Art, Action & Inspiration

One Night In Bangkok

The WordPress Daily Prompts are always suggesting that we should mix it up a bit in terms of the things we write and take the opportunity to try things new. So, while I’m none too keen on the idea of writing my obituary as suggested in today’s prompt, I thought I’d give the broader suggestion a go and tell you a story.

Once upon a time I took a trip to Thailand with an old, male friend from university. On one particular evening we fancied a night out so I suggested that we hit Patpong.

Patpong is the district with the gay bars and the ping-pong sex shows. We weren’t particularly interested in going to a gay bar, and we definitely didn’t want to see a ping-pong sex show, but I thought there’d be more than a few normal bars to choose from in a party district.

It seems I thought wrong.

Or, at least if I wasn’t we didn’t manage to find any.

It may be that the cab ride should have told us something. We jumped in and asked to go to a bar, any bar, in Patpong, where we could just have a drink.

The driver took us straight to a ping-pong show that he said was run by his friend.

When we protested and asked that he drive us to a proper bar, he left us outside a little, uninspiring place that had a bunch of people sitting outside eating. It wasn’t quite what we had in mind. We decided to carry on walking and find our own bar.

As we wandered up and down the main street we ran a gauntlet of insistent men thrusting ping-pong menus in our faces, trying to entice us into their shows.

We plowed on passed them until we reached the corner of a side street that housed a lively bar/club, with lots of people milling around outside. My friend brightened up, he thought this was the kind of place he’d been looking for, he made a turn down into the side street to see what else there was on offer.

Now I don’t know what he thought he was looking at, but what I saw on the corner was a bar with hot pink neon lights, that was blaring out Culture Club, and teaming with middle-aged, western men cruising pretty, young Thai boys.

When we turned down into the side street I saw the scene you can see in the photo above. Complete with an all male brothel.

I commented that I suddenly felt conspicuously female.

This didn’t appear to trigger any realisation of where it was that we were in my friend’s head. In fact he didn’t notice that we’d happened upon the gay red light district until someone tried to physically man-handle him into the brothel.

Then he couldn’t get out of the place quickly enough.

He all but ran.

Right passed a female prostitute who he also failed to notice, despite the fact that she propositioned us both.

We hit the end of the street and the only thing ahead was a darkened, multi-lane flyover, so we turned and made our way back towards the action. Ending up outside a string of go-go bars.

Here again the touts tried to persuade us to follow them into their ping-pong shows.

My friend became exasperated. He insisted to the touts that he had no intention of ever watching a ping-pong show, he just wanted to find a place where he could have a normal drink in a normal bar.

One of the promoters promised that he did in fact have such a place. So we followed him up a flight of stairs. Where again the ping-pong menus were thrust in our faces.

At this point my friend lost it. He plowed passed the promoters, back down the stairs, and dived into the first place he saw that served beer. Exclaiming that he just wanted somewhere to get a drink.

The looks on the faces on the bar staff said it all – “Then what on earth have you come in here for?”.

But we stayed. For quite a few drinks actually. Even after he eventually noticed the pole-dancing boys and girls in the room next door, the wide-boy from Dudley negotiating the price of a night with one of said girls right across from us at the bar, and the steady procession of slightly self-conscious men and women walking up and down the stairs to the brothel behind it.

Hell, we even stayed while the place was raided.

Although the Thai’s don’t carry out their raids in the same way the Brits and Americans do it in the movies. This was the politest raid I’ve ever seen. At least fifty male and female officers in uniform walked into the place, basically filling it, and then they just stood there.

The music was turned off and the dancers climbed down from their poles, but other than that nothing appeared to be happening. A slightly older man who appeared to be the chief police officer strutted up and down a bit, but the rest of the police just stood in formation, without doing or saying anything.

At this point, for some reason, I decided I wanted another beer.

The waitresses looked at me as though I was crazy, but the madam practically fell off her bar stool in her haste to help me to another drink. She made a big show of it for the amassed spectators, as if to say, “See, look, these people are just here to drink. This is just a bar. Really.”

And the bar was where the police people stayed, they took a cursory look around the dancing rooms but not one of them looked as if they were ever going to see what was happening upstairs. Even though prostitution is illegal in Thailand. It was unclear why the search, if that’s what it was, was so reticent; if we knew that the place was a whore house then there’s no chance the police could have missed it.

After about twenty minutes, just as quietly as they’d come in, the police officers all filed away again.

The music went back on, the dancing resumed, and everyone went back to business.

Then the police piled back in again, about fifteen minutes later, in the same manner as they had before. But this time nobody stopped doing anything. The madam behind the bar pulled out some framed certificates and put them on the bar, I haven’t a clue what they were as I can’t read Thai, but the police chief didn’t even look at them.

I would have said the the lack of fuss that was made about the laws that were being flagrantly broken would seem to suggest that some sort of kick-back had been paid. But we didn’t see anything to confirm this. All we saw was a comically civilised raid.

Eventually the police drifted away.

After that we carried on drinking beer, at the bar in the middle of the brothel, until 2.00am. When they closed and kicked us out, and we headed back to sleepy China Town.

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