Bangkok is the capital and the most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres (605.7 sq mi) in the Chao Phraya River delta in Central Thailand, and has a population of over 8 million, or 12.6 percent of the country’s population. Over 14 million people (22.2 percent) live within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region, making Bangkok an extreme primate city, dwarfing Thailand’s other urban centres in terms of importance.
Patpong is an entertainment district in Bangkok, Thailand, catering mainly, though not exclusively, to foreign tourists and expatriates. While Patpong is internationally known as a red light district at the heart of Bangkok’s sex industry, the city in fact has numerous red-light districts that are far more popular with Thai men. A busy night market aimed at tourists is also located in Patpong. Patpong consists of two parallel side streets running between Silom Road and Surawong Road and one side street running from the opposite side of Surawong. Patpong is within walking distance of the SkyTrain’s Sala Daeng Station, and Bangkok Metro’s Si Lom Station. Patpong 1 is the main street with many bars of various kinds. Patpong 2 also has many similar bars. Next to these lies Soi Jaruwan, sometimes referred to as Patpong 3 but best known as Silom Soi 4 or Soi Kathoey. It has long catered to gay men, whilst nearby Soi Thaniya has expensive bars with Thai hostesses that cater almost exclusively to Japanese men.
Patpong gets its name from the family that owns much of the area’s property, the Patpongpanich (or Patpongpanit), immigrants from Hainan Island, China, who purchased the area in 1946. At that time it was an undeveloped plot of land on the outskirts of the city. A small klong (canal) and a teakwood house were the only features. The family built a road – now called Patpong 1 – and several shophouses, which were rented out. Patpong 2 was added later, and both roads are in fact private property and not city streets. (The so-called Patpong 3 and Soi Thaniya are not owned by the Patpongpanich family.) The old teak house was torn down long ago and the klong was filled in to make room for more shophouses. Originally simply an ordinary business area, the coming of the bars eventually would drive out most of the other businesses. By 1968, a handful of nightclubs existed in the area, and Patpong found some use as a R&R (Rest and Recuperation) location for U.S. troops serving in the Vietnam War, although the main R&R area was actually along New Petchburi Road. In its prime during the 1970s and 1980s, Patpong was the premier nightlife area in Bangkok, and was famous then for its sexually explicit shows. In the mid 1980s the sois hosted an annual Patpong Mardi Gras, which was a weekend street fair that raised considerable money for Thai charities. By late 1980s, however, the Patpongpanich family had begun to rent out small lots in the middle of Patpong 1 for a night market. Today, the nightlife areas of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy provide strong competition for Patpong. However, Patpong is the only one within the official entertainment zones decreed by the Thai government in 2004, and thus may in future years be the only one allowed to remain.
Most Patpong go-go bars feature women dancing on a stage. The dancers (and even occasionally the serving staff) are generally available to customers willing to pay a bar fine to take them out of the bar; the fees for sexual services are negotiated separately. Some establishments advertising “massages” are in fact disguised brothels, and a few famous “blowjob bars” offer oral sex at the main bar or in back rooms. Several upstairs bars still feature (technically illegal) sex shows, with women performing various creative acts. Perhaps the most notorious of these features women performing exotic feats involving their genitalia and projectile table tennis balls. Some of these second-floor bars are run by scam artists who lure tourists with offers of low prices and later present a wildly inflated bill along with a threat of physical harm should the bill go unpaid. The Tourist Police, usually stationed at Patpong 1 and Silom Road, can help in these situations. Some establishments in Patpong employ kathoeys (or “ladyboys”) either exclusively or as part of a mixed gender staff. As of 2005 the King’s Corner bar on Patpong 1 was known for doing so. Unlike the kathoey bars in Nana Plaza, many of the staff at these Patpong bars are post-operative trans-sexuals. With one or two exceptions, the gay bars in the Patpong area are not go-go bars, but simply traditional gay pubs, such as Telephone and The Balcony, which cater to both Thais and tourists. The commercial gay oriented go-go bars are mainly on Surawong Road or in small streets leading off Surawong. Today, however, there are signs that parts of Patpong are turning away from the sex industry and providing other kinds of entertainment. There are now a number of live music bars that attract regular Thais and tourists as well as a number of very good restaurants. A new hotel has also opened on Patpong 2 offering very nice rooms at budget prices. In recent years, Silom and Surawong have been taken over by the Patpong night market, making movement in the area difficult and filling the area with farang tourist couples and backpackers. Men selling pornographic DVDs have become an increasing nuisance in the area, as have touts who try to direct tourists into the bars offering sex shows. This night market is very touristy which means you are likely to pay a lot more than you would in a non-touristy market or have to barter very hard to get a good price.
Soi Cowboy is a red-light district in Bangkok, Thailand. A short street with some 40 bars, it is similar to Nana Plaza and Patpong and caters mainly to tourists and expatriates. It is located near Sukhumvit Road, between Sukhumvit Soi 21 (also called Soi Asoke) and Soi 23, within walking distance from the SkyTrain’s “Asok Station” and the Bangkok Metro’s “Sukhumvit Station”. The New Milleninum Hotel is nearby. The go go bars follow the pattern common in Thailand: alcoholic drinks are served and women in bikinis dance on a stage. Topless or even nude dancing occasionally occurs in some bars, but remains technically illegal. Most of the dancers are in fact prostitutes and will join a customer if he pays a “bar fine” to the bar and a separate fee to the woman. Sexual services usually take place in the tourist’s hotel room. Thai customers usually are not admitted to these bars unless accompanied by foreigners. There are also a number of restaurants at Soi Cowboy, including what is perhaps Bangkok’s best known fish and chips shop. The area is named after T. G. “Cowboy” Edwards, a retired American airman who opened one of the first bars there in 1973 or 1977. A tall African-American, Edwards got his nickname because he invariably wore a cowboy hat.
One staple of the Soi Cowboy nightlife are elephants frequently marched up and down the street by their handlers who are in the business of selling elephant food to tourists. When Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was elected in 2001, his government instituted a “social order” campaign. As part of this campaign, all bars and nightclubs had to close by 2 am, later changed to 1 am for all areas not officially designated as “entertainment zones”. (Unlike Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza were not so designated). A mandatory midnight closing time was even discussed. As of 2006, the Soi Cowboy bars switch off their outside neon lights by 1 am and usually close at 2 am. Soi Cowboy’s reputation suffered a temporary blow when, as part of the same social order campaign, the area was closed off by police one Friday night in November 2003 and all workers and patrons were required to submit to urine testing for drugs. Near their entrances, all go go bars carry government-mandated signs in Thai and English; the text reads,
NO-ONE INSIDE UNDER 20 YEARS DRUG-FREE
Nana Plaza (officially Nana Entertainment Plaza; shortened NEP) is a red-light district in Bangkok. It lies on Sukhumvit Road Soi 4 across from the Nana Hotel. The name originates from the Nana family (with Lek Nana the most prominent member) who owns many properties in the area and has much influence in Thailand. Along with Soi Cowboy and Patpong, Nana Plaza is one of the Bangkok red-light districts which serve primarily European and American customers. However, in recent years more Japanese men have found their way here due to the extremely high prices in the Japanese-oriented nightclubs in Bangkok.
The Plaza is in the shape of a square, with a single opening on the western side, and consists of a ground floor and two additional floors. It started out as a restaurant area in the late 1970s. During the early 1980s go-go bars began to appear and gradually replaced the restaurants. The composition of those bars has changed over the past few years; the last non-go-go bar in the enclosed area, the Woodstock Pub was sold in 2005 to the Rainbow Group and reopened as “Rainbow 4.” A few bars offer a more pub-like or beer bar format without dancing; as of 2007 these are the Cathouse and the Big Mango bars. Three short-time hotels operate on the top floor. The open centre of the ground floor, once simply a car park, is now occupied by beer bars.
Most bargirls working at bars in Nana Plaza are willing to leave with customers upon payment of a bar fine. While many bars in Nana Plaza do not employ kathoeys at all, a few do so exclusively. As of early 2007 these venues are Obsession (ground floor), Casanova, Temptations (middle floor) and Cascade (top floor). The “female” staff at these bars are almost all pre-operative, as opposed to the kathoey bars in Patpong. A number of post-operative kathoeys can be found at other bars in Nana, largely at the bars managed by the Crown Group, namely Lollipop, Voodoo, Hollywood Rock, Fantasia, G-Spot and Carnival as well as the independently run Erotica.
Nana Plaza is within walking distance of the SkyTrain’s “Nana Station”.