Patpong is one of Thailand’s best-known red-light districts.
Over the decades, people from all over the world have passed through Patpong Soi 1 and Patpong Soi 2.
They’ve taken away memories, anecdotes, and tales that take some beating.
This extremely valuable yet massively underdeveloped piece of Bangkok real estate has a history.
You’ll see the gnarly streets and the inch-thick dust on some bars that could serve as forensic Pandora’s box of old DNA and carbon dating.
You get the feeling that while in some of these bars that they have seen it all, or at least someone there has.
Patpong in the 60’s
How was Patpong Named?
Patpong was named after the family that bought the land in 1946.
A Chinese immigrant from Hainan Island was given the name “Patpongpanich” by the King of Thailand.
He apparently bought the land for an estimated $24,000 US.
This was for building family houses between the Silom and Suriwong roads.
Later, it became known as “Patpong 1.”
Prior to the family ownership that still exists today, the area was a Japanese military headquarters in World War II.
It is said that they flattened a banana plantation to build there.
How did Patpong Start?
In the late ’60s, with the influx of multinational companies and military personnel from the United States and other countries, the soi quickly burst into life.
It witnessed a rapid succession of leisure provision establishments opening between ’68 and ’73.
Restaurants, bars, clubs, and massage parlors quickly filled the shophouse units and then spilled into what is now known as “Patpong 2.”
GI’s from Vietnam were rumored to be responsible for this explosion of entertainment.
They spent their dollars and time at New Petchburi Road, Bangkok.
Company employees, embassy personnel, pilots, and foreigners made up the Patpong crowd.
Most US servicemen never saw anywhere else other than New Petchburi Road in Bangkok.
Patpong at this time was, by comparison, rather refined.
Partly due to the white-collar clientele and the overseas concept that the business owners of Patpong had of them.
The Thai headquarters for most major airlines and multi-nationals such as Shell were all in this CBD area.
Businesses were keen to match demand with not only supply but with substance.
This was headed by the Patpongpanich family’s heir and most famous son, Khun Udom.
Who was Khun Udom?
Udom studied overseas, and from ’36 to ‘46, he lived in London, Minnesota, and Hong Kong.
He was fondly remembered by all.
He was popularly known as a shrewd yet larger-than-life, flamboyant businessman.
Unfortunately, he passed away in 1996, aged 79.
What Happened to Patpong after the 60s?
A surprising number of businesses that opened in the early days of Patpong, as we know it, still exist today.
Like characters in our life, some have aged well, and others haven’t.
The King’s Group (unrelated to the Royal Family) was the first major joint venture that helped bring noticeable success.
They were another Chinese family who leased many properties from Udom.
They then developed their own venues to either run themselves or sub-let out to foreigners.
Like most business owners, they wished to live the dream and make a go of it themselves in a very exciting hub.
Patpong in the ’70s
Most of the early bars were unnamed shophouses.
But some of the famous ones that broke the ground, so to speak, were the Red Door restaurant, Max’s Place, Roma, and Amor.
By ’73, one had The Horny Toad, The Gaslight, The Butterfly, Grand Prix, and the Mississippi Queen.
Around this time, servicemen began to make the cross-town pilgrimage from Petchburi Road to the area.
Traffic was equally as horrendous in those days, and every taxi ride in a Datsun Bluebird had to be haggled.
Every cab had to have a meter, but there was no law enforcing that they must use it.
Sounds reassuringly familiar?
First Gogo Bar in Patpong – Mississippi Queen
The Mississippi Queen was known for having its’ premises used in the movie, The Deer Hunter.
This was reputedly the first bar to have go-go dancers over the bar.
They were located opposite the Super Star, which later became the biggest go-go bar in the region.
Mississippi Queen also introduced American soul music to their patrons.
The honor tab was also introduced here.
A practice that you still see to this day – where your tab sits in a cup in front of you until you are ready to leave.
Unsurprisingly, people then were not allowed to forget their bill.
The staff ensured that they got paid for services and products rendered.
Today, there are many go-go bars worth visiting in Bangkok.
What Happened to Patpong after the ’70s?
Patpong in the 70’s bars were the alleged hangouts for DEA, CIA, and other clandestine organizations.
Howard Marks writes in his autobiography, Mr. Nice, that Super Star was one of the preferred venues for American “background” staff.
Madrid, The Executive, and Crystal Palace were others, and some are still open to this day.
Although Madrid is the only one to have kept its luster and appeal.
Today, most visitors will have a quick look in Super Star and abruptly u-turn their way out of there.
Patpong in the ’80s
By the Eighties, over 100 bars made up Patpong.
Patpong’s three-story townhouses formed a concept that you see to this day.
Lounge and go-go bars are on the street-level.
Upstairs you’ll find the illicit, explicit, and erotic shows and services.
Each with its own showers, booths, and short-time rooms.
Traditional businesses had moved out.
Then, new successful enterprises were mimicked and cookie-cut to style.
The King’s Group bars enjoyed terrific success during this time simply by maintaining high standards and sub-let rents.
Business owners then were not afraid to spend.
Draw in customers and accumulate market share was a priority.
Lavish bars such as Takura on Patpong 2 were classy in design and décor.
They had gorgeous hostesses’ adorning evening dresses.
It made for a refreshing, salubrious alternative.
Strong yet healthy competition between the bars and venues created the marketing and design phenomena.
You’ll still see this today.
There was something here for everyone.
Convenience and supply that was crucial to the two-week tourists.
Overall, it was done very well, and Patpong thrived right through the Eighties.
Today, most of these bars are very easy to walk past if you do not know what you are looking for.
Particularly Madrid and The Old Other Office – two bars that should be on top of your list to check out while there.
Both ooze history and have long-standing owners.
They maintain the high service levels that most people only heard about.
Mizu’s Kitchen, Safari, and Pussy Collection hark from that era too.
Though sadly, it is only Mizu’s that has invested in keeping up appearances.
Other venues that opened fifty or so years ago allowed the magic to disappear.
This was the real sadness in these streets.
There are cleaner, newer, and better venues to spend your money at.
So why would you bother when the tenants and business owners do not?
Patpong Night Market
Once the night market hawkers were allowed to move in and trade, the area, became the complete tourist attraction.
Navigation is difficult, and seemingly everyone pesters you.
The night market thrived and sold everything imaginable.
However, the added crowd is simply too much at times.
There was increased pressure on a hot Bangkok night just to get to where you want to go.
Today, there are more night markets in Bangkok thriving and attracting tourists.
Other Red Light Areas in Bangkok
There were clear alternatives to Patpong by this time too.
They concentrated on delivering the one thing that Patpong created.
Patpong business owners slowed in their promotion and some in their standards.
While other Bangkok hotspots demonstrated more glitz and glamour.
Nevertheless, Patpong’s reputation and notoriety ensured that tourists continued to visit in high numbers.
Though mostly just to say that they’ve been there and done it.
Like any city High Street, almost everyone is going to walk down there at some point.
How to Avoid Patpong Hassles
Today, Patpong seems to have this reputation for being a bit of a rip-off.
Still infamous for its neon-lit nightlife and raunchy red-light scene.
Many will tell you that this is now a place where one will encounter a level of hustle and hassle.
It outweighs the fun and frolics of Bangkok go-go-hopping.
In the past, it was home to Bangkok’s largest adult entertainment area.
It is now often seen as the go-go zone best left to ill-informed tourists and curious backpackers.
It’s populated by almost as many chancers, con artists, and dubious bar staff.
All looking to make some opportunistic baht from clueless foreign faces.
Rise of Patpong
The truth is, Patpong is currently seeing somewhat of a renaissance.
There was a period when many ex-pats and knowledgeable tourists would advise you to steer clear of this area.
Today, you’ll see many such people heading back to a number of the bars, and gogo’s around Patpong.
Bar prices are in-line with gogos elsewhere in the city.
Many of the bars here are now owned and run by foreigners who pride themselves on customer service.
They have close relationships with locals and expats.
More importance is placed on word of mouth and repeat business rather than tourist tricks and bill padding.
However, this is not to say that the clip joints and scammers have left the area completely.
While Patpong is once again becoming Bangkok’s most exciting go-go area, you’re still advised to show some alertness.
Use common sense in order to avoid being scammed or hustled.
To help you out, here are a few tips, which should show you How to Avoid the Patpong Hustle.
Just say ‘NO’
As soon as you turn into Patpong, there’s a chance you’ll be greeted by a grinning local.
He’ll be keen to escort you to his favorite bar.
It shouldn’t take you many milliseconds to figure out this guy is up to no good.
You’re likely to find him to be a persistent pest.
Even after saying “NO” he’s likely to follow you and continue his offer of friendship, hoping to win you over.
Don’t trust these guys by any means, and certainly don’t let them lead you to any bars.
The chances are you’ll be taken to a seedy show bar.
You’ll discover the first drink/entry fee is 5 or 6 times compared to other bars.
Then, you’ll leave with a bill that will put a serious dampener on your night.
The best way to avoid this scam is to ignore them completely.
As you pass, they will try to engage you in conversation.
They’ll ask you what you are looking for, where you are going, offering to take you to the best bar in the area.
As soon as you engage in conversation with them, you are on their hook.
And your first 10 ‘NO’s’ will be ignored.
If you do find yourself having to respond, simply say ‘no,’ smile, and walk away, completely ignoring them from then on.
Their attention will soon be drawn to the next oncoming farang face.
Ping Pong Shows
Bangkok has a reputation for its ‘ping-pong’ shows, among less informed tourists at least.
Nobody who lives in or regularly visits Bangkok has any desire to see a ping pong show.
In fact, few have probably ever been to one.
It’s as if the words ‘ping-pong show’ is a secret phrase to inform locals that you are looking to be ripped-off.
Ask Patpong’s loitering locals about a ping-pong show and watch his eyes light up like a Christmas tree.
You’re better off going to more raunchy Bangkok go-go bars that will certainly widen your eyes.
Watch your Bill!
You may have avoided the nasty ping pong shows and clip joints.
But just because you are in what seems like a normal go-go bar, don’t assume you’re in safe hands.
Always make sure to keep an eye on your bill.
If you are unsure about the drink prices, don’t be afraid to ask.
Especially when buying a lady drink for any staff in the bar.
These can sometimes be much more expensive than regular drinks.
Bill padding is less of a problem at the moment.
Some bars even ask you to check and sign your bill each time you order a round of drinks.
You’ll rarely be asked to sign a bill in Nana or Soi Cowboy, where bill padding has never been a big issue.
The normal procedure is for all your bills to be placed in the chit in front of you.
Leaving you free to check them and question anything unusual immediately.
If you order a drink and don’t see the bill in front of you, then your internal alarm bell should start to ring.
Always ask to have every bill receipt kept within sight.
Check them closely to ensure they are correct.
Choose the right Go-go Bar in Patpong
The simplest way to avoid being hustled in Patpong is to choose the right bar.
Present-day Patpong has a number of fun and friendly bars where you’ll find yourself at little risk of being treated like a chump.
One such hassle-free bar is Bada Bing.
It is run by foreign management who is always available to approach should you be unhappy in any way.
To find out where the other gogo bars are, check our guide on Silom Road.
What’s the easiest way to get to Patpong?
Patpong is easily accessible by taxi or by BTS.
Sala Daeng is the closest BTS station to Patpong.
It’s only a 3-minute walk from here.
Where else can you learn about Patpong’s history?
Are there gogo bars for VIPs in Patpong?
Patpong only has gogo bars. But gogo bars are not the best for VIPs.
Fortunately, over time, some bars have evolved into entertainment complexes.
They’re better known as gentlemen clubs.
While there aren’t any notable ones in Patpong, there are plenty of gentlemen clubs in Bangkok.
One of them is The PIMP Bangkok.