I really thought it would be fun visiting Bangkok’s Red Light District (RDL), just as it was fun visiting the red light districts of Tokyo and Amsterdam. After having just visited all three areas here in Bangkok, it was not like I expected. It was not fun for me.
Before discussing my experience of each district, I’d like to begin with why I had fun in Amsterdam’s and Tokyo’s RDL’s. The red light districts in those cities are clean, chilled but more importantly, transparent and safe.
Clean: the area is literally clean, at least for the amount of people-traffic the area receives. No distracting garbage and no weird smells.
Chilled: you’re free to walk around and look wherever you want for whatever purpose. If you just want to walk around and look, no one is in your face forcing you to participate.
Transparent: places are clearly labeled or staff is clear on what they offer. In Amsterdam, it is clear that working girls are in a booth with a red light; all bars are normal and cafés are for cannabis. More importantly, all bars and cafes have set prices. In Japan, it is very similar: bars are of the hostess variety where they have a picture of a girl in a revealing outfit or they literally have the girls in front of the establishment smiling and saying hi… in revealing outfits. If there’s no sight of a girl around the bar enticing you to come in, then it’s a normal bar. In either bar, there are set prices. For places with working girls, it will mention that a massage is involved, but the place doesn’t look like your legit massage parlor. The point is: if you’re only looking to be an observer and just want to have a beer and people watch, you know where to go. And for those that want to participate–they also know where to go. It’s transparent.
Safe: You always feel safe and never even feel uneasy about which direction to walk in.
Red Light Districts are so clean and full of life, families–literally husband, wife, kids and even grandma–walk about these areas
I personally find it very entertaining people watching in RDL’s. Of course I look at the barely dressed ladies, c’mon, I’m a guy. But the real entertainment comes from looking at people looking at them. People give great reactions when looking at barely dressed women in an RDL setting. And by people, I do mean both men and women. It’s rather strange how people don’t have the same reaction on the beach. Women are literally wearing the same thing, but remove the beach and it’s awkward sauce time. In both Tokyo and Amsterdam, the red light districts are so clean and full of life, families–literally husband, wife, kids and even grandma–walk about these areas. And the reason is because all the establishments are safe and clear in their intent. There’s enough restaurants and bars that coexist in the same area because there’s enough observers to support those businesses.
In Bangkok it is different. First, there’s no restaurants in the RDL area, only street food. This isn’t an issue per say as street food in Thailand is very tasty. The issue is that these places are catering primarily to drunks who don’t give two shits about where they dispose of their garbage; there’s no dedicated person cleaning after each kiosk like in a restaurant. Mind you, there are city workers cleaning the streets, but it’s not enough given how crowded these places get. Because of this, it tends to be quite dirty and it smells.
The establishments, whether Go Go Bars or Massage Parlors, are very, very pushy. Ladies will grab your hand and physically try to pull you into an establishment. Some will even stand in front of your path as you’re walking by. Not every establishment is like that, but it does happen enough to get annoying. I got so used to responding with “No, thank you” to whatever they were telling me that in one instance, there was a woman talking to me persistently and I kept responding the same thing until she raised her voice. I finally looked and paid attention. She was actually warning me that there was a car coming behind me. I smiled and thanked her. So not all of them are aggressive and some of them can be nice.
Some hot girls, some ugly girls, and some fat girls. But they’re all girls!
The only thing I found clear regarding some of the establishments, is that they will have signs that read: “100% Girls,” “Real Girls Only,” “Lady Boys,” and my favorite “Some hot girls, some ugly girls, and some fat girls. But they’re all girls!” I literally lol-ed. However, not all places have these signs so it’s quite difficult to find a regular bar to just have a drink. And the reason is that even regular bars don’t look normal because guys take their girl of the evening to a regular bar to have drinks with them. So if you’re just passing by, it’s difficult to identify the bar as a hostess type bar or not. Though I suppose regular bars won’t have a woman asking you to come in. But sometimes those will have female servers asking you to come in, so it has the same vibe. The only two bars in all of the three RDL’s that I’m 100% were regular bars were a Hooter’s and a pub that was playing soccer games on their screens and the clientele seemed just to be having a drink and looking out at the spectacle. There were couples (where the girl wasn’t south east Asian) and clusters of guys having drinks.
A Ping Pong Show is one where there are no ping pong tables or paddles but a naked woman shooting ping pong balls
Police are readily available at the entrance and exits of these RDLs, so it’s very likely that nothing will happen to you. But with the lack of clarity and their aggressive nature, you just don’t feel safe going anywhere–especially alone. The safest place is to remain out in the open, in the street. And to be clear, I don’t mean safe in “the fear for your life” way (I have found Thai folks to be generally happy and very welcoming to foreigners), but in the “if I go in there, I’m walking into a scam” way. For example, I was warned by multiple people to stay clear of the Ping Pong Shows as the vast majority of them are scams for tourists. A Ping Pong Show is one where there are no ping pong tables or paddles but a naked woman shooting ping pong balls…without her hands.
Patpong Night Market
This night market actually doubles as a red light district. There is a small street where products are sold: fake watches, clothes, toys for kids, food, fruits, juices, etc. But literally right next to it, on the other side of the street, there are many bars with lots of women and men constantly talking to you, even harassing you to go inside the establishments.
The market looked dated. The whole area did. It also didn’t look as crowded as the other two. From what I’ve learned, this was the original RDL in Bangkok but has since been on the decline as the other two are much more popular.
This is a little side street that you could literally walk across in under 3 minutes, but it is very lively. Lots of lights, music blasting from various places. But the fun is quickly killed by the aggressiveness of the places trying to pull you in or the smells coming from the nearby sewer. This street is exactly what you might have seen in pictures. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures as this is frowned upon and since I was alone, I didn’t want to take the chance of getting in trouble. Some Ladyboys looked like they could seriously hurt me. 🙂
From here, there’s about a 20 minute walk along Sukhumvit road to Nana Plaza, the biggest of the three. Walking that road between the two RDLs, I saw a ton of working girls waiting on the sidewalk for customers. But the craziest thing was a cluster of them right outside a hotel. There was literally maybe 15-20 girls standing right outside a fancy hotel. I guess customers don’t have to walk far if they stay there! The other, was a McDonalds full of ladies waiting to be taken. I guess they were just catching a break from the heat, getting some AC and having a snack.
This is like a mall of prostitutes. There’s no other way to say it. It is a big plaza, with three floors and each floor is full of Go Go Bars. All of the bars have curtains on them, but occasionally you can peek inside as people enter or exit, and they are packed with girls. The stage within each establishment is so full of women, they literally cannot dance but merely just bend their knees to pretend they’re dancing. It is insane the amount of women packed into these small places.
Nana Plaza was by far the closest to being fun. It was the cleanest, mainly because within the actual plaza, there are no food vendors. They’re all outside the plaza. So every establishment cleans after themselves. Because it is not a street you walk on, but a plaza you willingly entered, no one is really being as pushy as the other two. You do get solicited, but no one is as aggressive as those in PatPong or Soi Cowboy.
Men from all walks of life enjoying shopping in a plaza
Soi Cowboy should be given a visit since it’s so close by to Nana Plaza, but Patpong can definitely be skipped altogether. Out of the three, Nana Plaza is easily the best one. It is not only the biggest one, but the cleanest and the closest one offering clean fun for people that just want to take a look and enjoy a drink. In the middle of the plaza there’s a sports bar where you can sit, grab a beer, and witness the craziness. It’s literally in the middle of it all where you can see–something I’ve never witnessed before… men from all walks of life enjoying shopping in a plaza.