No matter how much research you do before you go abroad you never really know the place until you’ve experienced it first-hand. Despite hours of trawling internet travel sites in the excitement of my impending trip to Australia, with stopovers in Bangkok and Tokyo, nothing could have quite prepared me for the culture shock of Bangkok. It could have been a case of information overload but for some reason I had the idea that Patpong Night Market would be, as the name suggests, a market held at night, where Thais would be sitting at stools selling handmade jewellery and trinkets to backpackers and hippies. If they had named it Pingpong Night Market, however, maybe my preconception would have been different but more accurate.
We took a taxi from our hotel directly to Patpong, despite our taxi driver wanting to take us to a silk shop (I knew tuktuk drivers were famous for doing this but in all that time I spent researching Bangkok online I’d never read anything about taxi drivers trying to take tourists to shops). Anyway, despite the taxi driver’s best efforts we made it to Patpong without wasting any time. We stepped out onto the pavement and looked around, where was this famous night market?
We walked up the street a little way when my partner, Nick, spotted a neon-lit pedestrian walkway with music blaring out from all directions. “This must be it” he said “this is how I imagined it, all lit-up with neon lights”. As he proceeded to fiddle with his camera, I glanced around. I wasn’t convinced. It was like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer visits the lesbian bar and notices there is no fire exit, except on this occasion it was me noticing that there were rather alot of men loitering down this alleyway. The moment I realised we were in the gay nightlife spot was when I saw a couple of men stroll past holding hands. Still, unfazed, we began to walk into Bangkok Boys territory, Nick grabbing my hand to “protect” himself from being dragged into a seedy nightclub. It didn’t work. We were being harrassed left, right and centre. Sure, if we had been a hen party it might have been a giggle, but as far as couples holidays go this was quite inappropriate. We made a swift exit and crossed the road only to notice the neon signs we hadn’t seen before, I think ‘Bangkok Boys’ and ‘Hot Males’ would have given us a clue had we seen what was flashing above us. Still, no harm done, that market had to be around here somewhere.
As we made our way down the street, bright fluorescent strip lighting caught our eyes – Bingo! Sure enough there were dozens of Thais sitting at stools selling… fake designer handbags and tacky tourist t-shirts?!? This wasn’t what I had in mind but we were here now so may as well see what else is on offer. No sooner had we walked past the first stall we were approached by a man asking us if we wanted to see a ping pong show. I mean, come on! Do I look as though I’m interested in sport??!
Ok so I’m not THAT naive. I knew exactly what they were talking about, they even had menus for goodness sake! Let me tell you, it wasn’t just ping pong on offer. I knew Bangkok had quite a liberal nightlife but I never expected to find it. We marched on through the rather disappointing market, politely declining all invitations to shows. When we reached the street again we weren’t quite sure what to do next. We began to make our way back to the hotel, refusing all offers of taxis, tuktuks and massages along the way. Eventually we relented and hopped into the nearest tuktuk for a speedy ride (with the hot, dirty air blowing in our faces) back to the air-conditioned sanctuary of our hotel bar for some slightly more tasteful Thai entertainment in the form of glittery lounge singers.
Still, the night was not a waste. Even though Patpong wasn’t quite what we expected it to be, it has given us, if nothing else, an experience and an amusing little anecdote to tell our friends.