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Bangkok Nightlife Guide Hot Spots | Entertainment and Nightlife Patpong, Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, Soi 33

Bangkok: Patpong

One of the world's most (in)famous red-light districts, Patpong is where it all started (Thailand's Go-Go culture). It has even been immortalised in a James Bond chase-sequence. Its two parallel side-streets, found between Silom and Surawongse Roads, house around 100 neon-lit strip bars offering risque sex shows, purchasable pole-dancers and post-op ladyboys. But while for men Patpong is likely to mean 'adult', for women, families and the kids Patpong definitely means 'market'. At night this teems with hawkers and humble stalls selling what is mostly tourist tat. For the serious flesh-seekers, Patpong has long since been usurped as the 'king of the scene' by its counterparts around Sukhumvit. However, its reputation means it's still a huge attraction, mainly for sightseers more interested in ogling at - rather than indulging in - the carnal delights on offer.

Most A Go-Go bars located along the two streets of Patpong are free to get in as long as you order a drink, which costs around 120 baht… but be aware that there are tricky places that will cost you a lot more without actually delivering anything better – and they may even be worse. How to recognize the trick:

  1. Someone will approach you with a nice list of fun entertaining features such as a 'ping pong show' and other well-known activities with ‘colorful’ names. So far, nothing really unusual.
  2. He will say "It's free to see for five minutes"… which means it won't be free after the five minutes are up and as the guy seems trustworthy and speaks really fast, you somehow forget this fact.
  3. The place not even be on Patpong itself but if it is upstairs and the bar has no sign and no name, get ready to be ripped off (nicely but effectively).
  4. Once you are in, the show will have only one act and you will be asked for a tip. Basically you will have to tip for each ‘trick’ performed. And believe me, these girls have mastered the art of making you feel really cheap if you don't tip them.
  5. The girls will ask you for a lady drink, whether she sits next to you or even stands across the room… each drink costs at least 200 baht.
  6. You will not see the bill until the last minute. In most normal A Go-Go Bars or beer bars, your bill is placed in a small box in front of you, which allows you to check the damage as you drink and let you decide if you want to offer another round or not. Usually a drink is around 100 to 120 baht. In the dodgy ones the bill never comes until the last moment
  7. If you ask a girl how much her drink will cost you, she only knows once answer: 'same as yours', so naturally you think 100 to 120 baht… wrong, it's 200 to 300 baht.
  8. When the bill comes, it’ll be about 1,000 baht and don't even waste your time arguing; you won't win… just pay up and smile, realizing you’ve got a nice story to tell your friends – just like I’m telling you now!

In fact, because of the Patpong Night Market the area's seedy edge has been softened considerably. At night the area teems with tourists and backpackers shopping for that illusive bargain. Some pretend to look interested in the fake Gucci handbags before temptation gets the better of them and they venture inside to witness one of the famous shows they've heard so much about. If you go for this it pays to be careful; while now rare, there have been reports of tourists being ripped off (especially when buying a drink for one of the 'hostesses') and clobbered with hefty bills after heading upstairs into one of the bars. Also, if you plan to hijack one of the girls for a raunchy rendevous, it's advisable too to take good care of personal belongings once you've paid the 'bar fine'. However, whatever your take is on the Go-Go Bar scene, there's no denying that Patpong is still far safer than your average Western city centre. It's very well policed - there's a tourist police office at the end of the road, and CCTV cameras - and you'll find entire families nonchalantly walking around during market hours.

When it comes to go-go bars, favored establishments on Soi 1 include King's Castle I and II, Sphinx and the Safari Bar, while King's Corner has the largest collection of post-operative transsexuals in Bangkok. Patpong II, or 'Soi Quality' as some like to call it, also has many interesting sights along the same lines. Apart from a short run of rather run-down watering holes peopled by girls and men playing Connect 4, the most well-known venue is perhaps Electric Blue and, definitely the most intriguing, Patpong's only fetish club, BarBar.

For those not interested in the girly scene or shopping, Patpong is also not short on other pursuits. Aside from the shopping, there's a lot of quality bistros, such as the tiny French restaurant Le Bouchon and the incredibly good value Thai eatery Salasawan, both of which are on Soi 2. Mizu's Kitchen on Soi 1, which a former Japanese soldier started in 1954, comes highly recommended for its steak. For a quiet game of pool and a beer or two there's the Red Parrot and the Vietnam war era bar, The Old Other Office. Finally, for audio stimulation there's Soi 1's Radio City (home to some great live music and Elvis impersonators), Lucifer's and the stylish late-night dance bar Twilight, which is typically heaving come midnight. Whatever you're into, Patpong is certainly worth a peek.

Located between Silom and Surawong Roads, it's within easy walking distance from the Skytrain station (Sala Daeng) or the MRT station (Silom).

Bangkok: Soi Cowboy

Soi Cowboy was named after the cowboy hat-wearing African-American who opened the first bar here in the early 1970s, this red-light district has a more laid-back, carnival-like feel to it than Patpong or Nana Plaza. Flashing neon lights up a colourful streetscape comprised mainly of middle-aged expats, Japanese and western tourists, and of course a lot of sexily dressed girls. With cries of 'helloooa, welcome!' the latter try to lure you into one of the 20 or so A go-go bars that line its sides... don't be shy, it's pretty easy going and open-minded. Remember: you might not see this again anywhere else in the world! Each is brightly lit and colourful, playing loud music, offering lines of seats typically arranged in tiers around a UV-lit central stage. If you like to be close to the action, another row of stools is available directly around the stage... first timers tend to sit in the back. The girls sway and shimmy, wearing little more than a tiny skirt and a bra... sometimes even less. It seems that the later you come, the less they'll wear. Girls rotate from pole to pole until a full round has been completed, or until a show starts. Soi Cowboy is fairly straight forward, no traps or scams... so just sit and order a drink: expect to pay 100 to 150 baht, which is rather fair. A girl (or two) might sit next to you and ask for a drink, but never in a pushy way. If you want to enjoy your new friend's company, it's a nice gesture to buy her one and it is not too crazily expensive. Don't hesitate to offer another if you are having a good time, and you will feel good about yourself too. If you chose to sit next to the stage, you are welcome to tip the dancing girls if you feel like... and you will certainly get a bit more attention.

PRICE HIKE WARNING! Several go-go bars in Soi Cowboy have hiked their prices right up. Standard beers and spirits are as much as 180 baht and lady drinks for coyote dancers are very expensive at 200 baht each. If you are not sure, it is best to ask before you order any drinks. The most expensive go-go bars in question are Deja Vu, Kiss, Midnite, Rio, Sahara, Spice Girls

COYOTE DANCERS - In theory this looks like a great idea. The coyote girls are often the most attractive and they are lovely girls to meet and chat with. However, coyote dancers cannot be bar fined, so it’s a cock tease. Remember that coyote dancers dress differently to go-go dancers and they do not show any flesh. This makes them easy to spot and a lady drink is expensive at 200 baht.

CLOSING TIME – The bars in Soi Cowboy open until 02:30 but a later closing time of 03:00 is being discussed for the Soi Cowboy area. I went to Soi Cowboy recently and the go-go bars close at around 2:30 AM. However, I notice that TV screens are still on at 3:00 AM for the late night revellers still sitting in the outside bars.

NEW GO-GO BARS – Joe’s Bar and Tony’s Bar have been remodelled into a go-go bar called Sahara. It is the same ownership as Spice Girls, Deja Vu, Kiss, Midnite and Rio. In addition, ‘The Man From Iran’ has bought Raw Hide Bar, so his group now own seven go-go bars in Cowboy Street.

HAPPY HOUR – Although drink prices have risen considerably in Soi Cowboy’s go-go bars, it still remains good value for money in certain places. Most of the bars still offer a Happy Hour, which even the Cheap Charlie Clan can’t complain about. Because of the Happy Hours and the fact that the bars open early, Soi Cowboy remains an excellent choice to start your evening.

Upon entering Soi Cowboy, you are immediately hit by a kaleidoscope of bright colors. The amount of neon on display per square metre is like being in a small corner of Las Vegas. These days I think Soi Cowboy proudly displays the most impressive array of colourful neon signs in the whole of Bangkok. There are so many neon lights making this little street glow so predominantly, that it could almost be a tourist attraction in itself. As you take a leisurely stroll down Cowboy Street, you cannot help but get a buzz from this most exciting visual carnival. Soi Cowboy has raised in stature with an improvement in the way the bar girls, or in some cases, ‘bare girls’ treat the customers. Soi Cowboy was always a fun and friendly place to hang out and the popular bars still are friendly. In recent years, more attractive girls has become very evident in the top go-go bars such as Shark Bar and Baccara Bar.

Having a stroll through ‘Little Las Vegas’ is never a dull experience for me personally. I think that the Q factor (quantity of quality) has risen considerably in some go-go bars in Soi Cowboy. Combined with the BIG advantage of “showing”, Soi Cowboy has emerged as a more popular nightspot than previously. This especially applies to farang residents who like to frequent Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and the many good pubs and theme bars that Bangkok offers in abundance. Soi Cowboy remains a popular choice for farang expats and with some of the eye candy on offer, it’s not surprising! Almost every bar has a Happy Hour in Soi Cowboy. The average price is very cheap for house beers and spirits. Currently, Soi Cowboy has the advantage out of the three go-go bar areas. The amount of ‘showing’ in Soi Cowboy is still greater than both Nana Plaza and Patpong. Some people underestimate what a tremendous advantage ’showing’ is. Also, the closing times are generally a bit more relaxed than Nana Plaza. Closing times in Soi Cowboy vary, which is due to what time the Thai police turn up. Depending on the night Soi Cowboy did close any time from 1:00am - 2:00am. For some time now the go-go bars close at around 2:30am nightly, so things are looking good for Cowboy.

Bangkok: Nana Plaza

Nana Entertainment Plaza is known as “NEP” for short, or as some trendy guys say, “Nana.” It is not easy to envisage that Nana Plaza was once a quiet, shopping mall. Today Nana Entertainment Plaza is a three-storey atrium with a difference. The difference is that booze and babes are on offer. Nana Plaza comprises of a cluster of go-go bars and beer bars. NEP offers a rather different form of “entertainment” so think carefully before you invite your mother! Joking apart, Nana Plaza has shaken off its former filthy image due to much stricter control by the Thai authorities. Most people are pleased that the disgusting and degrading Patpong style “magic pussy shows” are history. However, nowadays it is still quite tame compared to previous years. But, considering the restrictions that have been placed upon Nana Plaza, it has remained extremely resilient. When you think that NEP is a red-light district, it offers something of a “carnal carnival” atmosphere. This is reflected in the fact that Nana Plaza has become something of a tourist attraction over the past few years. In fact, some people have labelled Nana Plaza as the new Patpong. Nowadays, tourists and other infrequent visitors make up the largest percentage of the clientele. Hooray! The Nana Plaza management finally cleared the entrance of all motorbikes. Motorbikes have now been banned from blocking the entrance. Now it is much more convenient to enter and exit Nana Plaza. More importantly, the only available emergency exit remains clear on a nightly basis. This must be a record for Nana!

Nana Plaza comprises of beer bars and go-go bars, but some of the go-go bars are full of katoeys, which is the Thai word for lady boys. You need to be aware that Nana Plaza now has FOUR lady boy go-go bars. The lady boy go-go bars are – Obsession (ground level), Temptations (middle level), Casanova (middle level), and Cascade (top level). Some Thai lady boys are like fashion models. They are glamourous and can be very deceptive. Make no doubts about it, they are transsexuals. For some visitors to Nana Plaza, this is where the curiosity factor kicks in. In an eccentric way, the katoeys in Nana Plaza have become a tourist attraction. So many times I hear farangs say, “Just taking the Nana Newbies to a katoey bar.” Currently in Soi Cowboy there are no katoey bars, so this makes Nana Plaza different in that respect. You should be aware that most Thais are not homophobic and therefore, lady boys are accepted in Thai society. Whether you love or loathe Thailand’s unofficial third gender, katoeys are part of Thailand’s nightlife scene.

LADY BOY ALERT - Be aware that ‘katoey’ or lady boy pickpockets hang around lower Sukhumvit late at night. They often work in groups, so be streetwise. Do not be aggressive towards them (conflict avoidance), but never let a lady boy get too close to you. These katoeys are deviously good at distracting you, while they steal your cash and valuables. Also, be aware that katoeys do try to drug unsuspecting farangs. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you! The first bars in Nana Plaza emerged in 1982 and at that time, there was less than a handful. Lucky Luke’s Bar with its famous wagon wheels was the first to open. Lucky Luke’s made history by becoming the oldest bar in Nana Plaza. Remarkably, it is still open today, all these years later. In 1984 a farang haven appeared. Peter opened Woodstock Bar & Grill, which for many years was thought as the best music bar in Thailand. Woodstock Bar & Grill also won the prestigious award of “Best Burger In Bangkok.” Just before Woodstock relocated to Tonglor, I attended Woodstock’s 20th Anniversary Party. Incidentally, the 20th Anniversary Party was also Woodstock’s Farewell Party. As we were leaving Nana Plaza, an emotional Peter thanked me for being one of his most loyal customers. Woodstock Bar moved and took some of Nana Plaza’s nostalgia along with its departure. Those of us that were here during the golden years in Nana Plaza are fortunate enough to have experienced it. Whatever happens to Nana Plaza in the future, I know that fond memories will remain with me forever.

Nana Entertainment Plaza is located on Sukhumvit Road inside Soi 4. Nana Plaza is conveniently situated directly opposite Nana Hotel. You can easily get to Nana Plaza via several modes of transportation. You can take the Skytrain to the BTS Nana station. From the BTS Nana it is a short walk past the Landmark Hotel into Soi Nana Every taxi driver, tuk-tuk driver and motorbike taxi boy knows the location. Just say, “Soi Nana” and away you go. With tuk-tuk drivers and motorcycle taxi boys make sure that you negotiate the price in advance. When you get into a metered taxi, it is advisable to sit behind the taxi driver, especially if you are female. Before the driver sets off for Soi Nana, check that he has turned the meter on. Whatever happens try to keep cool and maintain your composure. It is most important to avoid confrontation with the Thai people. You might think you are arguing with one Thai man, but a gang of Thai men will appear from nowhere in seconds. Remember guys, we are on their turf. Always carry plenty of small change. Some taxi drivers are notorious for stating that they have no change. What is supposed to be a 35 Baht journey could cost you 100 Baht if you don’t have the exact amount. A supply of 20 Baht notes comes in very handy for traveling around Bangkok. Bangkok’s adult entertainment areas continue to do business as usual during these times of political uncertainty. Currently, Thailand’s political arena remains unpredictable. Thailand’s capital is a huge, sprawling metropolis and therefore, life goes on as normal for the vast majority. These are the facts from inside the arena.

ALL QUIET ON THE EASTERN FRONT - Generally, hotels and nightlife areas in Bangkok are quieter, due to both internal and external problems. But of course, Thailand is by no means alone, as the world economy falls into a dark, deep abyss. In fact, some friends have made spontaneous decisions to visit Thailand, in order to avoid the rat race back in Farangland.

NANA PLAZA HAS AT LEAST UNTIL DECEMBER 2012 - Despite some negative rumours flying around about Nana Entertainment Plaza, some bars continue to do business as normal. Well, that is as normal as the neon jungle can be! Admittedly, the go-go bars are not as wild as they used to be. Sadly, the ‘Skytrain shuffle’ has become the norm in too many gogo bars. Blatant ‘showing’ or nudity was outlawed several years ago, but it has returned to some go-go bars. Therefore, it is fair to say that Nana Plaza had previously lost the advantage of ‘showing’ to Soi Cowboy. (Never underestimate what a tremendous advantage this gives a particular district). These police politics may be confusing to some people, but remember that Soi Cowboy is under a completely different jurisdiction to Nana Plaza. Nana Plaza is located in the Lumpini Police District and Soi Cowboy is located in the Tonglor Police District. Incidentally, Patpong falls under the jurisdiction of the Bangrak Police District. Therefore, Nana Plaza is located in a high profile area. For example, The Landmark Hotel and the JW Marriott Hotel are just around the corner from Soi Nana. Despite what the killjoys say, Nana Plaza is very resilient and still thrives in high season, when the tourists arrive. In some ways Nana Plaza has become the new Patpong. There are still a couple years left before the end of the 30-year Master Lease on December 31, 2012. I spoke to Khun Rakesh of Nana Castle Company Limited. Khun Rakesh said that there were no plans to change anything at this time. Furthermore, even after the 30-year lease has expired, no final decision has been made. As most experienced people know, a lot can happen in a few years in Thailand. In the meantime, party on people!

Sukhumvit, Soi 4 walking distance from Nana BTS Skytrain station

Bangkok: Soi 33

As you make your way down Soi 33 you will notice a lot of nice ladies sitting outside bars with names like Monet, Goya and Renoir, hence the term artist bars, or painter bars. These girls are not dressed the same way as most of the girls that you will see in the bars or go-gos. They are in nice evening dresses and the great majority of them look as if they've had their make up applied by a professional beautician. The bars found in Soi 33 are very low pressure. You will not find yourself being assaulted by dozens of girls all looking for you to buy them drinks, although in a few of the places such as Napoleon's you may find yourself being asked if you would like the company of a lady. If that's not what you desire at that moment, a simple 'not yet' or 'no, thank you' and you'll be left alone to enjoy your drink.

The Drinks prices are generally more expensive in these establishments than most other bars you may find yourself visiting in the Bangkok nightlife scene , so if you want to check the area out, and you are on a budget, it may be worth your while visiting before 9 pm as that is when most of the bars finish their happy hour. The prices vary slightly from bar to bar but after 9 pm you can figure on spending 150 baht on a beer. A bottle of whisky or Jack Daniels will set you back roughly 2500 baht with free mixers. The bars do have a lot of promotions at any one time but obviously this varies from bar to bar. You'll find that when a bar has a promotion the price for a bottle of spirits drops to around 1800 baht. A lot of people like the painter bar's purely for the attitude of the girls. They leave you alone in the majority of the cases until you wish otherwise. After they've had a few drinks with you, however, they are no more held back than any other working girl you have come across in Bangkok. A lot of people have had very wild parties in some of the bars though I would say that the ability to speak a bit of Thai is definitely an advantage. The most important thing to bear in mind is not to listen to anyone that tells you that some of these girls go and some do not go with customers. This is utter nonsense. Certainly some of the girls like to play hard to get and you may have to make return visits, but in the end you are playing the same game as in most of the Thai Nightlife areas.

If you decide that you like one of these girls, there are a few different things that can happen. In a bar such as Van Gogh's, the girls that are working behind the bar cannot come around the other side to see you until you have bought them 2 drinks. There is no problem, however, with the hostesses who are already on your side of the bar. The barfines, however, are more expensive than the vast majority of tourist orientated places in Thailand - depending on venue anywhere from 1100 to 1400 baht. The rate you pay the girl, however, is as always between you and her and this can vary from individual to individual as with every other area in the city. Another good thing about Soi 33 is that if you do take one of these girls you can take them just over the road to the Peep Inn, probably one of the finest short time hotels in Bangkok.

So are the places really worth the extra money? If you are talking about the quality of the girls then it is only fair to mention that a lot of them could be found working at nearly any other nightlife venue in the city, although it has to be said that there are some truly stunning girls working here, too. How much of the attractiveness is due to the skill of the make up artist and the expensive dress you will find out for yourself in the morning. Soi 33 is like a stop gap between the Normal farang go-go or beer bar scene and the more expensive Hostess scene and should be seen as such. If you want to play in the Clubs that are generally considered to contain the "stunning" girls then Soi 33 prices wouldn't even cover your tips. Note an important thing to bear in mind, the really expensive members clubs cater to what is considered the Thai or Asian Ideal of beauty (over simplified, tall with white skin). If you are one of the Buriram, Surin, Sisaket fan club as so many of us are then you will wonder what the fuss is all about. The main thing that sets Soi 33 apart for a lot of people is basically the atmosphere in the bars and the attitude of the girls once you decide to party with them. In closing, I would say that if you've done everything else that there is to do in Bangkok and you're starting to feel jaded with the normal nightlife scene then go and give the artists bars a try.

Monday, May 17, 2021