Bangkok Nightlife: Some Do's And Dont's

by Nabanita Dutt, May 20, 2001 | Destinations: Thailand / Bangkok

9 pm, Bangkok time. You have just landed at Bangkok International airport. You have only three nights to sample all the delights promised in Amazing Thailand and you are raring to go. By the time you finish immigration formalities, hail a taxi and check into your hotel, it will be close to 11.30 pm. It's late, but in Bangkok, you don't pull out your pajamas and tamely go to bed by midnight. Instead, you put on some jeans and walking shoes, and hit the ground running.

If you're in the mood for some wild stuff, head straight for Patpong - a red-light area which was born out of American armymen's need for some entertainment with local girls during the Vietnam war and remains, to this day, Bangkok's greatest attraction for foreign tourists. Patpong comprises of several sois (streets), each consisting of rows of go-go bars and beer places.

Pimps, both men and women, will crowd around you the moment you step out of your taxi, and shout "Ping-Pong show, Lesbian show, Lady boy show, no cover charge...come, come this way," into your ear. Whatever you do, do NOT pay any attention. It's easy to be duped and cheated out of your precious bahts in Patpong if you're not careful. The drill would go like this: you follow some pimp into a bar. You glance at the floor show and immediately lose control of your wits. Somehow, you manage to grab a seat and order a beer. Making most of this trance, one bar girl in the skimpiest bikini and leather boots will climb onto your lap smiling sweetly and mouthing pleasantries in Thai to you. You will then do the polite thing and ask her what she will drink. At which point she will stop a passing waitress and whisper something in her ear. A glass will magically appear in her hands (containing nothing stiffer than Coca Cola diluted to a golden brown colour, but you don't know that). Later, when you call for the cheque, you will quickly come back to earth when you discover that the drink you bought her has put you back by several hundred bahts, and what's more, you have to pay a cover charge for the privilege!

So don't pay the pimps any attention. You do not need any hand-holding in Patpong. Begin your journey through Amazing Patpong by entering the first bar in sight. Tell the crowd of girls shouting "Sawasdee" at you (it's Thai for welcome, actually) that you are "Just Looking". Thai people are terribly sweet, but their grasp of the English language is at best tenuous. So if you learn certain key phrases, you'll do okay in Bangkok. "Just Looking", works very well for Patpong. Once you have said the magic words, curtains will be prised apart and you will be escorted inside. Stare at the floor show for a long time, and act like you are making up your mind about whether to stay or go. This way, you can have your fill of the girls performing on stage and pay nothing for it. After all, there are hundreds of bars to visit, and if you settle down and have a drink from the first one, you won't make it beyond the fifth or fifteenth, depending on your capacity to hold down your alcohol. After you have watched enough shake your head, like you don't like the show too much, and make a quick exit. The girl will be polite and shout "Sawasdee" at you even after you have made it apparent you are not sticking it around in here. In Patpong, there are no hard feelings. You move on to the next bar and check out the action there. Follow the above procedure. If you do like what you see you can bag a sofa which is nearest to the floor (if you are not a farang, ignore the hostesses who will try to steer you to the worst table in the place. Non-whites don't rate very high as a customer. Pass yourself off as Swiss or something if your appearance will allow it.) The waitresses will happily serve you a Coke if you don't enjoy the hard stuff. The prices in any bar can be gauged by the price of beer. That is, most bars will advertise the cost of a beer, which will indicate how cheap or expensive a place is. 80 bahts for a beer is reasonable. Anything more, and you should give the place a miss. The floor shows will also differ from place to place. All kinds of girls, from pre-pubescent to suspiciously menopausal, will be swaying to music in bikinis. They have metal rods to hold on to (and tie any article of bikini they have discarded) and they wear numbers. The latter's for your convenience. If you want to invite a girl to join you for a drink, for the evening, or whatever, just call the manager and whisper her magic number. The girl will immediately materialise by your side and be shy and playful with you. Order her a drink (that's the custom, and what the hell, you've asked for her) and be as playful as you please. At some point, she will offer you a trip to heaven and back at a certain price. Take it or leave it. Or try and beat her down on it.

If however, your intention is only "Just Looking", pay your bill and move on. Maybe you should now take in some real shows. These can be real eye-openers. Women in regulation bikinis and magic numbers use a certain part of their anatomy to do some really unbelievable things: popping-pong balls, pulling out yards and yards of blades tied to a string, shooting bullets which will burst balloons (you will see some amazing marksmanship here) etc. On the less erotic front, you can take in a `Lady Boy' show. So far as looks go these Lady Boys (transvestites and eunuchs, actually) definitely put the real ones in the shade. And the shows they put up with dance, music and colourful costumes make for some real good entertainment. Strangely, they speak more English than the girls in Patpong, so if you want to find out all-you-wanted-to-know-about-eunuchs-but-didn't-know-whom-to-ask, choose a Lady Boy and buy her (or him??) a drink. There's scope for some real conversation here. (They don't cling to your arm, like the go-go girls, giggle in Thai to her friends and say "Very nice" pointing at your non-existent biceps or stringy thighs. At some point you may feel the joke's on you, but you're not here to impress this bunch. And what they really find "very nice" is stashed safely in your purse.)

Another place you really must visit in Patpong, is the gay soi. Lots of straight men, and even women, visit this soi, and they are very welcome in the gay bars. Most of them have young boys dancing to the music, wearing white briefs and magic numbers. After every few minutes they take off what little they have on and the crowds cheer. Here too, numbers are called and deals can be fixed. The young boy then extricates himself from the customer's embrace long enough to throw on some clothes and escorts his new "friend" to a place very simply called "HOTEL" across from the gay soi. Here too, there are some good shows where young men do gymnastics, swing from the overhead rails and hang upside down. Their USP is that they have certain parts of their body firmly ensconsed inside certain parts of their partners while they are doing this (you'd imagine they are superglued together, but after the performance they slip apart easily enough).

In the midst of all this excitement, you will find little shacks selling T-shirts, watches and costume jewellery at throwaway prices. These are the `foreign goods' that come to India via couriers and sold at places like Fancy Market. There are also little pubs and restaurants where you can play pool, darts, billiards or get a Thai meal for about 100 bhats per head. On your way out of Patpong or on your way in, you can swing by the Japanese soi. Most likely, you won't be allowed inside the bars (they are very, very expensive, and anyway, they are strictly for the Japanese customers who can afford the prices). You can however get a peek at the girls hanging around on the street. They are all in long, evening gowns, and generally of a better class than the girls in the busier, free-for-all sois.

Your Patpong experience over, you can try Nana Plaza on Soi Nana or visit Soi Cowboy in Sukhumvit over the next two nights. By now you will have become more hardened to the charm of these go-go girls and see through most traps that are set every foreign tourist's way. The point to remember here is nobody's going to twist your arm to do anything you don't want to, so if you are only meaning to see all the action up close without actually joining in, it's alright with most everybody.