The Patpong Museum: Red-Light Time Machine

What’s up internet? Bangkok Seven here. Today’s offering is an informal review of the recently-opened Patpong Museum on Patpong Soi 2 beneath Black Pagoda. And full disclosure: it’s going to be biased, because some of my artwork is hanging in there. But don’t let that sour you to this review, or to the museum itself, which is actually a delight. And although there’s some downright X-rated stuff in there, it’s also chock full of history. And I know what you’re going to say. “Meh, I don’t really care about the history of a red light district. In fact, wouldn’t a place like this only be of interest to whoremongers and sexpats?” The answer is, yes and no. Yes, there’s a lot of gogo memorabilia and an ample amount of pole dancer-related artifacts. But—and I didn’t actually learn this until I walked the museum—there’s a ton of significant history tied to Patpong, especially from the Vietnam War era and subsequent films, music, and lore. From the notorious Air America CIA front, whose offices were located on Soi 1—to the infamous Tony Poe, reputed to be the inspiration for Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now!” to the storied and still standing clandestine meeting points for secret agents: SuperStar and Madrid. Throw in “The Deer Hunter,” “Kickboxer,” and David Bowie’s visit to SuperStar (documented in the film “Serious Moonlight”), and you’ve got the start of a pretty stellar claim-to-fame list. Speaking of, one of the exhibits is a wall of silhouettes. Each represents the bust of a famous individual with a link to Patpong. Attached to the wall is a tablet that, when held up to a bust, shows a snippet about the celeb along with accompanying media, eg pictures and videos clips. Pretty clever.

The tour starts with the history of the Patpong family’s influence in the area and the creation of their empire. In the center of the next room is a miniature model of present-day Patpong, lovingly and painstakingly recreated with astounding detail. In fact, some of my close-up photos look barely discernable from pictures of the actual locations. There are even tiny pole dancers in the gogo bars. Honestly, I wish I could take it home. It’s that cool. (*There are more photos of the miniature at the bottom of this article.)

As one moves anti-clockwise and (ironically) chronologically through the museum, the next room is a functioning bar with a 3-D projection of a gogo dancer so real you’ll want to reach out and touch her. Adorning the walls are some of the actual photos that previously hung in Electric Blue a-Gogo. Speaking of, the old neon EB sign is hanging just beyond the bar, where you can also get an eyeful of a simulated ping-pong show, complete with actual ping-pong balls flying at your face. After that is a very stylish Patpong promotional video—well, I’m not sure if that’s the right word. It’s a montage of clips that captures the reddest of red-light aspects of the Pong, with excellent cinematography.

Next there’s a collection of photographs ranging from the fairly tame to the downright raunchy, and a fun interactive game we could call “guess which junk?” where you see a photo and try to guess whether it’s a lady or a ladyboy. Then lift up the photo to see if you’re right. Don’t worry—there isn’t a photo of their junk underneath. Just a blue or pink symbol that corresponds to their gender. On the wall opposite are perhaps the most provocative items in the museum: photos from the infamous BDSM club BarBar on Soi 2.

And last but not least, the tour ends with some Pong-related art. There’s one from Headache Stencil’s recent exhibition at The Candle Light Studio (also in Patpong), plus some erotic photos on glass, and finally a cluster of works by yours truly. They’re symbolic recreations of some current and past Patpong gogo dancers on acrylic, backlit with multi-color LEDs. And by the way, they’re for sale, if you’re in the market for that sort of thing.

The scope of the museum covers the entire history of Patpong, from humble farmland beginnings to wartime espionage hub to naughty nightlife hotspot. I haven’t done it justice here—there’s a lot more to see that I haven’t included, so the best thing to do is just head over yourself and have a gander. The entrance fee is 350 baht, and that includes a drink from the bar—so for the price of two cocktails in xXx Lounge, you get one cocktail and a journey back in time to experience the Pong’s colorful past. It’s like that movie “Hot Tub Time Machine” only there’s no hot tub, and instead there are half-naked women, celebrities, and American spy-craft everywhere. So I guess…it’s nothing like that movie. It’s better.

Until next time, friends…keep your balls warm, your beer cold, and cheers to the dedicated and talented owners of The Patpong Museum. It’s been a long, strange, seductive trip.