Happy Sunday, reader. You’ve found your way to BKKNites and me, a semi-frequent guest writer. My name’s Seven. How’s it hangin’? This week’s topic concerns what are—to me—the most important locations in BKK, and possibly the world.
Bangkok’s three RLDs (red-light districts) are very distinct, and different from each other. And depending on your personal preference, you experienced mongers and punters probably have a favorite. But for the uninitiated, it might be worth taking a look what makes them great, what drawbacks (if any) there are, and how to plan an excursion accordingly. So, let’s drill down.
Soi Cowboy was for the last 2 decades the king of the red-lights. It was the busiest, had the hottest girls, and hosted the creme de la creme of the most popular names: Crazyhouse, Baccara, Cowboy2, Tilac, Dollhouse, Lighthouse, and Suzie Wong’s. The first time I walked down Soi Cowboy, the teen-age pervert I was 3 decades ago leaped for joy. My eyes bugged out at the sight of 20 drop-dead gorgeous girls all vying to pull me into their bar. I was a kid in a candy store–if tits, ass, and free range pussy could be called candy. The hardest part of the night–besides my naughty bits–was deciding who to barfine. I spent myself broke on every visit, and swore I’d never need anything else in life but Soi Cowboy. In fact, when I first came on the scene over a decade ago, I didn’t even know about Nana and Patpong. If Cowboy were a Disneyland ride, it’d be Small World. A leisurely trip down a happy, welcoming lane full of friendly faces. Except instead if animatronic children, they’re Thai sex goddesses in short shorts. Now, let’s check Cowboy’s stats.
Cowboy pros: it’s home to some of the most famous bars in Thailand. It has the glitzy, neon-lit appearance of Vegas, if not the equivalent experience.
The girls tend to by and large be hotter pound for pound than most of dancers in the other two locations. That’s not to say there aren’t hotties in Nana and Patpong. There’s just more in Cowboy.
The Hangover 2 was filmed there. If you’re into visiting places you’ve seen in films, it’s kind of cool.
It has live music bars and a couple restaurants.
It’s short and easy to navigate.
It’s good for newbs and people who want to feel safe in a red-light district.
There are a couple of cheap happy hour specials, namely at Lighthouse and Dollhouse.
Cowboy cons: except for the above-mentioned happy hour deals, the drinks are expensive. Barfines and short/long-time fees are the highest of the 3 RLDs. (Update: in 2021 post-2nd lockdown, Cowboy’s drink prices aren’t the most expensive. Cowboy’s and Nana’s drink prices are comparable, while Patpong is having a pricing identity crisis.)
It’s small. So, once you’ve gone from end to end the only option is to double back or grab a taxi to somewhere else.
There aren’t a lot of short-time hotels nearby. In fact, I think there’s only one.
The girls can see where you go, which means if one or more have laid claim on you, they will take note of every bar you enter, and will ask their friends who work there if you bought drinks for anyone, or grabbed a tit or an ass in there. And if you barfine anyone else, be prepared to get your nuts snapped off by your other girl(s).
A few years later, a buddy introduced me to Nana Plaza. With 3 floors of gogo bars and a beer garden in the middle, it’s quite a cul-de-sac. Cowboy hadn’t prepared me for the sheer volume of ass on display in there. It took a month of regular visits just to see the inside of every gogo. With famous names like Billboard, Rainbow, Angelwitch, Spanky’s, and Mandarin, it was a shock to the senses. If Nana were a ride at Disneyland, it would be the Haunted House. Because once you’re in, you can’t get out. It’s just one heart attack after another, in a bottle-shaped area with one entrance, and more bewitching babes than any one dude could handle. I grabbed onto a table in Billboard like a life preserver, and cast my eyes to the spinning stage with 30 of the hottest chicks I’d ever seen preening in slow, clockwise motion. Aside from a girl in Rainbow 3 and a trio in Mandarin, I got my supply of short-timers from that circular stage in Billboard for an entire year. So, how do Nana’s numbers shake out?
Nana pros: by sheer volume it has the most girls and venues.
It’s home to Billboard, the best gogo bar in BKK.
It’s self-contained, which means it’s pretty easy to navigate. The hardest part of that is the stairs.
It has short-time hotels within, making short-timing easy.
The distance from one bar to the next is mere meters, so if you get smashed, you don’t have far to walk between barstools.
Cons: There are no restaurants, though if you get peckish they’re only a short walk away.
The girls are all business all the time, which can make a man feel like he’s being used. And I suppose, if he’s using her right back, it’s fine. For a haggard old monger like me, finding a temporary toy stopped being fun a long time ago, but if that’s your thing, then this is a pro, not a con.
It’s got the hard-whoring feel of Las Vegas without any of the fanfare. Which again, could be a pro if that’s all you’re after. And don’t get me wrong—Nana is a party. It’s just…less-personal than other places.
There’s a kind of corporate, clinical vibe throughout Nana Plaza, and the joints tend to be crowded with dudes trying to get their swerve on, so many of the hotter girls get snapped up early. For me, it’s a fun place to visit every once in a while, but I’ve no interest in making a habit out of it. Not like I’ve done with Patpong. Speaking of…
I’d been living in Bangkok for 5 years before laying eyes on Patpong for the first time. My initial impression was that it was old. It looked like it could collapse in on itself at any moment. It smelled like 1970 had died there, and that corpse of the past just carried on decomposing. No way this could be any good, I thought to myself. Then I walked into Electric Blue, and my life changed forever. In the months following, I found Bada Bing, Pink Panther, and what was to become my 2nd home –The Strip. I fell in love with the broken-down architecture, the layers of history, and the brazen sexual ferocity of the girls. If the Pong were a Disneyland ride, it’d be Pirates of the Caribbean, with punters instead of pirates., and I swashbuckled my way through it all. Yo ho, me hearties, yo ho.
It’s not easy for me to suss out the pros and cons of Patpong because it’s so near and dear to my heart, but I’ll try to be objective.
Patpong pros: It has an intriguing history. From Air America and Tony Poe to David Bowie and various films from the past several decades, the streets are like a permanent movie set.
It has two pizza joints, two Irish pubs, two French bistros, a museum, a bdsm dungeon, and a 24-hour supermarket in addition to all the gogo bars. It’s on 2 sois with exits at both ends, making it easy to sneak in and out. And unlike Cowboy which is geographically small, and Nana which has only one exit, you can cruise the sois of Patpong on foot or by, scooter, motorbike, or car.
The vibe is more casual and familiar. The girls are less about pumping you for drinks and more about having a good time. This is because the dancers who for whatever reason can’t put the hard sell to customers, gravitate to Patpong where there’s less pressure to be so pushy while on the job.
In terms of sin, it’s definitely the closest to Vegas—the kind of Nick Cage, fatal alcoholic, alley cat, sad saxophone solo noir Vegas that doesn’t really exist anymore. Patpong is a real-life model of a pulp fiction novel.
Cons: It’s a real-life model of a pulp-fiction novel. And it’s old. Folks coming to Thailand for the first time might be put off with the dingy look of the place (personally, I love it).
It has a reputation for being scary, scummy, and scammy. This stems from the ping pong shows that used to be located on Soi 1. Since the onset of the Koof, those places have closed. Whether or not they return will depend on which businesses rise from the ashes after the pandemic. There are rumors of the Patpong godfathers replacing the night market with a beer garden and food festival.
Many gogos have closed. Like Cowboy, it’s only about 60% open. This could be seen as a pro, if you’re the kind of monger who avoids crowds. But for most gogoers, more is better. Maybe the bars will return with the first wave of tourism post-ban, but so will Nana’s and Cowboy’s. Patpong will always have comparatively fewer watering holes and gogo poles than the former locations.
To sum up, the answer to the question of which red-light is better really depends on your personal preference, your personality, and your particular penchants. If you want spectacle, head to Cowboy. If you’re a short-time high-volume shopper, Nana’s your best bet. If you want a mellow, no-pressure outing with the prospect of finding a barfine, a bestie, or a Belgian beer, check out Patpong. And no matter where you end up, raise a glass to this country, its people, and the playgrounds they’ve created for we fortune few to frolic in. Cheers.
PS—over at my website, you’ll find a pictorial to go with the above blog, plus a redux/update on Patpong and Cowboy: http://patpongnightlife.com/2021/03/13/cowboy-nana-patp…anion-and-update/