It is located near Sukhumvit Road, between Sukhumvit Soi 21 (also called Soi Asoke) and Soi 23, within walking distance from the BTS Skytrain's Asok Station and the Bangkok Metro's Sukhumvit Station. The Grand Millennium 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 occurs in some bars, even though illegal (the police are paid to look the other way). Most of the dancers are also prostitutes and will go with a customer if he pays a "bar fine" to the bar and a separate fee to the woman. Sexual services take place in the tourist's hotel room.
The soi was given its name by longtime nightlife columnist Bernard Trink, after the late T. G. "Cowboy" Edwards, a retired American airman who opened one of the first bars there in 1977. A tall African-American, Edwards got his nickname because he often wore a cowboy hat.
When Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was elected in 2001, his government instituted a "social order" campaign. As part of this, all bars, nightclubs and restaurants had to close by 2am, later changed to 1am 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. Soi Cowboy's reputation suffered a temporary blow when, as part of the social order campaign, police closed off the street one Friday night in November 2003 and required all workers and patrons to submit to urine testing for drugs.
Over the years this policy has eased, and as of 2012, some Soi Cowboy bars stay open as late as 2:30am.
At their entrance, all go-go bars carry government-mandated signs in Thai and English. The sign reads
UNDER 20 YEARSDRUG-FREE
During the 2004 International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, a bead sculpture made in Soi Cowboy was displayed as part of the cultural program.
Films and songs
In 2000, the Norwegian group Getaway People released a song called "Soi Cowboy" about this area. The American rock band Sun City Girls also have a song called "Soi Cowboy" on their 1996 album 330,003 Crossdressers From Beyond The Rig Veda. In the albums booklet it is said to be based on a traditional melody.
Actor Hugh Grant visited Soi Cowboy in December 2003, while shooting the movie Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The Tilac Bar and several Soi Cowboy bar girls are seen in the film. The Sun wrote on 23 December 2003 that Grant was chased by bar girls and had to flee, though that apparently was untrue.
In December 2010, scenes for the film The Hangover Part 2 were also shot here.
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