Thailand is probably the world’s most well known destination for sex tourism. Mention you’re visiting and you’ll be the butt of endless ladyboy jokes (at least I was) and have to explain to your friends that you’re not visiting Thailand for that reason.
It’s a shame that Thailand has this reputation, because it’s an amazing country and sex tourism is something that can easily be avoided by spending time away from the 0.1% of Bangkok that’s home to the city’s red light districts.
But what if you don’t want to avoid this? It might not be politically correct to talk about it, but lots of people visit Bangkok specifically to spend time in the red light zones, whether for people watching and a fun night out or to meet someone special — or at least temporarily special.
Below, we’ve profiled Bangkok’s “big three” red light districts: the always seedy Nana Plaza, the neon-lit Soi Cowboy, and the neo-tourist attraction Patpong. If you’re in the mood for a crazy night out in Bangkok, pick your poison:
Bangkok’s seedy capital: Nana Plaza
Of Bangkok’s three foreigner-focused red light districts, Nana Plaza is probably the seediest. Well off the tourist trail on Sukhumvit Soi 4, Nana Plaza is surrounded by guest friendly hotels in Bangkok (update 2017: a more detailed list is available here) and generally attracts more sexpats and sex tourists than innocent “people watchers” by a factor of about one thousand.
Unlike Patpong and Soi Cowboy, which are short streets, Nana Plaza is an outdoor complex with several floors. The lower floors are mostly beer bars with a few strip clubs thrown in for good measure, while the upper floors are a mix of go-go bars and “kathoey” ladyboy bars aimed at serious customers.
Like most red light districts in Bangkok, most of the dancers in Nana Plaza aren’t nude. Some of the girls wear nipple covers and pasties, while others are nude in some of the bars on the top floors.
Glitz, noise and plenty of neon: Soi Cowboy
Located close to Sukhumvit MRT station, Soi Cowboy is probably the cleanest of Bangkok’s red light districts. It’s brightly lit with a massive amount of neon lighting turned up to a blinding intensity, filled to the brim with young women in various cute and sexy (and occasionally silly) outfits, and home to several go-go bars and rock music pubs.
If you’re not a serious sex tourist and just want a night of fun with a seedy side, Soi Cowboy is a pretty good pick. There are fewer sex tourist hotels nearby, more of a fun atmosphere, and a great selection of bars. It’s also the easiest of Bangkok’s red light districts to get to using the MRT or BTS Skytrain.
Old, worn out and touristy: Patpong
Thirty (or maybe forty) years ago, Patpong was the capital of Bangkok’s go-go bar scene. Duran Duran blasted out of the street’s strip clubs and passersby popped in and out of each bar to enjoy the city’s budding nightlife. Today, however, Patpong is mostly past its used by date, with a touristy market the main “attraction” of this area.
Patpong still has a few go-go bars and clubs, but they’re not as good as the alternatives in Sukhumvit and scams are all too common here. Fun as a place to people watch or shop for overpriced trinkets, Patpong is Bangkok’s historical red light district, but probably not your first choice for a crazy bachelor party today.