Bangkok’s most notorious tourist attraction is undoubtedly its red light districts, much to the embarrassment of the Tourist Authority of Thailand.
For sure, the reason many come to Thailand is the girlie bars and it doesn’t get much better than Bangkok if you’re bachelor traveller. Of course, there is much more to Bangkok than its red light districts, but they do stand out, and are generally safe, fun areas.
The city has several areas given over to girlie bars and you can take home a sexy all-night companion for US$50. Whether you prefer a club full of pole dancers, a discreet meeting bar, ping-pong shows or even a massage parlour or karaoke full of pretty hostesses, Bangkok has it laid on cheap and cheerful.
There is not just one red light district in Bangkok but three main areas: the Nana Entertainment Plaza (or just ‘Nana Plaza’), Soi Cowboy, which is nearby, and the infamous Patpong – the area that made Bangkok’s naughty nightlife scene famous in the first place.
Due to the history behind it, Patpong is probably the most extreme of the three areas and also the most touristy -people usually think of Patpong first when talking about red light districts in Bangkok. There are two small lanes which make up Patpong, each of which is lined with go go bars and a few regular bars and discos. These two roads are situated off the busy Silom Road, and at the Silom end of the roads is a bustling street market.
Also in Patpong are a number of upstairs venues in which the scene is a lot more sleazy and explicit. Here the girls are often naked and rather than simply dancing on the stage they will be performing all kinds of mindboggling tricks with their bits. If you really insist on witnessing this, you’ll have to sit and have a drink, but be warned that you should view the menu and pay in advance to avoid any nasty surprises.
Nana Plaza is situated on Sukhumvit Soi 4 (also known as Soi Nana) and is a large complex comprising of three floors of go go bars. The bars generally open at 20:00, but there are bars full of more discreet hostesses that are open all hours. In fact, the entire top end of this street, nearest the BTS Nana station, is dominated by bars and girls.
As this is in the heart of the hotel district, it’s perhaps the most convenient red light district in Bangkok, where you can choose a quiet drink at a sports bar, a massage with a ‘happy ending’, a small venue with friendly girls, or a go-go bar with dozens of Bangkok’s hottest hookers dancing on stage. Within walking distance of Soi Nana, across Sukhumwit Road, are many more bars favoured by ‘freelancing’ girls.
Soi Cowboy is a short, pedestrianised lane that runs between Sukhumvit Soi 21 and 23 (a quick tuk tuk ride from Nana). It is packed with go go bars and one or two regular bars; all of them with bright, flashing neon signs, loud music blaring out and many ‘friendly’ ushers trying to entice you inside.
The Soi Cowboy scene spreads out slightly from the main lane itself; there are a few hostess bars and massage parlours around the area, too. There seems to be nudity accepted on stage, although usually only in the upstairs bars, and the atmosphere is far more casual than Nana. However, Soi Cowboy is a Bangkok red light district that is mostly go go bars only. There aren’t many discreet bars where you can have a quiet drink with girls that aren’t pushy or ‘expensive’.
The girlie bar scene in Bangkok is quite relaxed and different from red light districts in Europe that seem more businesslike and impersonal. There’s a blurred lined between proper go go bars, beer bars full of ‘waitresses’ waiting to be taken elsewhere and freelancers who loiter on the streets in the area. From Nana Plaza you can wander down Sukhumwit Road several blocks and still be discovering bars down the lanes with available girls, and these are far less ‘full on’ than Nana Plaza itself. It’s a good idea to book a hotel in this area and be free to wander the different bars.
Also, the permissiveness seems to change according to the moral stance of the governor at the time. As of early 2011, as we update this, it appears Bangkok red light district bars are allowed to get away with more than has been acceptable in years, with fully naked girls on the stage in Soi Cowboy, but clothes on in Patpong; which is far more mainstream touristy.