Inside Bangkok Red Light Districts: Neon Lights, Not All Red

Exploring Bangkok Red Light Districts isn’t for the faint-hearted.

The sex tourism that goes alongside the Bangkok red light districts is a day to day occurrence that is simply a part of life in the Thai capital. In fact, sex tourism has been part of life in Thailand since the days of Siam as far back at over 500 years ago. Thanks to the power and wealth of Siam those passing through and trading were keen to participate in the legalized and also taxed brothels in the larger centers.

It wasn’t until 1960 that the Thai government ruled prostitution illegal with a supplementary act passed in 1996. But, with that act, the legalities focused on criminalizing prostitution and trafficking involving children with only a slight and occasional intervention by police when it came to sex tourism.

Bangkok Red Light Districts Today

As for the red light districts that you can visit today in Bangkok, there’s no shame in this area. They’re not hiding in the shadows, hoping for an occasional visitor to swing by. These areas are bright lights, loud music and flaunting girls.

There are 4 main areas in Bangkok that make up the red light districts. These are; Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, Patpong and Soi Twilight. These are well known areas of the city that are incredibly visible and well known to residents. Because of this, the well-kept premises are closely watched by the government and are closely monitored for sex trafficking, forced workers and ethical violations. This is, effectively, a regulated sex tourism area.

Most of the workers are generally women who have headed for the bright lights of Bangkok from poorer, rural areas in order to find regular and steady work. Especially with the lower levels of education found in rural areas.

go go bar in Bangkok

Patpong

Patpong has been popular as a sex tourism district since the days of the Vietnam War, and likely before! There are two main streets within the Patpong area, aptly named Soi Patpong 1 and 2.

If you’re looking for the most famous of venues then you’ll want to visit King’s Castle. There are, of course, 2 of them now and they’re popular thanks to their main selection of transsexual workers, most of whom are post-op. For something a little more different, maybe you’ll want to try BarBar Fetish Club.

Nana Plaza

Also known as The World’s Largest Adult Playground, Nana Plaza is set in the Patpong area. You’d be forgiven for thinking (maybe in daylight) that this complex was a shopping mall or similar. The three floors are home to a huge range of different go-go bars and also ladyboy bars. It’s worth learning the phrase Kathoey, meaning ladyboy, in case you’re either looking to avoid or find them…

The shows here aren’t just about the sex. In fact, they’re almost theatrical in production (depending on which you go into). Casanova is fairly relaxed, Angel Witch is a rock themed massive club, Billboard Agogo is frenetic and mad with a rotating podium and jacuzzi too!

Not interested in going into one of the bars? Then just hang out on the ground floor amongst the open bars in the open-air. The drinks aren’t cheap, but are cheaper than in the bars. You can kick back with a cold beer, watch sports and just watch the world go by.

Soi Cowboy

Soi Cowboy has been in existence for roughly the same amount of time as Nana Plaza. Named after the cowboy hat wearing man who opened it in the 1970s, Soi Cowboy looks like a neon factory has exploded and thrown itself all over the street. There’s a plethora of bars, nearly 50, and most are deemed to be fairly respectful. Expect live music, lots of attention if you sit down and a whole lot of drinks.

Soi Twilight

The newest comer to the red light districts of Bangkok, Soi Twilight is the local gay nightlife scene. You’ll be able to gawp at swimming shows, drag shows, even some comedy. There’s lots to see and it’s an oasis of friendliness. 

What you need to know about visiting?

There are plenty of scams to keep an eye out for whenever visiting Bangkok’s red light district. General rule of thumb, don’t take advice from your tuk-tuk driver or their “friends”. Sure they’ll offer you some free entries, free ping pong shows etc but there will be endless numbers of hidden costs, most that come along with incredibly threatening security and locked exits. Our advice? Avoid those like the plague. If you’re heading in for a show, go for one of the large clearly marked establishments that we’ve noted above.

If you’re wondering how the people dancing get paid, usually there’s a set salary with bonuses that are measured by things like drinks bought for them by the clients they’re working with. Those working the bars aren’t drinking your drinks, even the good stuff, they’re drinking soda water and the rest of the money goes in their pockets. Sounds slightly shady, but that’s how it is, plus your bill is always put right in front of you in a cup or similar and settled quickly and transparently.

Workers are able to leave the bar for the night but must pay a “fine” in order to do so. This is payable to their Mamasan and then they can leave and go into the night with their guest. That price varies hugely from a few hundred to many thousand baht. You won’t know this value, as the price you pay is negotiated much higher and that’s the cut they take.

Bangkok Red Light Districts – worth it?

It completely depends on your taste and, well, interests?! Generally, a visit to them is an experience at the very least, even if you just get some friends together and go wandering and people watching. Just remember, avoid the ping pong scams the street sellers will try and get you into.

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