Buddhist monks stand on the Sky Train next to prostitutes; a mother nurses her child in the street in front of her stall selling a startling array of sex toys; a man hustles on the street corner offering tourists a chance to see an infamous ‘ping pong show’, pausing every so often to pray at a nearby shrine.
I would always choose to undergo a baptism of fire rather than one of slow boiling and thus we chose accomodation in the Silom district near the infamous Patpong market for our first few days in Bangkok.
After crashing out for a few hours of heavenly air conditioned sleep, stepping out onto the humid, congested streets of Silom was an assault on already fragile senses. Like waking with a start and realising you’ve fallen asleep in a public place, we stumbled through the streets dazed and confused trying to remember what the taxi driver told us was the Thai way of saying ‘no thanks.’
As soon as the sun goes down, this neighbourhood comes alive with gay bars, strip clubs and ‘working girls and boys’ massage centres and on every corner of Silom the same utterance can be heard… ‘Ping pong, ping pong, you want ping pong?’
At first we hurried by, not without a lot of polite protestations ‘oh, umm, no thank you, no, not for me thanks’, but once you’ve engaged in some kind of back and forth you’ve had it. It escalates. They reel off a mind bending array of debauched deeds and try to lead you off somewhere at which point you have to physically escape. ‘I’m okay thanks, honestly, I’m in a hurry, umm okay, yes, maybe later, thanks’.
After a few beers the bravest of our party stopped to peruse one of the identical, laminated menus all of the men wave in your face. What he found on offer there I will never forget.
The first item on the menu ‘Pussy Ping Pong’ seemed pretty self explanatory as did ‘Pussy Coke Bottle’, especially alongside some incredible gesticulating and sound effects from our man on the corner. The further down the list we went, though, the more horrifying/hilarious (horrifyous? Hilarifying?) the choices became. ‘Pussy Rainbow’ had me puzzled while ‘Pussy Cat Banana’ gave me concerns about animal welfare. The prices ranged from around 300 baht (£6) up to around 800 baht for my personal favourite…’Pussy Writes Letter.’ Seriously. What utterances would said pussy pen? ‘HELP ME’, is the first plea that springs to mind.
As anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of female anatomy would know, most of the acts advertised are impossible to perform. Even with a lifetime of pelvic floor exercises. Could anyone be foolish enough to go along with one of these men? Would anyone want to? Well, yes, actually, a whole group of young men staying at the same hostel as we were though it was a brilliant idea, until they arrived at their destination and the jovial atmosphere suddenly changed. “She couldn’t even do it”, one of the lads peevishly declared, as though it was the poor woman’s inability to remove a serated metal lid from a glass bottle using her vagina that had spoiled his evening not the large sums of money they had all been forced to hand over or the broken hand his friend had to show for refusing to pay.
It all seems so comical, so silly at first, the sex trade in Bangkok. You can spot a sex tourist a mile off and the girls and boys on the streets look, if anything, bored. I never once felt shocked, only a little guilty at having such a laugh, momentarily forgetting that behind every laminated menu, every red lit doorway, there are young women and men who really don’t want to be there.