Having spent two weeks in Bangkok I can now say that I understand and appreciate the words to the One Night In Bangkok song that much better. But before I get into the sordid nightlife of Thailand‘s capital city, let me just first say a few things:
- I came to Bangkok for culture and I found plenty of it, especially in hidden, non-touristy neighborhoods — I’ll write about those in my upcoming posts.
- Originally I had intended to skip the nightlife scene entirely but after making friends at the hostel I was staying at, they convinced me that no trip to the city was complete without a late-night visit to one of Bangkok’s many red light districts.
- This will be a controversial post but please do not let it change your opinions about me. I never went through with anything but couldn’t say no to an quick investigate glance. (One of these days my curiosity is going to get me killed.)
This post deals with adult topics and situations. While all the photos are PG rated, many of the events described herein are not appropriate for younger readers. Also, please know that I debated for days beforehand as to whether or not I should even write this post before finally putting it to a vote on Twitter — the result was an overwhelming YES! Unfortunately in order to capture the true essence of Bangkok nightlife I do have to be rather graphic in detail and cite the situations that I personally encountered.
— Derek Freal (@the_HoliDaze) November 11, 2013
(the responses to that tweet were rather entertaining hehehe 😉 )
I Came For The Night Market But Got Suckered Into A Bar
Only hours after joking around on Twitter that there were two places in Bangkok I would not be visiting — Khao San Road (the tourist area) and Patpong (one of the red light districts) — I soon found myself in that latter of those two. My first taste of Bangkok’s morally-dubious nightlife came innocently enough. After chatting with Henok (@Tradishional) we agreed to meet up near Chinatown. Unfortunately he did not have a Thai phone number and unable to find each other, I eventually began my trek back to my hostel. While changing lines at the Silom MRT station I realized that this is where the night market is…conveniently situated along the same two alleys as the Patpong red light district.
All photographs were taken discreetly using my two phones. Neither was good at night photography so I apologize for the less-than-perfect quality.
The Silom Night Bazaar is not your traditional shopping venue. It borders and merges with the Patpong red light district. Slowly the strange foods, fresh fruits, and local street chefs you’ve come to expect at night markets are no where to be found. Instead there are a mix of stalls hawking apparel, shoddy souvenirs, drug paraphernalia, and of course sex toys — as well as plenty of touts offering everything from “ping pong shows” to “boom boom.” The transition happens so fast, you almost don’t even notice it!
To make things easier to take in stride I stepped inside a convenience store, purchased a couple Singha beers, and proceeded to make a few laps up and down the alleys. Every few metres I was harassed by another individual trying to sell me a show or get me laid. Half the time they were “women” who would grab my arm and literally try and drag me into one of the clubs. To fend them off I walked with a beer in one hand and my phone in the other, claiming I was “looking for a friend” when in reality I was tweeting the whole experience in real-time.
The names to the clubs leave little to the imagination. Pussy Collection, Super Pussy, Pink Pussy….just to name a few.
After my second beer I was sufficiently lubricated to be talked into one of the more innocent-sounding bars, Superstar.
The girls on stage here danced in two shifts, each for about 10-15 minutes. In between stage time they would make their rounds through the guys at the bar, asking for a drink. I picked out one that I thought was dropdead gorgeous and definitely not a ladyboy and decided to buy her a few drinks while we chatted. It didn’t take long before she had one of her hands down her pants and was asking me to pay her bar fine so we could leave and go find a hotel. “How much is the bar fine?” I asked. 2000 baht she replied — a little over $60USD. Of course all the bar fine does is get the girl out of the bar. Clients still have to negotiate with her once in the privacy of a hotel room. I learned this from my Thai friends, not from firsthand experience. (Just in case you were wondering.)
Of the two rotating shifts on stage, one was clearly the A team. The other….well, judging from the wrinkles and Cesarean scars they were the B team. Maybe even C. After all this was a Tuesday night. Just a warning before you see this next photo…
Unfortunately my working girl was all over me the remainder of the night. That’s what I get for buying her a few drinks and showing interest, I guess. In the end I finally pretended I had to go outside because my buddy couldn’t find the place and then discreetly slipped into the night. (Don’t worry, my bill had already been paid.)
I Thought One Night Was Enough But…
I ended up making a subsequent trip to another red light district in Bangkok the following weekend, solely because I was craving an Indonesian kretek cigarette. Now keep in mind, I don’t smoke. At least not tobacco. But after five months in Indonesia where 90% of the adult men smoke cigarettes, I had gotten to the point where sometimes when really drunk I would smoke a kretek cigarette — half clove, half tobacco. As the saying goes in Indonesia: “You smoke Marlboro, you get cancer. Smoke kretek and you’re fine!”
Having seen vendors selling smuggled Indonesian cigarettes during my first red light district adventure earlier that week, I knew they were around. Unable to find any on my own I eventually started asking the touts. One of them led me on a five-minute walk to a vendor he knew and soon I was smoking my first clove cigarette in several weeks. Of course the next thing he did was try and talk my drunken ass into coming to his “massage parlor.” Feeling somewhat guilty that he had been nice enough to lead me all around on the cigarette hunt, I said yes. Of course I knew what I was getting myself into but also wanted to find out more about how the prostitute situation in Bangkok worked — purely for research purposes — so I went for it.
My “Massage” Parlor Experience
Unfortunately there was no way I could sneak a picture in here with all ten people starring at me. But hopefully my words will paint a vivid enough picture for you… And if not, I did manage to find some hidden video footage of the place I went. It’s embedded below.
The guide led me up a flight of stairs and into an unnamed massage parlor where eight beautiful girls dressed in red sat on a L-shaped couch, batting their eyelashes and looking sexy, each with a number pinned to her dress. Eager to have another satisfied client the mama-san immediately came over, invited me to sit down and handed me a laminated card with pictures of massages, bubble baths, and of course plenty of ladies. “Massage, boom-boom, then bubble bath,” she said. “Which one do you like?” as she pointed to the ladies. Despite being a little intoxicated I couldn’t help but notice that she referred to them as “which one” and not “which woman.”
I made a few lighthearted jokes, trying to ease into a more friendly atmosphere and get out of the sales pitch routine. It didn’t work. She called a few girls over individually in Thai, had them sit next to me and rub on my leg. My jeans happened to have a rather large gaping hole in the crotch. (Some of you may remember these pants from TBEX.) The girls of course used this to their advantage and wasted no time trying to please me. We then played a few rounds of “You like her?” as the mama-san introduced several of the girls. Finally she grabbed a calculator and typed in 1,800 baht. Approximately $55USD. “Massage, boom-boom, and bubble-bath.”
By this point I had finished my cigarette and opened my wallet to count my cash. 1,200 baht. “I have to go to an ATM first,” I said, hoping that my minder would let me venture off on my own. Of course I was wrong. He led me to a nearby ATM where I purposely mistyped my pin number then showed him the error message please consult your bank. “No worries my friend, you have 1,200, that’s okay.” I responded with something about how that would leave me with no cash for dinner later and a cab home. “Okay my friend for you, only 1,000 baht. Best friend discount. Just don’t tell anyone, only for you.” $30USD. Truthfully I considered it for a minute. I could really go for a massage and bubble bath, even a little female companionship…but I didn’t need, want or trust the “boom-boom” aspect of that deal I thought. So I declined again, citing worries about my finances, and begrudgingly broke the guy off 100 baht for his “investment in time.”
Hidden Camera Footage Of The Same Place I Visited!
While I could ramble on much more about the type of things I saw in Bangkok’s red light districts, there is no point in turning this into an R-rated post. However I will admit that I can now say I’ve seen a ping pong show, among other things. But I will also say it’s not near as entertaining as one might think.
After spending a couple nights in the red light districts I was quite amazed by the high prevalence of ladyboys that work at these places. I don’t know any percentages but it was definitely more than the 5-10% I had initially thought. Maybe even as high as 50%. At first I was always on the lookout for an Adam’s apple, until I realized those could easily be removed via a simple surgery. In fact the entire sex change procedure is reported to cost only around $2000 USD in Thailand. With entertainment prices for tourist as high as they are that allows for a pretty quick ROI. Given all that it should be no surprise that many of the women these foreign tourists are ogling are not really women!
Keep in mind that prostitution is illegal in Thailand. All of these businesses must pay heavy kickbacks to the local police to keep their doors open and customers happy. If you should choose to go through with anything, just be sure it is with a woman first.
How To Spot A Ladyboy: Here are a few simple and helpful tips for you, based on my observations.
Height The taller “she” is, the more likely she is a he.
Sexuality If “she” is trying too hard to look sexy or playing with her hair too much, that might be a man. They appear to be happier in these types of jobs that real women do.
Friends Look at their friends. If “she” is hanging out with obvious hes, well guess what “she” is? Yup.
ID Card If all else fails, ask to see their Thai ID card. Regardless of whether or not they have had a sex change, this card will reveal their real gender.