In this post, we tell you how Patpong became the first red-light district in Bangkok.
For almost six decades, people from all over the world have passed through Patpong Soi 1 and 2 to party with beautiful Thai girls.
The bars of Patpong are full of memories, anecdotes, and even photos of celebrities.
You get the feeling that for some bars, the owners have seen it all.
Patpong is an important part of Bangkok’s CBD.
One with a long history full of ups and downs and interesting stories.
Where Does Patpong Get Its Name?
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 USD.
This was for building family houses between the Silom and Surawong roads.
Later, it became known as “Patpong Soi 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 The Patpong Red-Light District 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 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 Soi 2.”
GIs from Vietnam were rumored to be responsible for this explosion of entertainment.
They spent their dollars and time at New Petchaburi road, Bangkok.
Company employees, embassy personnel, pilots, and foreigners made up the Patpong crowd.
Most US servicemen never saw anywhere else other than New Petchaburi road in Bangkok.
Patpong at this time was, by comparison, rather refined.
That is partly due to the white-collar clientele and the overseas concept that the business owners of Patpong brought to the area.
The Thai headquarters for most major airlines and multinationals such as Shell were all in this CBD area too.
Businesses were keen to match demand with not only supply but also with substance(s).
This was headed by the Patpongpanich family’s heir and most famous son, Khun Udom.
Patpong In The 60s
A surprising number of businesses opened in the early days of Patpong.
The King’s Group (unrelated to the Royal Family) was the first major joint venture that helped bring noticeable success to the area.
There were also other Chinese families who leased many properties from Khun Udom…
They 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
Back in the 70s, most of the early bars in Patpong 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 Petchaburi Road to the Patpong area.
In the ’70s, many bars in Patpong 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.
Patpong’s First Gogo Bar – Mississippi Queen
Some will argue that it was the first famous gogo bar in Bangkok.
The Mississippi Queen was known for having its premises used in the movie, The Deer Hunter.
It was known as being the first bar to have gogo dancers over the bar.
They were located opposite the Super Star, which later became the biggest gogo bar in the area.
The Mississippi Queen also introduced American soul music to the locals.
The honor tab was also introduced here.
A practice that you still see to this day in most gogo bars – where your tab sits in a cup in front of you until you are ready to leave.
Patpong Gogo Bars In The ’80s
By the Eighties, over 100 bars made up Patpong Soi 1 and Patpong Soi 2.
Patpong’s three-story townhouses formed a concept that you see to this day.
Lounge and gogo bars are on the street level.
Upstairs you’ll find illicit, explicit, and erotic shows and services.
And also plenty of short-time rooms with their own booths and showers.
Traditional businesses had moved out.
The King’s Group bars enjoyed terrific success during this time simply by maintaining high standards and sub-let rents.
Lavish bars such as Takura on Patpong 2 were classy in design and decor.
They had gorgeous hostesses’ adorning evening dresses.
It made for a refreshing and pleasant alternative.
Strong yet healthy competition between the bars and venues created the marketing and design phenomena that made Patpong famous.
There was something here for everyone.
Convenience and supply that was crucial to the tourists who were starting to come by millions to the Land of Smiles.
Overall, it was done very well, and Patpong thrived right through the Eighties.
New Red Light Districts Emerge In The ’90s
There were clear alternatives to Patpong by this time too.
The huge complex of Nana Plaza, with its strip clubs located along Sukhumvit road demonstrated more glitz and glamor.
Not to mention a lot of convenience for customers since all bars are on the 3 floors of the building.
Check this guide to Nana Plaza, the world’s largest adult playground.
That’s when the other red-light district on lower Sukhumvit road, Soi Cowboy, started to gain in popularity too.
These two new red-light districts, located in other parts of town, borrowed from Patpong’s business model to focus primarily on foreign tourists and Japanese expats
Nevertheless, despite the new competition, Patpong’s reputation and notoriety ensured that tourists continued to visit in high numbers.
Patpong Bars Evolving In The 2000s
Today, most venues that opened fifty or so years ago have closed down.
But there are new and arguably better venues to spend your money at.
One of the best gogo bars in Patpong is Bada Bing.
There are always many customers there and a ton of hot girls!
Another good gogo bar is Black Pagoda.
This bar is similar to a traditional strip club you can find in the Western world.
For details on these and other similar bars, check out our post on the best gogo bars in Bangkok.
Where Can You Learn About Patpong’s History?
Visit the Patpong Museum to learn more about Patpong’s history.
There you’ll find photos and objects from the glory days of Patpong.
There are over 100 years of information, including how gogo bars started!
Who Was Khun Udom?
Khun Udom was the heir of the Patpongpanich family that bought the land where Patpong district was built.
He studied overseas, and from ’36 to ‘46, he lived in London, Minnesota, and Hong Kong.
He was fondly remembered by all in the Patpong business community.
He was popularly known as a shrewd, yet larger-than-life, flamboyant businessman.
Unfortunately, he passed away in 1996, aged 79.