which he has helped his father curate for over 10 years.
Walk in and you’ll see pornographic magazines, recreations of cave art, and palad khik -- phallically-shaped amulets that are often placed in stores or restaurants to bring in more customers.
You’ll also find a glass case full of sex toys, paired with four signs that read: “Illegal” -- a testament to Mr Watjanasin’s liberal views on the legalisation of sex work and paraphernalia.
“I believe that sex toys should be legal,” he said. “I think it could save a lot of problems. For the prostitutes, I want to support them to be legal too. They have the right to work. It’s a professional job, it’s been in the world for a long long time.”
His views are part of why he’s devoted part of his exhibit space to describing the history of prostitution in Thailand, and Bangkok in particular.
“Because we have a bad economy in the village, a lot of people don’t have any way to make money,” he said. “They know that their daughters can help them. So their daughters come to Bangkok and work in the go-go bars, and when they get money, they send it back to their parents to support them.”
In his eyes, the sex industry is a greater part of Bangkok’s past -- and present --than many people are led to believe. It’s also intertwined with age-old symbolism. One of the most common examples of this is the image of the mortar and pestle, which, he says, is the reason why some prostitutes set up papaya salad, or som tam carts in the city in the evenings.
“If you go to Hua Lamphong around 7 or 8pm, you’ll see a lot of women selling papaya salad. But, actually, they’re prostitutes. But it’s very dangerous because actually they are freelance, no one checks their health,” he said.