Two Streets, a Genre and a Rich Tapestry that Spawned the Thailand that most Tourists will ever know
Patpong is one of the regions best known red light districts and over the decades people from all over the world have passed through Patpong 1 and 2 and taken away memories, anecdotes and tales that take some beating.
This very valuable yet massively underdeveloped piece of Bangkok real estate has the history and heritage that is suggested by the gnarly streets and the inch-thick dust on some bar fixtures that could serve as forensic Pandora’s box of old DNA and carbon dating.
You get the feeling that while in some of these bars that they have seen it all, or at least someone there has.
What’s in a Name?
Patpong is named after the family that bought the land in 1946. A Chinese immigrant from Hainan Island was given the name, “Patpongpanich” by the King of Thailand. He apparently bought the land for an estimated US$ 24k to build houses for the family between the Silom and Suriwong roads. This was to become Patpong 1. Prior to the family ownership that still exists today, the area was a Japanese military headquarters in World War II and it is said that they flattened a banana plantation to build there.
In the late 60’s with the influx of multi-national companies and military personnel from the United States and other countries, the soi quickly burst into life, witnessing a rapid succession of leisure provision establishments opened up between ’68 and ’73: restaurants, bars, clubs and massage parlours quickly filled the shop house units and then spilled into what is now known as Patpong 2.
Dispelling Early Myths
It is important to point out that at this time, your GI’s from Vietnam who were rumoured to be responsible for this explosion of entertainment were actually spending their dollars and their time at New Petchburi Road, Bangkok. Foreign correspondents, company employees, embassy personnel and Air Force pilots and foreigners that were based in Thailand typically made up the Patpong crowd. Most American servicemen never saw anywhere else other than New Petchburi Road in Bangkok and this was by design.
Patpong at this time was, by comparison, rather refined, partly due to the white collar clientele and the overseas concept that the business owners of Patpong had of them. The Thai headquarters for most major airlines and multi-nationals such as Shell were all in this area and the adjacent streets and buildings as it formed the CBD then. Businesses were keen to match demand with not only supply but with substance and this was headed by the Patpongpanich family’s heir and most famous son, Khun Udom.
Udom studied overseas and from ’36 to ‘46 he lived in London, Minnesota and Hong Kong. A man that is fondly remembered by all who met him he was popularly known as a shrewd yet larger-than-life, flamboyant businessman who passed away in 1996 aged 79.
A surprising number of businesses that opened in the early days of Patpong, as we know it, still exist today and like characters in our life, some have aged well and others haven’t. The King’s Group (unrelated to the Royal Family) were the first major joint venture that helped bring noticeable success. They were another Chinese family who leased many properties from Udom and then developed their own venues to either run themselves or sub-let out to foreigners wishing to live the dream and make a go of it themselves in what was a very exciting capital city and regional hub.
By Kevin Goldsmith
*This article is the 1st of a 3 part series about Patpong