I’m back in Bangkok for a dental appointment. I’ll end up with a cleaning, X-rays, and a consultation for $103 US — all performed in a state-of-the-art hospital clinic. With time to kill, I decide to check out the local Red Light scene.
I’m staying in the Sukhimvit district — popular with both expats and tourists. It’s a newer, well-maintained part of town, comfortable, and right on the Sky Train rail route — allowing for easy access to the rest of the city. It’s also home to the city’s red light district, which runs from roughly Soi 3 to Soi 30, with the epicenter located midway at Soi Cowboy — named after “Cowboy” Edwards, an American who opened one of the first bars there in 1977.
I find an outdoor bar, The Public Place, on the corner of Soi 5 and sit down to drink a beer or five and watch the endless parade of people. It’s difficult to imagine a greater melting pot of humanity.
Tuk tuk drivers sit around, sporting their red bandannas and waiting for a high-profit farang fare. Prostitutes line the sidewalk, fanning themselves in the heat and smiling wide at the passing men. Most seem to be 18-20 years old, but there are a few who can’t be over 15.
Many are dressed with a ‘night at the club’ look or even just a simple blouse and jeans — there is very little of the overt ‘ass hanging out’ style that you see in Pattaya, with few clues that say “Hi! I’m a prostitute!”. Being the rube that I am, I think they are all just waiting for a bus when I first walk past. The clue phone rings unheeded for a good half hour.
Farang men prowl about singly or in pairs, occasionally stopping to chat with the girls and negotiate. There’s a large Muslim population here and entire families pass by, the women and girls in shawls or full burqas. The men wear suits or traditional Saudi-style tunics. Right up the street is the Pakistani Consulate, as well as several falafel and kebab shops that I intend to fully investigate at first chance.
Tourist couples from all over the world wander about, shopping at the well-stocked street stalls or stopping for food or drink. Behind the bar, a 10-year old Thai girl is learning the ropes — she sports dimples, a page boy haircut, and a shirt that says “You Smile Make Me Smile”. She is dead earnest about her job and, according to the French couple sitting near me, makes a mean margarita.
And, of course, there are plenty of western men wandering about with their Thai girlfriends. Equal parts tour guide, translator, and prostitute, the Thai women interact with their johns in a wide range of ways — many joke and laugh and seem to be having a good time.
Others walk five paces behind their sweaty 50-year old companions with a miserable look on their face, going through the motions. Some even boss their boyfriend about, so clearly in charge of the situation that it makes me wonder if it might actually be a real relationship. I’ve given up trying to understand, and am content to watch and wonder.
I meet a friendly Brit named Terry, a recently-retired barrister from Nottingham. He has that deep, confident voice of a man who has made his living convincing other people. He’s only in his mid-fifties, but has taken an early retirement as part of a government downsizing initiative and now splits his time between the UK and South-East Asia.
Another tuk tuk driver pulls up to offer me a “horny massage”. This one is uglier than the last and I can’t understand how these guys make a living. The usual touts patrol the scene, pushing Thai hill tribe jewelry, fake Rolexes, huge laminated maps of Thailand, over-sized Zippo lighters as big as books, knockoff sunglasses, and my new favorite: a small lighter that projects a hardcore porn image when you push a 2nd button. Terry and I joke about the absurd shit the touts seem to think we want.
He says “Yeah, that’s exactly what I need: a carved wooden toad that makes a croaking noise when I rub it’s back with a stick. That will be handy.” I admit that I’m tempted to buy one, just so that when someone asks what I did last night, I can reply “Oh, I just hung out at the house and stroked the toad.” We both laugh loudly, but I suspect it’s due more to the cheap beer than my wit.
Other farangs stop by for a few beers but always leave to ‘go find the action’ further in. I wish them luck and watch them stagger off — this corner has more than enough action for me.