The Curator Talks Patpong
There are few foreigners as passionate about Patpong as the curator of the Museum of Patpong. A 20+ year resident of Bangkok, he is as passionate about Patpong today as he ever was. “The Curator”, as I call him, has a number of business interests in Patpong, including the Museum of Patpong. This week I put some questions to him about his latest venture and the Patpong area in general. This is what “The Curator” had to say.
Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself. You’ve been knocking around Bangkok for many years and I seem to recall you once told me you lived in Patpong for a while. How long have you been living in Bangkok and when did you first visit Patpong and your association with the area begin?
I arrived in Thailand first in 1997, right in the Tom Yum Kung crisis. My mission then was to cast a monumental size bronze sculpture for my family’s business, my father being a famous – in Thailand we would label him – “national artist”. Bangkok presented itself as a scene out of Blade Runner, as if someone had opened a secret gate for me to enter my own personal fairy tale.
I fell in love with the country and started a business with my brothers, travelling back and forth between Europe and Thailand every few months.
In 2001 I met my wife and it was through her family that one morning she woke me up and told me to dress up, “We’re going to meet Uncle Vijit”, a godfather or “pooyai” in Patpong.
Again it was like a scene from Blade Runner, an office on the fourth floor of a totally run down building, 2 bodyguards staring into the air while 3 secretaries sat at tables filled with paper, documents and paper just everywhere, on the floor, in every corner. After waiting for an hour or so, we are told to come and see Uncle Vijit in his office. It would be an encounter that would change my life.
You may have seen him in the museum. I honour Uncle Vijit and all the great things he has done for me on a dedicated wall.
Patpong has sort of slipped down the rankings of Bangkok’s bar areas and I think it’s fair to say that amongst expats and visitors, Patpong today is less popular than both Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy. Would you agree with that?
We have actually seen constant numbers of visitors in Patpong since 2010. Our group has managed to grow over the past ten years, modest growth, but certainly growth. It’s the demographics that have changed massively. Asians and couples have replaced the “white single male” by half.
Certainly, when it comes to one specific type of bar concept, the gogo, Sukhumvit has won the popularity contest, but to me that’s actually fine. I see the future of Patpong rather as an authentic, diverse, red-light, entertainment area and leisure town in town.
For sure there are expats for whom Patpong remains their favourite area and in some cases, Patpong is the only bar area they go to. In your view, is there anything that expats who prefer Patpong over the other bar areas have in common?
I see many business people and long-time residents, generally people who do not want to mix with masses of tourists.
To me, you’re one of very few figures in the nightlife industry who is truly passionate about the industry, and about the Patpong area – while at the same time you’re not a stereotypical bar owner. Many bar owners and managers talk up a certain bar area – but so often it’s to push their own agenda and they end up sounding like a salesman (and that is about the biggest insult I can say). What is it about Patpong that makes you so genuinely keen on the area and at the risk of overusing the word, passionate about it?
It is a world that has evolved and you can feel that. There’s real history and I believe in our world, where more and more space is becoming interchangeable, without local touch, this is important and a real asset. People are looking for this sense of “authenticity” and “reality” in a world that is becoming more and more synthetic and anonymous.
You previously told me that the Museum of Patpong idea came to you some years ago. Can you briefly run through a timeline from when you first had the idea for the museum until the day you opened, and through to today.
Uncle Vijit took me under his wing and between 2002 and 2005 he introduced me to the various aspects, people, places and stories of Patpong. Believe me, that was an eye-opening period. Given that I have inherited an interest in history and culture, I started to investigate also on my own, and by 2006 I drafted the first memo for what I called back then “Patpong Heritage House”.
In 2012 we hired the first researchers, an effort that was intensified in 2016. By 2018 the collection had grown to over 100 exhibits and a narrative that connects the dots over 100 years of history.
The Patpongpanich family gave their blessing in 2019 and from then onwards we raced to open the gates on 28th of October of last year.
Do you have a favourite piece in the museum, or a favourite exhibit?
As I have pieced it all together, I really like the flow, how the story develops from 19th century Bangkok and its tramways to the CIA, David Bowie, over into the sweet neon lights and gogo dancers, and how you can walk through time at your own pace, see, read and touch the objects.
There are several exhibits which I am personally attached to such as the photo of my wife, godfather uncle Vijit and myself in front of our first venue, the “Target Pool Bar & Restaurant” taken on Patpong soi 2 in 2002.
The ping pong show series shot by Michael Glawogger, a famed documentary director, we worked together on a Patpong book until he passed away in Africa from misdiagnosed malaria.
Then there is the large Patpong diorama, rebuilt in scale 1:35. We are adding more and more interiors to the scene, giving visitors a chance to peek into the buildings and see what’s going on inside.
Is the museum largely finished, or will it always be a work in progress?
The museum is a living museum. We receive new content, information, stories and exhibits every day. I carefully archive them and then start creating new layers.
Upcoming is “Patpong and the Drugs”, some amazing stories shedding light on the drug dealings that have been going on in Patpong as well as the devastating impact drugs have had on some of the workers. I presume that’s something not limited to this area.
Another layer that is in the making is how a virus has impacted on Patpong, not the coronavirus, but HIV and subsequently AIDS. Again, this is something that has definitely had a devastating impact on Sukhumvit and throughout the country and the world, but we can trace it and make it visible and tangible through Patpong.
In an email last week you mentioned Thais make up around 90% of the customers at the museum. What is the profile of these Thais who visit the museum of Patpong, and how do they respond to the museum. I mean, Patpong hardly has a positive reputation amongst everyday Thais, does it?
We are surprised. Weeks after the opening in 2019, Thais had already started to come and they all loved it. The feedback common amongst 95% of our visitors is that they expected a sex museum but it is so much more. The red-light industry is featured, but it is not only that.
It is starting to snowball into an aggregator for the area, allowing locals to come to this area and explore a part of urban history they previously felt doesn’t belong to them and that they didn’t belong here. It’s an educated middle and upper class visitor, usually born in Bangkok or living here for a while, with either an interest in popular culture, history or actually the red light industry.
I loved the museum. I love the way you have captured the history of the area and the way the memorabilia has been presented. To me it “feels” like the Patpong I know.
We have received an overall 5 star rating across all nationalities, gender and age groups. Visitors have requested to see more about the life of the women that work here, an exhibition update that I am also working on, but not limited to women. We will introduce the life of Patpong workers across all genders.
Before I ask you specifically about Patpong, here’s a more general question about the wider bar industry. I am rather cynical about the bar industry going forward. This is not me merely being negative as I am accused of being from time to time, it’s simply that I think the best times are in the past. Nothing is forever, right?! Where do you see things going with the bars in general?
You are absolutely right, nothing is forever and especially in Thailand we learn to understand that life is a constant flow and that’s the only certainty. It depends on what we consider the “bar industry”.
The gogo concept as a mainstream male form of entertainment is definitely in decline. After Pornhub it’s time for romance and a more veiled form of erotic. The #metoo movement and its impact on generation Z is also something worth considering.
Last high season almost half of the street traffic in Patpong was couples in their 20’s and 30’s, women taking the lead, deciding which venue to go inside. That’s a new reality.
We will continue to go out and to mingle. Just look at how you guys in New Zealand celebrated the end of the lock-down, cheerful, hugging, dancing, kissing, drinking.
How do you see the Patpong area in general developing? Patpong soi 1 has remained much the same for a long time and only those who are genuinely familiar with the area are aware of the changes on the soi. Patpong soi 2, on the other hand, has seen much more change, at least in terms of venues, the type of venues and the flavour of the soi. Gay bars dominate the Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 2 today. Where do you see the area heading? Do you think each of the two Patpong sois will continue to have its own flavour?
Patpong is developing into a more diverse entertainment area, and I am doing my part to foster more creative and art spaces.
We are currently working on an erotic reading room, hosting a large collection of erotic art books combined with a seedy yet upscale bar.
The gay scene will definitely also hold a prominent spot, especially after Soi 4 is shut, which could be very soon given the latest rumours.
Shenanigans and Paddyfield have set the standard and tone among the bars, and are doing extremely well.
Le Bouchon is still one of the best French restaurants in town. What we do miss are Italian, Spanish, and Korean restaurants and a few good bars.
I hadn’t heard these latest rumours about soi 4 shutting. Can you share anything there?
I have had the chance to sit down with one of the large entertainment operators in this area who has been in business for 40 years and is well-connected, to discuss his group’s vision, their moves, a post-Covid environment and so forth. What transpired in regards to soi 4 is a behind the scenes “war” between two liquor giants, both competing for the footprint in this area and that the developer who purchased Soi Twilight on Suriwong Road also made arrangements for soi 4 and that it’s a done deal. Just a matter to set a convenient moment in time for both, the family that still lives on the plot and the developer to let the leases expire and start the construction. The buildings on Soi Twilight are already demolished and construction will start soon. Given the rather modest size of these developments, compared to the mega construction at “One Bangkok” and “Central Park”, things can happen fast and are easily financeable for these tycoons. By the way, the same thing is to happen on Silom Soi 2/1.
What will this mean for Patpong? LGBT friendliness is in tune with today’s world, the clientele is famous for celebrating, partying, and spending money. Soi 4 is a sophisticated market. I’d welcome most venues in Patpong with open arms. Good ground floor locations will become scarce though.
For me, Patpong has so much more history than all of the other bar areas and all of the bar sois on Sukhumvit combined. I love it that some of the old Patpong bars continue to operate with the original name in the original location with the original décor and in some cases, even the original owner or perhaps a relative at the helm. I feel Patpong has a big place in the hearts of many long-term expats. It would be a shame to see it change greatly. I know you are close to the owners of the Patpong area. Without speaking out of turn, is there anything you can tell us about any planned future projects in the area?
The Patpongpanich family is obviously very wealthy and not in need of cash. At the same time the ownership of the land and control over this heritage elevates this family over their peers in Thai high society who otherwise just have lots of money. The Patpongpanich family would certainly like to see the area flourish again. What many people don’t recognise is that their contribution is relatively fair-priced rent.
The biggest change is about to happen and I believe nobody will object. The Patpong Night Market is changing looks and will offer mouth-watering food, a beer garden and attractive products on offer for expats, locals and tourists alike. A bit of a talad rod-fai in the heart of town. Food trucks will change the entire look of the street. This is going to be big and I think that it will draw lots of visitors to this part of town, especially right now, while there are few tourists around. We expect to launch this in a festival style sometime in the next few weeks. This is paired with a street art initiative, local and international graffiti and street artists putting colour on grey walls.
You’ve obviously invested a lot in Patpong – and by that I mean not just in terms of money, but also time and effort. Your investment in the area is significant. Do you believe Patpong can retain its unique character and remain true to its roots while all over Bangkok – and all around the world – big money is buying up prime land and redeveloping it. From what you know about the area, and also taking in to consideration how Thailand is changing, do you think Patpong as we know it will exist in 10 years’ time? If yes, what about in 20 years?
The centre of town is shifting to Silom, the river and Chinatown. One Bangkok is the largest development the city has seen in 5 decades. The Dusit Thani Central Park development, and the Minor development on Convent Road are massive undertakings that will be completed over the next few years. Patpong is right in the heart of all of this, has lower rents and will redefine its place and live up to its neighbourhood to remain relevant.
A reference to its red-light history will remain. How dominant that may be is to be seen.
If there’s ever a moment in time where Bangkok has only one gogo bar left, it will definitely be in Patpong, probably Safari, Superstar or XXX.
The Museum will document all this change and make it available by building immersive virtual realities to capture the change.
Any final thoughts for readers?
Yes, especially to all Bangkokians born here, or here by choice. Patpong belongs to Bangkok and it’s time that you explore it. With your visit you shape it and become part of the development. It’s happening now.
You can find more about the Museum of Patpong here.
Last week’s photo was taken of Super Star in Patpong soi 1, a gogo bar which dates back to the 1970s. It was NOT SuperGirl as a lot of readers said – in fact more than 50% of you who responded said it was SuperGirl which is, in fact, a different bar further up the soi.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
When you’re older than her parents.
I don’t think I look my age right now at 56, but in 10 more years I might. The girl I’m with had a guy in his mid-60s showering her with gifts and she told me she didn’t want to be with someone older than her parents. Of course I had to ask and it turns out I’m older than her parents too which she hadn’t realised. I expect age to become an issue between us eventually as she’s only 30, but for now I’m happy to enjoy her company and she seems happy with the situation as well.
Relationships in Bangkok, rediscovering what you once loved.
Regarding age and relationships, there’s another perspective that doesn’t occur to most people. White guys who don’t want to date Thai girls for a variety of reasons. While I’ve been single for over a year now, I haven’t dated a Thai girl in about 5 years. That’s a huge change from when I first arrived here in Bangkok 18 years ago. I was never very interested in bargirls, but Asian girls were definitely my style. So I had a steady stream of very good-looking Thai girlfriends. These were all genuine relationships. Over the years though, my interest has changed. I dated Caucasian and black girls from western countries. I dated women closer to my age. And I found those relationships much more rewarding. We shared similar backgrounds in education, politics, culture, language (of course), movies, humour, music etc. Thanks to my business, I meet hundreds of people a week. And while I am still sexually attracted to beautiful Thai women, I’m not intellectually attracted. And one of those reasons I prefer foreigners is a reluctance to be viewed as a monger, or to see my girlfriend viewed as a hooker. I see a lot of couples at my work – especially younger couples under the age of 35. But the Thai / Western couples don’t look as ‘genuine’, even if their ages are similar. One observation I have is that foreign expats mingle and chat with any nationality and / or gender while Thais (especially girls) tend to congregate and isolate themselves from the rest of the party. There’s always a sneaking suspicion when meeting someone’s Thai girlfriend that they’re motivated by money. I’m not judgemental. I don’t care who fucks whom. I don’t care what anybody’s job is (or used to be). But after years of observations and personal experience, it would take a very exceptional Thai girl to tempt me. One whose demeanour, appearance, language, style and attitude was extremely unlike most Thais.
It ain’t a level playing field.
The Thai landlords driving about in BMWs comment does not surprise me. It should not be forgotten that in the American gold rush those who made the fortunes were not the prospectors but those who provided them with provisions. In Thailand it is not a level playing field and the odds are stacked against foreigners – fluent in language or not. This is why I think that so many expat businessmen I know who have returned home are angry about Thailand.
The Covid-19 diet?
I have read some readers hopes that when the pandemic is over, of lower prices and better attitudes, similar to the good old days. One possible bonus I haven’t seen mentioned that might also have some similarity to the old days is the girls’ figures. Having had to return to the villages, they will no longer have easy access to Western junk food and a takeaway diet. Instead, they will have spent the last few months in rural Thailand eating good old-fashioned, traditional Thai food. Will they return to the metropolis leaner and fitter?
A leisurely stroll in Pattaya is not so leisurely after all.
Two friends of mine were walking yesterday around 5:30 PM here in Pattaya, on 2nd Road near Pattaya Klang. They were not wearing masks. A policeman stopped them and asked them where their masks were. They pulled masks out of their pockets. The policeman insisted they get on a motorbike and go to the police station. The office was empty except for an ‘interpreter’, supposedly Canadian. The interpreter kept going on and on that it was a 10,000 baht fine. And they would have to stay in jail upstairs until the next day. Instead of negotiating, my one friend just said “I’ll give you 7,000 baht for each of us.” Nice of my friend to wimp out so quickly, and raise the price for everybody. I don’t think I’ll ever walk around Pattaya with him. I’ve been reading online that the Pattaya police were giving “soft warnings” and if you pulled up your mask, no problem. That’s been the story for the last few weeks.
Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the great opportunity for would-be bar owners to grab a space in Nana Plaza. The response has been great and it looks like all the available bar spaces in Nana Plaza will be gone by the end of the month.
The French are doing battle over Rainbow 1 and Playskool while Casanova looks set to remain a ladyboy bar with an operator out of Pattaya looking likely to take over and give it a complete refurbishment. Rainbow 3 and Chili are possibly set to become 1 bigger bar.
Despite ongoing rumours about K&S bar out front of Nana Plaza being bulldozed into the neighbouring bank booth and even as far along as Lucky Luke’s, to become one mega-bar, that won’t be the case and the small street-front bar will be back when the bars get the green light to reopen, just the way it was.
Word is that landlords on Soi Cowboy have been the least supportive amongst the landlords in Bangkok’s main bar areas with the average rebate running around 30%. Could it be partly because Soi Cowboy is a mish-mash of different landlords which is rather different to how things are at Nana and Patpong when one main landlord sees the bigger picture?
The Stumble Inn Group’s empire expanded this week after it acquired the prime location on Soi Nana out front of the plaza that was previously Hillary 4.
Long-running and once uber popular Pattaya chrome pole bar, Happy A Gogo predates many of us who think we’ve been around for a while. The bar has been handed back to the landlord after the operator was offered no discount and key money was demanded while the bar was closed.
In what sounds like it could be very good news, the word on the street is that the days of the coyote could be numbered as owners look to move away from a format unpopular with customers and expensive for bar owners. Here’s hoping this becomes reality.
More bars opened this week, even before Friday’s announcement that restaurants can serve alcohol from Monday, June 15. The Royal Oak on Sukhumvit soi 33/1 opened last Thursday.
The Red Lion on Sukhumvit soi 13 is close to completion and will be ready when the government gives the green light for pubs to reopen.
As per the responses in the Q&A from the curator of the Museum of Patpong in this week’s opener, there are major changes coming to the night market on Patpong soi 1. The night market is stale and a change of format is coming with food and drink options including a beer garden, food trucks, food vendors and the like. It’s something new to look forward to.
TAHUG is a free and easy way to make new friends.
A betting man would put his money on the bars getting the green light to open next month. Nothing is official yet, but the impression observers get is that there is a better than average chance bars will open in July. I guess the bottom line is that it is getting hard to rationalise keeping them closed.
From tomorrow (Monday, June 15), restaurants will be permitted to serve alcohol to customers, as will hotels. This had to happen as the dam was about to break with many venues already serving alcohol and ignoring the restrictions.
Indus on Sukhumvit soi 26 is reintroducing its Saturday and Sunday buffet brunch. Unlike other buffets, the dishes are made fresh to order. The price is up to 950 ++ baht which sounds like a lot but if you’re in to good quality Indian food and feel like more than just a curry, rice and naan, it’s a good deal.
From a friend who runs an eatery popular with foreigners in downtown Bangkok comes the following. “Things are improving. We’re making enough to cover costs and even a little bit of profit. There are no more requirements for spacing out guests or using plastic screens in the restaurant.”
Allemand is a Thai-made, German-style pilsner beer. It is based on the recipe used to brew Kloster in Thailand, first by Thai Amarit (from 1975 – 2002) then by Boon Rawd until 2016. In 2018, Kloster became Allemand and is made by Kingdom Breweries in Cambodia. Zippbike has a promo with 15% off 6 Bottles of Allemand – with a choice of 330 ml or 640 ml bottles. You can order from Zippbike and use the discount code at checkout or use the link to add the discount code to the cart automatically. The minimum order is 6 bottles and the order must be in multiples of 6 bottles (6 / 12 / 18 / 24 etc.). The discount code is valid from 12:00 June 8 – 11:59 PM. June 14. Discount Code: STICKZIPP8
It would be interesting to know not just how many expats live in Thailand, but also what the numbers are in terms of breakdown by nationality / age / sex. And if we had the numbers for each year we could see what the trends were. All of this info is in the Immigration computer and it would not be difficult to produce a report on the number of foreigners resident in Thailand. This would be very useful for policymakers and businesspeople. Here in New Zealand, this exact information is provided on the Statistics Department’s website and is updated every month. You can see, for example, how many Thai citizens moved to New Zealand each month, what type of visa they came on etc. It would be nice if Thailand provided such info but alas… In fact, the impression I get is that Thailand actually seems to revel in keeping people in the dark on such things.
To help foreigners (stuck) in Thailand, the Thai government automatically extended the visas of most foreigners in Thailand through until July 31st. The question being asked now is what happens on July 31st? Will there be another automatic extension? Will it be possible to make a further extension? If the visa cannot be extended, will people have to leave? And if they do have to leave, where will they go? Getting a flight to one’s homeland could be difficult as flights are still very limited. And doing a visa run to a neighbouring country and returning to Thailand in all likelihood won’t be possible. Those in this situation are hoping for some clarity sooner rather than later.
If you ever needed proof that the world is going crazy, the Air Visual app provided it this past week when a sneaky peek showed that Bangkok’s pollution level was lower than Auckland’s. It was an anomaly, and something I suspect only happens very infrequently. I am told that clear blue sky has been the norm in Bangkok this past week with pollution levels so low that a walk through downtown Bangkok is more enjoyable than usual. It’s amazing how low Bangkok’s AQI numbers have been. For this reason alone, now would be a great time to visit Bangkok. What a shame we can’t get there right now!
One of the things I enjoy when visiting Bangkok is a decent traditional massage, but at the same time I am always wary about the cleanliness and lack of hygiene in massage shops. Some places popular with foreigners are, to be frank, not as clean as they should be. For a decent traditional massage, the general rule is to get away from lower Sukhumvit and find a place where the customers are Thai. You’ll almost certainly get a better massage and the premises should be clean. You will probably pay more – but in my opinion, it’s worth it. Of course, if you’re looking for a happy ending you’re almost certainly better off on Sukhumvit.
Quote of the week comes from a friend resident in Bangkok, “The longer tourists are locked out, the more handsome those of us here become.”
Reader’s story of the week from Bangkok Byron is an old-style trip report, “Last Trip Before Lockdown“.
Thailand is feeling the pain of a faltering economy.
A murder investigation is launched after the discovery of the body of a Ukrainian lady on Ko Samui.
Covid19 has hit the property market in Thailand hard.
Cambodia has introduced rules requiring a $3,000 deposit from anyone entering the country.
Wat Po, one of Thailand’s most famous temples, is not allowing entry to foreigners.
Massage shops have been warned over poor standards.
The Old German Beerhouse reopens tomorrow.
This is the darkest hour for Bangla Road, Phuket’s nightlife central.
I like to travel to Thailand in mid-July, partly because it’s mid-Winter here in New Zealand and the coldest time of the year, but also because it’s decent weather-wise in Bangkok – neither too hot nor too wet. We can’t get to Thailand this July so we have a winter road trip planned around the South Island, my first mid-winter road trip since I was a kid. I know that for many of us travel is a big part of our lives – but travel doesn’t mean only going to Thailand. I am keen to get back to Thailand, but I am just as keen to travel – and my next trip will be around my own backyard and you know what…I am really looking forward to it. Thailand will still be there when we get the green light to return, but there’s no need to put all travel plans on hold until then.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org