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The famous red-light district of Patpong grew up in Bangkok behind the scenes of the Vietnam War, where while spies organized their clandestine operations, the enclave became a stop on the sex tourism route.

A long History documented and exhibited for the first time at the Patpong Museum, located in one of the narrow alleys of the area and marked by lupanares, through antiques, clippings, photographs, videos and original documents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States.

Although today the district has lost the luster of yesteryear and undergoes a period of decadence of time and the take off of new prostitution zones, the Austrian businessman Michael Messner, owner of the museum, predicts a prosperous future.



Patpong: Bangkok's most famous red light district

"Over the years Patpong has been reconverting. Now there are more art galleries and restaurants, While many brothels have closed. There is an evolution towards an audience of greater sexual diversity and I hope that in 4 or 5 years we can organize here the first gay pride parade in Thailand"indicates the curator of the sample.


From plantation to red light district

Through several rooms distributed on one floor, the museum traces a timeline on the development and evolution of the neighborhood, which went from being in the 1950s a banana plantation on the outskirts of the city to becoming the refuge and center of operations of the CIA during the Vietnam War and operations in Laos.

"My first draft of the museum dates from 2006, when I started to inquire about the history of the neighborhood and treasure numerous related objects. Although we gave the great impulse to open the room three years ago, "says the Austrian, who also runs several hostels in Patpong.

A visitor to the Patpong Museum with an interactive game of 'ping pong' in Bangkok.

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Udom Patpongpanich, the firstborn of a family of Chinese immigrants who established business ties with the Thai monarchy since the dawn of the twentieth century, is considered the architect of this neighborhood.

Disciple of American spy turned into Thai silk tycoon Jim Thompson at the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA), Udom returned to Thailand during World War II to join the resistance fighting the Japanese occupation.

After the end of the contest, his family acquired in 1948 in exchange for about 2,950 dollars (2,675 euros) the plot where Patpong now sits and the Thai used his connections to develop a commercial district where American companies set up their first delegations in Thailand.

Vietnam War

The current Patpong Museum is located in the same space where in 1953 the American computer company IBM established its first office in the country, says Messner.

A photograph of CIA officer Tony Poe at the Patpong Museum in Bangkok.

A photograph of CIA officer Tony Poe at the Patpong Museum in Bangkok.

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He CIA agent Anthony Poshepny, known as Tony Poe and in charge of training a secret army in Laos During the Vietnam War, he is one of the characters that lavish throughout the gallery, where he highlights a photograph of his meeting at the Madrid Bar -a CIA free floor- with other spies.

In the heat of the constant influx of soldiers and workers, among them pilots of the Civil Air Transport airline -property of the CIA-, the first bars were established, some run by former combatants They were reluctant to leave the country.

Among them the ex-pilot of the American Air Forces Rick Menard, who, in the words of the owner of the museum, founded in 1969 the first gogó bar after a dispute over licenses with the authorities.

Tourists and celebrities

The increase of the houses of lenocinio, coincided with the opening of the country to tourism.

Thai tour guide Sucky points to a map of Bangkok at the Patpong Museum.

Thai tour guide Sucky points to a map of Bangkok at the Patpong Museum.

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A young man David Bowie appears in the Moonlight tour video, in 1983, in one of the area's lupanares, also visited by actors such as Hugh Grant or Robert De Niro or more recently by the Kendall Jenner model.

The last part of the museum – whose entrance includes a drink and costs 350 baht (about 10 euros) – is reserved for a more explicit section and where there are no references to ping-pong shows, which are still one of the main attractions in the neighborhood for adults.

"The objective is show visitors the secrets of Patpong and at the end of the tour of the museum observe the neighborhood in a different way knowing the history of the district, "Messner ditches. Although prostitution is illegal under the conservative laws of Thailand, the practice of this vast sector that moves billions every year is evident throughout the country.