A Night at the Karaoke Brothel


A Night at the Karaoke Brothel in Laos

“Wow, there sure are a lot more women than guys in here,” I said. “Ummm… yeah… That’s probably because this is a brothel. Karaoke places usually are.” I’d been in Asia for six months and I hadn’t figured this out yet. What a rube.

It was our second night in Paksong, Laos’ coffee capital, which rests in the middle of the high Bolevan Plateau and makes a convenient base for exploring the many waterfalls and villages in the area. We’d planned on reaching distant Attapeu by nightfall, but had spent too much time wandering about searching for waterfalls and hiding from rainstorms, so we’d decided to return to the Green Guesthouse for another night and start early the following day.

The karaoke bar next door had kept us up much of the night before with loud music and more than a few inspired screeching vocal performances, so Stu, Christina, and I decided that we’d hop over and see what was happening. After enjoying a couple of beers on the back balcony as the sun set, we walked over to check out the scene.

A minibus was parked in front, but we saw no sign of the passengers. Inside, we found about a half dozen young Lao couples sitting at tables in the back, chatting and laughing quietly. The walls were painted a garish shade of red and a small stage supported a microphone and a young guy with a keyboard and a laptop. There was a house singer who did the majority of the performances — very few people got up to sing.

After ordering beers and some lao lao (which they had to run out and buy for us), we sat at the front table by the dance floor and Christina clued me in to the fact that this was most likely a whorehouse. I was shocked that I’d never figured this out before, but then, I hate karaoke and this was my first visit to a karaoke bar in Asia.

Christina clued me in to the fact that this was most likely a whorehouse. I was shocked.

Looking around, I couldn’t see any obvious signs of naughty business — the kids in the back all acted as if they had known each other before walking in and the table across from us held three young men who seemed most interested in drinking their Beer Lao and hanging their heads dejectedly.

It seemed to be the only night club in town. “Are you sure?” I asked. Christina raised an eyebrow in response. “Just wait.”

There was no karaoke machine — anyone who wanted to sing approached the keyboardist and requested a song. He’d tinker on his laptop for a minute, then play the tune live while they sang. The house singer was actually pretty good and managed to draw a crowd onto the small dance floor from time to time, singing current Lao pop songs or crooning out love ballads.

Lao dancing is a timid affair, with men and women slowly swinging their hips and waving their arms about. Occasionally, someone would raise a hand over their head for dramatic effect, but that was about as hot as things got. It was like watching American Bandstand in the 50’s, played at half-speed. It was like watching your parents dance.

Lao dancing is a timid affair, with men and women slowly swinging their hips and waving their arms about.

The song would start and the crowd would rush onto the floor and shuffle about, circling a large support beam in the middle. After about a minute, they would all head back to their tables together –well before the song ended– and resume drinking.

During a particularly-popular tune, a young man asked Christina to dance and they hit the floor. While I was snickering at this, two young men approached the table and asked Stu and I to dance. My partner was still in his teens, dressed in black jeans and a tshirt, with a large fop of carefully-tended hair that hung down over his eyes. He looked at his feet the entire time. After about a minute, he stopped, bowed, shook my hand and walked back to the table without a word. I had to give him points for making the effort.

“So, how is it that we’re in a brothel and I end up dancing with the gay guy?” Now it was Christina’s turn to snicker.

“So how is it that we’re in a brothel and I end up dancing with the gay guy?”

Christina’s suitor returned and explained in broken English that he was going to sing a song for her, Take Me To Your Heart. He admitted that he didn’t really know the words and asked if I could help. I didn’t know the words either, thankfully, and left him to his fate.

The performance consisted of him singing the chorus and then saying over and over “I no speak English good but this song for my farang friend.” I don’t think it had the intended romantic effect, as Christina turned down his next dance request.

When Stu and I went outside to have a smoke, we found a half-dozen Thai businessmen standing around in the parking lot. As we lit our cigarettes, another handful walked out of a side door, each with a young woman on his arm. The guys were tucking in their shirts and the women were adjusting their blouses or playfully slapping at their johns and laughing. So, that’s how it works.

I hadn’t noticed before that the building behind the bar was part of the same complex and was about five times larger — there were a lot of rooms hidden away in there, and you could… ahem… come and go without entering the bar.

One of the Thais started asking me the usual travel questions and we talked for several minutes as his buddies piled into the bus. He was in his fifties, dressed in a pressed shirt and slacks and wore thick glasses. They were all here on a weekend trip from Thailand, had spent two days and one night in Paksong, and were headed home. It was a sex tour.

He asked where I had been in Thailand, but when I listed off places like Koh Chang, Ayutthaya, and Krabi, he just stared at me, confused. “You go Pattaya? Pattaya good. Very nice. Patpong in Bangkok? Very nice!” Both of these are, of course, major centers for the sex trade.

I wanted to ask why. Why are you traveling to Laos for prostitutes when Thailand has so many? But I knew the answer, so I held my tongue. As a crazy expat I’d met in Cambodia once told me, “Whores are a lot cheaper here.”

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Theodora September 17, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Great writing. Love the dancing description.

In Malaysia, fyi, the buzzword is foot reflexology. And the girls, it is reported, at least, are always Chinese.

Have you ever wandered into (or past) those beer brothels they have in Laos? Extraordinary places in small towns which are dead at night.
.-= Theodora´s last blog ..A Fistful of Dollars =-.


Michael Tyson September 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

How is it that you so consistently end up in such seedy establishments? Unfortunately your writing is so good I always feel like I was there myself :P
.-= Michael Tyson´s last blog ..Part 2 – How a Week Doing Not a Whole Lot Was One of the Best Weeks of our 14 Months on the Road in Europe =-.


wes September 19, 2010 at 11:05 am

Ha! Thanks, Michael. You’d have loved this place. It had a very unique ‘style’.


Lily September 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

You dont like Karaoke? Awww WES really? I had you down as a Country crooner!!! Must be that photo of you in the hat. Did you show them how it is done on the dancefloor? Where’s the video clip?


wes September 19, 2010 at 11:04 am

No video. What happens in Paksong, stays in Paksong.


ayngelina September 17, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Wait, fast dance or slow dance with the guy?
.-= ayngelina´s last blog ..Five rules for traveling with family =-.


wes September 19, 2010 at 10:59 am

Kind of a fast dance. “Laos fast” ;)


Joel September 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

You really do end up in the most unlikely places. I want to be you when I grow up. :)
.-= Joel´s last blog ..The 10 Best Phallic Structures In the World -Part 1 of 2 =-.


wes September 19, 2010 at 11:03 am

The trick is to not grow up, I think. And, for the record, it was my friends’ idea to go to the bar. No, really, I swear…


Laura September 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Wow. I had no idea that some of the karaoke bars are brothers but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. I think I’ll steer clear of them from now on ;)


wes September 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

Yeah, it was a surprise to me as well :)


Garrett September 27, 2010 at 7:33 am

Love it. No trip to Southeast Asia should go without a good ole’ karaoke brothel experience. In my opinion, any night that results in a great story was a good one. You’re having your fair share of “good” nights in Laos by the looks of it.


Seth September 27, 2010 at 9:14 am

Hey Wes. I enjoyed the article as usual. I had a similar experience in San Jose Costa Rica last week. I recently wrote a post about it also. Brothels are a lot of fun even if you are not planning on paying for sex. I had a blast. The only problem here in San Jose is there are lots of transvestites so I might have been dancing with dudes! Happy travels!
.-= Seth´s last blog ..A Dozen Things That do Not Surprise Me… Anymore =-.


TheArabicStudent September 28, 2010 at 8:38 am

This same thing happened to me in Jordan. Myself, another guy, and 2 girls went into this bar and the first thing we noticed was that there was literally not a SINGLE guy in the place. That should have been a tip off, but we were all pretty naive. There were about 20 blond (Russian) girls sitting at tables and I remember saying several times to our group, “It’s so weird that all the girls here are white and have blond hair!” and “I wonder why there are only girls in here.” I wasn’t expecting there to be a brothel right in the middle of a very Muslim country. The waiter brought us appetizers that we didn’t ask for, we all had 1 drink and then some men started to trickle into the club. A few would walk around looking at the girls like they were shopping and that’s when it finally dawned on us what kind of place we were in. We got up to leave and the tab came to 70 dinar which is a little over $100! It turns out that’s how the establishment makes their cut. They charge a TON for anything you order (or don’t order). Anyway, I would have liked to sit back down and get our money’s worth but the girls wanted to leave (for obvious reasons).
.-= TheArabicStudent´s last blog ..Syrian Arabic from Bab Al-Hara =-.


wes September 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

Wow, expensive apps and drinks. Crazy stories aren’t always cheap, huh?


Kara January 5, 2011 at 3:38 am

In San Francisco there is this bar in North Beach, right across from Zoetrope Studios, and it’s has this big sign that says “Where Good Friends and Girls Meet” and I’ve heard that this place is also a karaoke/brothel bar. Does anyone know the place I’m talking about? Anyway, this is a great article. I really enjoyed it.