The beginning of the Bangkok gogo scene can be traced back over 45 years to the swinging 60’s. Unfortunately things were not so swinging in Southeast Asia at the time, partly due to the intense Vietnam war raging on, affecting much of the region and dragging lots of young American’s over to fight, most of whom were leaving their home state for the first time, and many of which would never get to return home alive.
During the conflict Thailand was seen as the place for American GIs to get some quality R&R (Rest & Recuperation), which basically translated to mean getting drunk and meeting young, pretty local girls. The skin trade was nothing new in Thailand, the country had experienced a thriving sex industry already catering to locals and visitors, especially in areas around the ports where visiting sailors could find a companion for the night; such activities reportedly date back some 500 years. However, this was nothing like today’s fun and friendly gogo scene.
The Birth of Gogo Bar
A Brief History of the GoGo Scene. The first seeds of the gogo scene were sown in 1968, in a small, nondescript street call Soi Patpong. Owned by a Chinese immigrant family called Patpongpanich, the street began to open a small number of discos and late night clubs, catering to the many US soldiers stationed in the region. The area soon became rife with prostitution and sleaze, as local women took advantage of the young sexual frustrated soldier, and the area developed a reputation amongst incoming troops for its wild and raunchy action. The popularity was such that within a few years things had spilled over into the street parallel, Soi Patpong 2, where more bars and clubs were quickly opening to meet the demand, many of which were employing attractive local girls to dance and keep the patrons happy.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s Patpong had become infamous, gaining worldwide attention for its wild, anything goes nightlife and hedonistic promises, soon attracting single male travellers in search of love and pleasure. By now Patpong was not only the heart of the Bangkok red-light district but it was the city’s most popular nightlife spot, mostly for the seedy creative ‘girl shows’ that were taking place in many of bars above street level.
Patpong’s party vibe grew throughout the 1980s as more bars filled the streets, including some gay venues in nearby sois, and the creation of the annual Patpong Mardi Gras. However, at the height of its popularity the vibe suddenly began to change with the introduction of the Patpong night market, which covered most of the sidewalk space with market stalls and begun to attract a new breed of tourist. The change in atmosphere slwoly began to drive many of the red-light thrill-seekers to other parts of the city.
While the party vibe of Patpong was on the decline the fun and frolics over on a small Sukhumvit Soi were just starting to explode.
A Taste of the Wild West
During the late 1970’s a retired African-American by the name of T.G. Edwards, rarely seen without his trademark cowboy hat, begun opening a few foreign friendly bars on a small Sukhumvit backstreet. During the 1980’s the popularity of T.G.’s establishments grew, and what was a small cluster of bars, gogos and restaurants soon engulfed the whole Soi. With more and more gogo-lovers arriving from far and wide, the popularity of the sois exotic shows and dancers saw such venues expand, turning the street into the Vegas-esque adult playground it is today.
The cowboy theme and wild-west vibe was central to the Soi, gaining the streets its present day name, Soi Cowboy, with some of the original gogo bars still in business today, such as the Dollhouse and Midnight Bar. However, while Patpong had developed into a somewhat bizarre tourist attraction, Soi Cowboy was firmly becoming the expat’s stomping ground of choice, while more hedonistic travellers were being slowly drawn further up Sukhumvit Road.
A New Tourist Attraction
During the late 70s a small plaza was seeing a fairly slow trade with its drab collection of shops and restaurants on Sukhumvit soi 4. At the time the only bar to note was Lucky Luke’s, a nondescript beer bar close to the entrance, but in 1982, when work began commencing on the Ratchadapisek Road and Asoke intersection, several of the popular foreign friendly bars were forced to find a new home, relocating to this Soi 4 plaza, which is today known as Nana Plaza.
Led by Rainbow and Rosmary bar, this multi story courtyard building soon saw a brisk increase in trade with the introduction of the new gogo bars, slowly seeing the shops and restaurants being replaced by yet more neon lit bars with attractive dancing girls. The last restaurant finally shut shop in 2005, as Nana Plaza completed its transformation into the premier gogo destination of Bangkok, and what is now believed to be the largest such adult playground in the world.