Patpong Road was made famous by American soldiers on rest and recuperation (R&R) in the city of Bangkok, Thailand. During the Vietnam conflict, many in the military took the short hop from Saigon to Bangkok to enjoy a week or two getting drunk, stoned, massaged, and spoiled by beautiful Thai women.
Paatpong is actually a small street between Silom and Surawong Roads with wall-to-wall bars and restaurants. At night, the street is vendors catering to tourists charging ridiculously high prices in hopes of finding suckers.
There are actually 4 streets in the area catering to the nightlife. There is Patpong I & II, Soi Jaruwan, catering to gay men, and Soi Thaniya, exclusively for Japanese tourists.
Patpong started off as an undeveloped plot of land purchased by Chinese immigrants in 1946. The Patpongpanich (or Patpongpanit) family built some shop-houses and rented out to normal businesses. Bars eventually overtook the other businesses on these two private roads, and the entertainment zone was created.
I was stationed in Bangkok in the early 1970’s and we would go out to Patpong almost nightly. Back then it was bar after bar after bar. There were no vendors blocking the road and, unlike today, it was safe to go to the upstairs bars.
Then, the bars on the ground level were just that – bars. Second floor bars were go-go’s with bikini clad girls. And if a bar had a third floor, it was for the special shows.
Today, vendors set up show and block the entire road, and most of the walkway, selling everything under the sun (or moon). Tours line the street promoting shows upstairs with guarantees of no cover charge and cheap beer prices. Don’t believe either.
If you visit Patpong, it is best to avoid the upstairs bars altogether. The owners may try to extract large sums of money in order for you to leave alive.
There is one place that I do enjoy visiting on Patpong. The Madrid Lounge is the only bar that has the same name, décor, and menu that it had in 1973. It caters primarily to the embassy and expat crowd and has some great American food. The staff is very friendly and will sit with you if you want or leave you alone if you choose.
The Madrid became a meeting place when I returned to Thailand in the mid 90’s during exercise Cobra Gold. I took my guys there the first night and it became the official hangout from that day forward. They still use it as a rendezvous point and place to meet.
Personally, I have tired of Patpong but it is a must-see for the first time visitor. I have not only tired of Patpong, but of Bangkok as well. I only stay in Bangkok if I have to spend the night to catch a flight the next day; otherwise I go direct to my location regardless of time. If I am going to Pattaya, I leave direct from Suvarnabhumi International Airport and never set foot in Bangkok city. When I am going northeast to Khon Kaen, I have to spend the night to catch a connecting flight the next day. I usually just go out to a few local beer bars in walking distance of my hotel.
Patpong is a unique little street and should be on every first-timer’s visit list. Don’t buy anything from the vendors in the street. Prices are much cheaper anywhere else in Thailand. Have a few drinks, check out activities, and avoid the second floor bars.