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Prostitution, the CIA, David Bowie and Patpong – Undercover in Bangkok infamous red light district

Tim Newton

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Prostitution, the CIA, David Bowie and Patpong – Undercover in Bangkok infamous red light district | The Thaiger
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PHOTO: patpongmuseum.com

Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start. Where did Bangkok’s Patpong get its name?

It actually goes back to a Chinese immigrant named Luang Patpongpanich. He purchased the land when it was just a banana plantation (I can hear the Benny Hill theme already). During World War II, so the story goes, Patpongpanich’s son and heir, Udom, studied in the US, where he joined a newly secretive “Office of Strategic Services” which eventually became the CIA.

All this comes to light in the new Patpong Museum which has just opened. More than just a saucy jaunt through the history of ping-pong shows, the museum tracks the area’s much more fascinating contribution to the Vietnam War, the CIA’s covert war in Indochina and it’s value as a ‘relief’ to US soldiers fighting the communists in the 60s and 70s.

How did it evolve from these agricultural and covert beginnings to become one of the world’s most famous red light districts, before a lot of the ‘red’ moved to Soi Cowboy and the Nana Plaza?

The museum’s curator, is Michael Messner. He says he founded the space to document the area’s rich history, beyond the bar girls and bawdy entertainment. He says he’s included a lot of details no one realised contributed to the thriving business and tourist zone.

King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, bestowed an honorary title to Poon Pat, whose family moved from China in the 1880s. He becomes Luang Patpongpanich in 1930. Luang started ‘Siam Cement in 1921, his son attended training by the Office of Strategic Services at Fort Benning in Georgia in 1945, then the Patpongpanich family bought a banana plantation on the outskirts of Bangkok in 1946 for US$3,000. In the 1950s the Patpongpanich family build shophouses in the area and name it ‘Patpong’.

During the 1950s, at the height of the ‘Reds under the beds scare’ freaking out the Americans, Patpong became a front for several CIA operatives, supplying arms for various anti-communist groups. All this, and the locations where a lot of these shenanigans happened, are detailed in the museum.

And it wasn’t just the Americans that flocked to Patpong. Michael Messner recalls how one of the earliest, and most popular bars, was opened by a former Japanese soldier.

“Mizu’s Kitchen was opened by a Japanese ex-soldier who was part of the occupational force but he liked it here in Patpong so much that he wanted to stay.”

He wasn’t the only one that liked it. It was during the middle of the 1960s that a lot of US troops, weary from their tours of duty, came to Patpong for some R&R. Demand started the supply and the are became known for a place of relief and relaxation.

Prostitution, the CIA, David Bowie and Patpong - Undercover in Bangkok infamous red light district | News by The Thaiger

Other pioneering Patpong tenants during those years included the US Information Service library and “a CIA safe house” above the Madrid Bar where, in later years, retired CIA officials reportedly drank and met buddies. There’s plenty of sordid stories along the way, that all add to the colourful mythology of the famous area. But it wasn’t until the early 1970s that Patpong started attracting a wider tourist crowd.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Curator Messner says… “I’d say today everybody knows Patpong.”

“But nobody really knows what Patpong is about. People associate it with a very narrow segment today, and it would be ‘Patpong ping-pong,’ something like this. And we’ll get to ping-pong, we’ll show that too, but there is so much more.”

The 300 metre museum covers just about every aspect of this fascinating corner of Bangkok, even the ping pong shows. A The silhouette of a woman has, between her thighs, an industrial-strength ping-pong training machine, which pumps out ping pong balls for museum visitors to catch.

Messner describes the exhibition as an interactive display.

“Here on Patpong, everybody wants to see the ping-pong show.”

The museum is a rich trip down a secret memory lane, revealing a lot about the Patpong area that few people know anything about.

Have a very quick timeline tour down Patpong’s history HERE.

But we’ve only scratched the surface. You really need to spend a few hours to open your eyes to a part of Bangkok’s history that reveal Patpong as a lot more than skin deep. And you might even get to catch a ping pong.

And David Bowie? He visited the area back in 1983, shot a video clip there, and ‘got lost’ for quite a while, so the story goes.

• Building 5, 2nd floor below Black Pagoda Bar, Patpong Soi 2
Open daily, 10am to 11 pm; 091 887 6829
• Tickets are 350 baht for visitors and include headphones offering narration in English, Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish
• The entrance fee includes one free beer or soft drink

• Museum souvenirs are on sale, including ping pong balls

Prostitution, the CIA, David Bowie and Patpong - Undercover in Bangkok infamous red light district | News by The Thaiger
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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Bangkok. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

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Bangkok

Bangkok’s Ying Charoen wet market reopens after fire

Jack Burton

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Bangkok’s Ying Charoen wet market reopens after fire | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Coconuts Bangkok

Most of the Ying Charoen market in Bangkok’s Bang Khen district reopened after fire destroyed about 160 stalls. Earlier estimates put the number at around 50 stalls. No injuries were reported. The blaze in the 30 rai compound reportedly began at a bakery at about 3am and quickly spread to nearby stalls. It took firefighters about 2 hours to control the flames.

Officials say about 200 vendors have been affected. They are being allowed to sell their goods in the market’s car park for the time being. About 10% of the market structure was damaged and remains cordoned off, as 70% of stalls reopened. There were about 1,500 stalls trading at the 65 year old market, the area’s oldest.

One of the structures damaged was a gold shop, whose owner estimated damages would exceed 1 million baht.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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Economy

Thai nightlife grapples with “new normal”

Jack Burton

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Thai nightlife grapples with “new normal” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: People.com

Thailand’s nightlife scene is grappling with a ‘new normal’ as changes upon its recent reopening see facemasks joining the normal bikini wear in red-light districts across the Kingdom.

After being forced to close for more than 3 months in order to stop the spread of Covid-19,bars, karaoke venues and massage parlours are in the latest category of businesses allowed to reopen under new conditions, now that Thailand has gone more than a month without any community transmission of the virus.

The reopening means a return to work for hundreds of thousands of people in the nightlife industry who have struggled to survive. “Bee,” a 27 year old dancer, who goes by her stage name at the XXX Lounge in the Patpong district, said:

“I lost all my income. I’m glad that I can come back to work in a job that I’m good at. I’m ok with the mask because it’s one of the precautions.”

All customers must have their temperature taken before entering, and must give a name and telephone number or register with the Thai Chana app. Inside, everybody must sit at least one metre apart, and 2 metres from the stage. But one British expatriate questioned the need:

“You can take a BTS train in the morning with 200 people on a packed train but then you come into a bar and still have to sit 2 metres apart.”

The government has staggered the reopening of public places over several weeks with schools, colleges and universities officially resuming yesterday.

Despite a low death toll (58 out of 3,173 infections- a relatively low number even within the region), Thailand’s economy is expected to sink further than any other in Southeast Asia, with the number of foreign tourists expected to drop 80% or more this year.

At the Dream Boy club in Bangkok’s Patpong Soi 1, bare-chested men with face shields tried to entice the few passersby off the street, but many businesses remain shut and those who have opened are only seeing a few customers.

“There are bars all over Bangkok that have been open for 10 to 15 years and now they are closed and they are not coming back.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Bangkok

Old Bangkok market damaged by large fire

Jack Burton

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Old Bangkok market damaged by large fire | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Nation Thailand

An old Bangkok market was reportedly damaged by a large fire early this morning, taking over 20 fire trucks and at least two hours to put out the blaze.

Ying Charoen Market, in Bangkok’s northern Bang Khen district, saw vendors fleeing the flames and taking their merchandise with them after firefighters were called to the scene at 3 am. The fire, which took down the areas’ oldest market, reportedly left no injuries due to the market being closed at the time. Investigators this morning are still trying to determine the cause of the fire.

A 33 year old market employee, said the fire destroyed about 50 stalls in a part of the market selling miscellaneous goods. The market, which is made of wood, has about 1,500 stalls in total. He said it was the first fire at the market in its 65 years of being open.

Old Bangkok market damaged by large fire | News by The ThaigerOld Bangkok market damaged by large fire | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: Coconuts Bangkok | Nation Thailand

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