Patpong AKA Phatphong is an entertainment district in Bangkok, Thailand, catering mainly, though not exclusively, to foreign tourists and expatriates. While Patpong is internationally known as a red light district at the heart of Bangkok's sex industry, it is in fact only one of numerous red-light districts some catering primarily to Thai men and some others, like Patpong, catering primarily to foreigners.
Patpong 1 is the main street with many bars of various kinds. Patpong 2 also has many similar bars. Next to these lies Soi Jaruwan, sometimes referred to as Patpong 3 but best known as Silom Soi 4. It has long catered to gay men, whilst nearby Soi Thaniya has expensive bars with Thai hostesses that cater almost exclusively to Japanese men.
Patpong gets its name from the family that owns much of the area's property, the Patpongpanich (or Patpongpanit), immigrants from Hainan Island, China, who purchased the area in 1946. At that time it was an undeveloped plot of land on the outskirts of the city. A small klong (canal) and a teakwood house were the only features. The family built a road - now called Patpong 1 - and several shophouses, which were rented out. Patpong 2 was added later, and both roads are in fact private property and not city streets. (The so-called Patpong 3 and Soi Thaniya are not owned by the Patpongpanich family.) The old teak house was torn down long ago and the klong was filled in to make room for more shophouses. Originally simply an ordinary business area, the coming of the bars eventually would drive out most of the other businesses.
There has been a move away from the traditional sex venues in Patpong. Twilo hip hop bar boasts two live bands every night, and is very popular with both tourists and local Thais. Also, Muzzik Cafe has been completely renovated and is a very popular live music bar playing a mixture of Rock, Hip hop and Pop.
A dancer at a go-go bar along Patpong
Most Patpong go-go bars feature women dancing on a stage. The dancers (and even occasionally the serving staff) are generally available to customers willing to pay a bar fine to take them out of the bar; the fees for sexual services are negotiated separately. Some establishments advertising "massages" are in fact disguised brothels, and a few famous "blowjob bars" offer oral sex at the main bar or in back rooms.
Several upstairs bars still feature (technically illegal) sex shows, with women performing various creative acts such as Ping pong show. Perhaps the most notorious of these features women performing exotic feats involving their genitalia and projectile table tennis balls. Some of these second-floor bars are run by scam artists who lure tourists with offers of low prices and later present a wildly inflated bill along with a threat of physical harm should the bill go unpaid. The Tourist Police, usually stationed at Patpong 1 and Silom Road, can help in these situations.
Some establishments in Patpong employ kathoeys (or "ladyboys") either exclusively or as part of a mixed gender staff. Unlike the kathoey bars in Nana Plaza, many of the staff at these Patpong bars are post-operative transsexuals.
With one or two exceptions, the gay bars in the Patpong area are not go-go bars, but simply traditional gay pubs, such as Telephone and The Balcony, which cater to both Thais and tourists. The commercial gay oriented go-go bars are mainly on Surawong Road or in small street Soi Pratuchai leading off Surawong.
Today, however, there are signs that parts of Patpong are turning away from the sex industry and providing other kinds of entertainment. There are now a number of live music bars that attract regular Thais and tourists as well as a number of very good restaurants.
In recent years, Silom and Surawong have been taken over by the Patpong night market, making movement in the area difficult and filling the area with farang tourist couples and backpackers. Men selling pornographic DVDs have become an increasing nuisance in the area, as have touts who try to direct tourists into the bars offering sex shows. This night market is very tourist-oriented, with the accompanying high prices compared to local-oriented markets unless one is prepared to bargain very hard to get a good price.
Many western films have featured Patpong, including the award winning The Deer Hunter (1978), starring Robert De Niro. The final part of the popular musical Miss Saigon (1989) is set in the bar scene of Patpong.
Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand's Third Gender gives an intimate portrait of Thailand's Kathoeys. It is a collection of authentic stories about journeys of self-discovery by those who have struggled with gender identity while trying to maintain normal lives and careers. The book features some of Thailand's celebrity ladyboys such as Boxer Nong Toom as well as the life of a magazine columnist, a cabaret performer, a prostitute and others. Some of them also tell about their experiences in Patpong.