Patpong night market, lined with its go-go bars, ping-pong shows and name brand knock-offs, is a Bangkok tourist cliché. There are ultra-brightly lit stalls that sell everything from combat gear, to remote control Hello Kitty dolls to Lacoste polo shirts in every color imaginable, and there are people everywhere.
It is essentially a theme park. Here you can find most elements that you’d expect from a theme park. The stereotypical balding and beer-gutted sex tourist has long abandoned Patpong for Nana and Soi Cowboy (and certainly other neighbourhoods not mentioned in my guidebook). Instead, the people that pack into the narrow alleys of Patpong are middle-aged couples of just about every nationality, young couples (sometimes with babies in tow), Asian packaged tour groups, and what must be the Japanese equivalent of frat boys. There is a strange mix of ambient music blasting from speakers from all directions. Some people seem to be waiting in line for no apparent reason. There are also men and women everywhere who are eager to show you “menus” of various acrobatic acts involving small and not-so-small objects.
A big difference between here and a more family friendly amusement park, however, is that no one in Patpong seems particularly amused.
Despite any ideological objection one/ I may have to the Patpong shows and everything else along with them, not stepping into one of the bars while you’re already in Patpong would be like not going on any rides when you’re at an amusement park. On this one particular evening, my friend V and I took a stroll around Patpong. We were subsequently followed by a man for over half a mile to offer us 100-Baht beers complete with live entertainment. Succumbing to the man’s persistence and our own curiosity (this was V’s first time in Thailand), we followed him up some very brightly lit stairs (they were pink) to a very dark room with a circular bar, a narrow platform and 4 poles. There were tables around the stage/ bar and most of them were occupied. Once the man seated us at a table, someone else pulled out a drinks menu and reaffirmed that we could have anything on the menu for 100-Baht. We ordered beers. By now there were 4 girls of all shapes and sizes on the stage.
A friend of mine once tried to pin-point what exactly it is that makes something erotic as opposed to pornographic. The thing is, I’m not sure if the shows in Patpong would even classify as pornographic. The ladies on stage were not exactly dancing; they were mainly just having a conversation amongst themselves while holding onto the poles. Strangely, the scene, reminded me of a women’s locker room. For sure the woemn weren’t wearing very much on their bodies-- but they all had intriguing footwear. Two of them were wearing thigh-high boots with killer heels, which I suppose is common practice in that kind of establishment despite the climate that we live in (fungus immediately popped to mind…)? One of them was wearing sneakers—even this I can sort of understand, given that she probably doubled up as a waitress and bartender, and there could be broken glass and all sorts of nasties on the floor of a bar. There was, however, a woman who was completely naked except for the white gym socks on her feet.
Our drinks arrived. I looked around and realized that I wasn’t the only one that was a bit bored and aprehensive. All eyes were fixated on the same stage, but no one looked the least bit engaged. And then a middle-aged Thai woman appeared in front of me and asked me for 1,400 Baht for our two beers. “It was 100 Baht according to the man and the menu”. I realized, the second these words spilled out of my mouth, that we had just become the latest targets of a long-standing scam. The woman went on to tell me all sorts of things, and produced another menu indicating that a beer now cost 300 Baht.
I had no intention of paying anything more than 100 Baht for my beer. The woman got increasingly agitated and by now another equally middle-aged woman emerged. This time, she showed me yet another menu with beers costing 1,000 Baht. I laughed out loud and asked her if it was a joke—but like everyone else in Patpong she wasn’t amused. The haggling continued. And since witches tend to hang out in threes, a third woman was cued in just to complete this story. What these women lacked in logic and English vocabulary was made up for by volume. Witch number 3 was definitely the loudest and looked the most pissed off. V thought she was going to beat me up. She tried to reason that drinks and shows were charged separately-- 300 Baht for the drink and 400 for the show, to which I responded, “What show? All I can see are the three of you.” I also mentioned that they should pay me, because by now we were definitely attracting more interest than the women on stage.
After a while, even the yelling and screaming was getting boring. Witch number 3 eventually shouted, “So how much will you pay?”, and I passed her 200 Baht. She then yelled at me some more and told us to leave the premises. In moments like these, I’m glad I don’t speak Thai because I’m sure what she was saying to me in my face was far from nice. Ah well.
As it was, we ended up in a side alley of Patpong finishing the beers for which we had bargained long and hard. V didn’t get to see the famous ping pong show, but at least we didn’t get beat up either. As I was about to finish my drink, another eager-looking man approached us and asked, “Want to see show? We have male dancers too”. Again, the “menu” he showed me read 100 Baht.
“Only if you’re dancing,” I said. He shut up and walked away.