Patpong (Thai: พัฒน์พงศ์, RTGS: Phat Phong) 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, it is in fact only one of numerous red-light districts some catering primarily to Thai men and some others, like Patpong, catering primarily to foreigners.
A busy night market aimed at tourists is also located in Patpong.
Location and layout
Patpong (location: Coordinates: ) 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 from the BTS Skytrain Silom Line's Sala Daeng Station, and MRT Blue Line'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. It has long catered to gay men, whilst nearby Soi Thaniya has expensive bars with Thai hostesses that cater almost exclusively to Japanese men.
History and ownership
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 for foreigners, and was famous 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. In the early 1990s, however, the Patpongpanich family decided to turn all of Patpong 1 Road bar the sidwalks into a night market, renting out spaces to stall holders.
The consequence was that Patpong lost a great deal of its vibrancy as a go-go bar and sexual services strip, becoming crowded with tourist shoppers who were at best bemused by the nightlife and put a big damper on the strip's power to excite and amuse. Soon the real action moved to the newer nightlife areas of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, which today far outdo Patpong as go-go bar strips. However, Patpong is the only one within the official entertainment zones decreed by the Thai government in 2004, which allow venues to legally stay open until 2am, instead of the 1am legal closing time in other areas. Enforcement of that law was initially strict but has varied over time since.
In recent years, there has been a move away from the traditional sex venues in Patpong. Twilo hip hop bar boasts two live bands every night, and is very popular with both tourists and local Thais. Also, Muzzik Cafe has been completely renovated and is a very popular live music bar playing a mixture of Rock, Hip hop and Pop.
Next to Twilo is Funky Dojo with DJs regularly playing both club and house music. Park Bridge, another high class music venue, has just opened across Patpong 2 and is accessible from either the Foodland car park or the opposite building from the third floor. Radio City and Lucifer are also being refurbished, which will mean by November 2008 Patpong will be one of the main live music areas
Patpong has many shows featuring women doing stunts in the nude. 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 such as Ping pong show. 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. Unlike the kathoey bars in Nana Plaza, many of the staff at these Patpong bars are post-operative transsexuals.
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 street Soi Pratuchai leading off Surawong.
Patpong Night Market has offered souvenirs, gifts, clothes, handbags and jewelry amidst entertainment establishments since the late 1960s. This is one of the best known open air night markets in Thailand.
Many western films have featured Patpong, including the award winning The Deer Hunter (1978), starring Robert De Niro. The final part of the popular musical Miss Saigon (1989) is set in the bar scene of Patpong.
The movie Baraka features several shots of strippers in Patpong.
The 2008 book Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand's Third Gender gives an intimate portrait of Thailand's Kathoeys. It is a collection of authentic stories about journeys of self-discovery by those who have struggled with gender identity while trying to maintain normal lives and careers. The book features some of Thailand's celebrity ladyboys such as Boxer Nong Toom as well as the life of a magazine columnist, a cabaret performer, a prostitute and others. Some of them also tell about their experiences in Patpong. The book was written by Susan Aldous and Pornchai Sereemongkonpol and published by Maverick House Publishers.
Patpong opera is a collection of songs written by Paul Wood manager of Radio City to tunes of modern rock songs. Together they tell the story of the people in Patpong. Copies are available from Radio City.
Patpong serves as part of the setting in Tom Robbins' book Villa Incognito.
- Patpong Area Photo Guide
- Ajarn article on Patpong
- Thailand.com article on Patpong.
- Excerpts from Patpong Sisters. Urban Desires, Volume 1, Issue 1, December 1994