between two evils,
I always like to try the one
I’ve never tried before.”
– Mae West
I had come into Bangkok relatively blindly. As in I hadn’t even heard of Khao San Road prior to arriving. Being as large a city as it, I had no idea where I would end up or what possibilities I would even find. So I figured I’d just wing it when I arrived.
I chose the Silom area semi-randomly because it looked as if were within walking distance of the very end of the Airport Rail Link Skytrain I would be taking into the city and the Lonely Planet pointed out a lot of lodging in that area.
When I finally began to read up on areas in Bangkok I could go, I came across a blurb in the Lonely Planet guide about Patpong, an apparently world-famous red light district and night market whose “‘charm’ . . . has been eroded by modern tourism.” And, it was just a few blocks from where I was staying. Something like that, I at least had to take a look at.
I wandered over the next night to find the area packed. The three-aisle night market takes up the vast majority of the street, with the nightlife in the buildings on the sides. Bars lining the road range in names from the innocent enough like Bada Bing to the shameless, such as Super Pussy.
I began by going through the market. Although I had seen some small street-side stands grouped together on my first night, this was something much bigger. Though the concept was the same, it was just on a much larger scale. The stands were selling anything you could really think of, from food to sunglasses to underwear to DVDs.
Every now and then, a clearing would come up in the aisles of the market and be filled with those fantastically irritating barkers. This time around, they had flyers telling you exactly what they were offering. And while the list itself may have been amusing, the idea of what most of the activities entail, not so much.
These barkers were every bit as persistent, if not more so. You tell them “no” or “not interested” and they respond with, “Oh, come for free. You no like, you can leave,” or offer you a free first beer, “You want massage then?” At that, he’ll flip the flyer to an ad featuring nude women frolicking in a bubble bath.
Upon flat out refusal, they follow you, trying to negotiate anything. The only way I found to get rid of them was to disappear into the center aisle of the market, where they would not follow.
Picking one of less blatant places which Lonely Planet innocently enough labels a “go-go bar.” I was asked what I wanted to drink upon entering, and just got a Tiger beer. Sure enough, in the center of the bar was a stage featuring the go-go dancers.
As soon as I sat down with the beer, my table became surrounded by a gaggle of go-go dancers offering everything from a private dance in back to gesturing oral sex. Continuously having to refuse, I finished my beer relatively quicker than usual and was out of the go-go bar.
There are few lines that I will draw in seeking out new experiences; but engaging in anything remotely related to the sex trade is certainly one of those very bold lines. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting to people watch in an atmosphere like that.
In the small breaks between barker-dodging, I took notice of a couple groups that were more intriguing than others. The first was couples. Older couples to be exact. There were a considerably high proportion of them walking the alleys of Patpong and bar hopping that night.
The other, which would quickly become a noticeable staple in Thailand: old white guys and young Thai girls. Far outnumbering older couples, these pairs seem both easy and hard to figure out at the same time.
I found an upstairs pool bar after a while, but declined to play, as you not only rented the table, but you rented a girl to play with you (the game) at that table. Still, its high setting gave a nice view of the night market breaking down and Patpong clearing out for the night.
Eventually, I found just a regular, casual and relaxing sunken bar called the Madrid. Inside were a whole lot of foreigners who were just looking to chill and talk rather than partake in the red light offerings.
I spent about an hour chatting with 7 or 8 different people, almost all different nationalities, before heading out. Making one final loop around Patpong, and still avoiding the barkers, I then headed back to my hostel to call it a night.