Patpong Red Light District

The neon signs leave little doubt about the dominant industry in Patpong, arguably the world’s most infamous strip of go-go bars and clubs running ‘exotic’ shows.

For years opinion on Patpong has been polarised between those people who see it as an exploitative, immoral place, and others for whom a trip to Bangkok is about little more than immersing themselves in planet Patpong. But Patpong has become such a caricature of itself that in recent times a third group has emerged: the curious tourist.

Prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand but there are as many as two million sex workers, the vast majority of whom – women and men – cater to Thai men. Many come from poorer regional areas, such as Isan in the northeast, while others might be students helping themselves through university. Sociologists suggest Thais often view sex through a less moralistic or romantic filter than Westerners. It’s only recently that the gradual empowerment of women through education and employment has led to a more vigorous questioning of this very widespread practice.

Patpong actually occupies two soi that run between Th Silom and Th Surawong in Bangkok’s financial district. The two streets are privately owned by – and named for – the Thai-Chinese Patpongpanich family, who bought the land in the 1940s and initially built Th Phat Phong and its shophouses; Soi Phat Phong 2 was laid later. During the Vietnam War the first bars and clubs opened to cater to American soldiers on ‘R&R’. The scene and its international reputation grew through the ’70s and peaked in the ’80s, when official Thai tourism campaigns made the sort of ‘sights’ available in Patpong a pillar of their marketing.

These days Patpong has mellowed considerably, if not matured. Thanks in part to the popular night market that fills the street after 5pm, it draws so many tourists that it has become a sort of sex theme park.

Most tourists go no further than stolen glances into the ground-floor go-go bars, where women in bikinis drape themselves around stainless-steel poles. Others will be lured to the dimly lit upstairs clubs by men promising sex shows. Several of these clubs are also infamous for their scams, usually involving the nonperforming (ie clothed, if just barely) staff descending on wide-eyed tourists like vultures on fresh meat. Before you know it you’ve bought a dozen drinks, racked up a bill for thousands of baht, followed up with a loud, aggressive argument flanked by menacing-looking bouncers.

Tawandang German Brewery

A German beer hall may seem like an odd destination in Bangkok, but the long-standing Tawandang German Brewery is a bona fide local institution – not to mention a one-stop venue for a guaranteed fun night out. The Thai-German food is tasty (don't miss the 'deep-fried pork knuckle served with spicy sauce', a Thai-German fusion staple), the house-made brews are potable, and the nightly stage shows make singing along a necessity. Music starts at 8.30pm.