Patpong is one of the best known, and perhaps most notorious, tourist attractions and areas in Bangkok, Thailand. It is also one of the best known red light districts in the world.
The notoriety is a historical one stems from the fact that it is the oldest of the three main “red light” districts in Bangkok catering mainly for tourists and foreign expats – the other two being Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza. Although it has long since lost its crown as the main entertainment district it remains the most famous of the three and has become synonymous with the image of Bangkok. It still attracts large crowds but the majority these days are sightseers rather than bar-hoppers with the night market now being its biggest draw.
Its is effectively located on two parallel side streets, Patpong 1 and Patpong 2, between Silom and Surawongse Roads. There are two other smaller Sois, unsurprisingly called Patpong 3 and 4 that make up the district of Patpong but the first two are where the majority of the action is.
A Brief history of Patpong
If you read every article about Patpong available on the internet it doesn’t take very long to work out that you are reading a rather heady mix of fact, legend, myth and outright false news. We will try here to separate the fact from the fiction!
Patpong gets its name from the family that owns much of the area’s property, the Patpongpanich family. Originally ommigrants China, they purchased the land in 1946. At that time it was an undeveloped plot on the outskirts of Bangkok. They initially built one road, Patpong 1, and several small shophouses. Patpong 2 road was added later. Both roads remain private property, not city streets, to this day. Patpong 3 and 4 are not owned by the Patpongpanich family but have simply gained their names from being extensions of the nightlife of the first two. Originally just an ordinary business area, the coming of the bars, gogo bars and nightclubs would drive eventually drive out most of the other existing businesses.
By the late 1960s small handful of nightclubs had started up in the area, and Patpong found some use as a R&R location for U.S. troops serving in the Vietnam War. It grew rapidly and by the 1980s Patpong was the number one nightlife area in Bangkok for foreigners. In particular it a gained well deserved notoriety 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 turned the sidewalks of Patpong 1 Road into a night market, renting out spaces to street vendors.
The opening of tye night market led to Patpong losing much of its vibrancy as a nightlife zone as it became crowded with tourist shoppers who invariably ignored the nightlife. The two other main nightlife zones, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, were easily available to draw away many of “the Pongs” regulars and nightlife seeking tourists. It did however become designated “entertainment zone” in 2004, along with Royal City Avenue (RCA) and portions of Ratchadapisek Road. An official endorsement not afforded to Soi Cowboy or Nana Plaza to this day. Although this designation allows its bars to officially stay open until 02:00, instead of the 01:00 legal closing times enforced in the other areas it has slipped down the pecking order and now lags far behind both Cowboy and Nana in terms of both venues and visitors. The market remains its biggest attraction these days.
Featured – Patpong
Despite the decline of the traditional nightlife there is a resurgence of businesses catering for the new crowd the changes have brought.