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My narrow escape from Bangkok’s Ping-pong sex show scams

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200 baht, 200 baht! I give you deal. Buy one drink and you see all the acts! You not get this kind price from anyone else.

This is what the skinny Thai man quoted, as he whipped out a laminated menu:

1.  Pussy shoots ping-pong balls

2.  Pussy blows balloons

3.  Pussy writes letter

4.  Pussy blows out candles

5.  Pussy sews

The list went on…

I was standing before the door of one of Bangkok’s infamous Patpong ping-pong shows, staring at a jaw-dropping menu of 25 acts!


A night in Bangkok’ s Patpong district…

Years ago, Bangkok’s Patpong district got a seedy rap for its sex industry, as age-washed, unattractive male tourists prowl young twenty-year old Thai bodies in exchange for baht. Today, not much has changed. It’s just gotten more commercial. Neon signs blaze over shady strip joints and Thai men openly approach men and women with ping-pong menus.

You see ping-pong show? I give you deal.

It’s all a hard sell.  Meanwhile, inside the club, young girls writhe around a silver pole, naked and dressed only in a thong bikini, looking as bored and lifeless as a grocery store girl, bagging groceries at the end of her shift or a 9-5 office drone, staring at her computer screen all day. It’s the least exciting and un-sexiest thing you can imagine and for them, it comes across as a chore.

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I didn’t have the balls- no pun intended – to go to the strip full solo. 

What gal isn’t a bit curious of women,  who can blow things out of their privates? It’s a rare talent.

I’d been to Bangkok four times within the past two years, hoping to find friends to go with. My fourth time to Bangkok was the charm.  I met three travelers (a Canadian girl and an American expat couple) with matching curiosities at my hostel.

 

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Pussy Power: Who knew there was so much untapped potential in my nether regions?

200 baht (around $6.50) and a drink was the deal we took for entrance fee. We walked upstairs to a lonely bar room. One male client, a tourist with a normal Thai girl, was sitting on the vinyl seats as 4-5 G-stringed girls of various shapes and sizes, danced on stage. We each ordered our drinks, but I couldn’t bring my lips to touching the cup.

As tourists, we stood out. We were of the freshest sport.

First act: “Pussy shoots ping-pong balls“.

The act was straight-forward. It didn’t lie.

Pft! Pft! Pft!

Ping pong balls came flying at our direction, bouncing off the floor and to our booth. We dodged.

After the act, the female performer came up to us to ask for tips and a drink. A ladyboy performer sat next to us, flirting and acting like a curious intermediary, and making us uncomfortable. He seemed shifty, like a secret club guard dog.

Second act: “Pussy blows out candles on a cake.

A cake was rolled out and lit with 6 high candles. A dancer with reading glasses (she must have bad eyesight) inserted a straw into her privates and proceeded to blow each candle out.

Done with her act, she expected retribution. She walked to us with an extended hand and a demanding, business-like demeanor.  We signaled “No”. She left mumbling rubbish Thai under her breath. We were cheap clients.

Third act: “Pussy knits

A ball of yarn is in the girl’s cootie and safety pins are pinned to her *owwee* place, as the girl knits with legs spread. Gross!

Though these acts were mesmerizing, by the fourth pussy act: “Pussy writes letters,” feelings of vomitous shame and guilt started to set in. Then came self-contempt and humiliation… It was barely five minutes into the show and our group was feeling queasy.

 

For a woman, ping-pong Pussy acts aren’t easy to watch.

The acts began to blur into one opaque wall of demeaning shame. This wasn’t the Las Vegas-type freak show entertainment we imagined it’d be. It wasn’t a fun show.

For ping-pong performers, these shows are a dull, dangerous and degrading job. You could feel the dirt of it, the lifestyle of scabs, scams and under-aged prostitutes, working for a club boss and meagerly getting by.  As tourists sitting and watching, we realized we were endorsing this kind of livelihood; feeding its existence !

Could we make it through 25 acts? No. The sixth act was our limit. Done!

 

What is the Patpong Ping pong show scam?

600 baht each?!

At the cashier’s counter, the bill had inflated three times the 200 baht quote. A short bull dyke manager emerged and pulled an excuse, that the sales guy outside didn’t quote the right price. Secretly, it boiled down to the fact, we hadn’t tipped the performers or bought more drinks.  Our refusal now prompted the dyke to put a lean on us by threatening mafia action! Our watchful ladyboy was now, her sidekick.  It was a scam.

My mind raced, Would they bar our exit next? Could they do anything in front of the other club visitors?

We huddled and quickly pooled our money together to decide upon a compromise. Our 6 foot tall token male, Richard, told the dyke we’d pay  200 baht extra as a group; afterall, we’d only been there for 5 minutes. Shoving the money into her hands, we all turned for a brisk escape, running down the stairs and out through the shopping stalls.

Whew!

How common are ping-pong bar scams in Thailand?

Fortunately, the scams I’ve encountered in past travels haven’t been physically or life threatening. Although I’ve come across my share of close calls and scares, I’ve found most con artists want money and don’t want to resort to violence to get it. Still, you never know…

I hadn’t read warnings about ping-pong scams before to know this was something to beware of. But after returning to my hostel and Googling it on the internet, I found what we experienced was common.

Many people, including two women I met later, have met a “dyke manager with a lady boy sidekick who barred their exit from the club until they paid” the extra money. One girl I met even said the manager locked the door in front of her and pushed her around a bit! Fortunately, no one was ever hurt. I guess I/we were lucky to be in a group of four with a male.

This was the one time I encountered a scam and was glad I wasn’t solo.

 

Ever experienced a scam while traveling? What are some of your scariest experiences?

 Note:  The flourishing of Bangkok’s sex industry fuels human trafficking and a modern-day slavery. By supporting these sex clubs and ping-pong shows, we’re encouraging this way of life. Interesting article from Pulitzer Center about the reality of these women  (here).

Note: Looking for things to do in this area alternatively, you may want to go to Patpong night market for souvenir shopping, there’s a lot of street vendors. Closer to the BTS Skytrain, there’s also many normal massage shops for tourists and a side street of street food, where you can sit at a stall and slurp on a bowl of noodles. I stay in this area a lot due to the sidewalk food vendors in the morning and tucked away in some of the side streets.

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Article by Christine Kaaloa

Christine is a solo traveler, blogger and YouTube vlogger, who shares travel advice, trip planning and survival tips and tricks on how to travel alone as a woman, live and work in South Korea and to follow your passion for travel.
Christine Kaaloa tagged this post with: , , , , , , , Read 526 articles by

54 Comments

  1. I applaud your honesty in dealing with this topic. Your final note is the most important part. The sex industry most definitely does “fuel human trafficking and modern-day slavery. By supporting these sex clubs and ping-pong shows, we’re encouraging this way of life.” Curiosity will certainly continue to be an issue for some, but I’m glad you are not so desensitized to not recognize the tragedy these shows represent. As another commenter stated, “if there was no market for the ‘products’ of human trafficking, there would be no human trafficking. It’s irresponsible tourism of the worst kind.” The shows are NOT just in fun. Someone IS getting hurt. And women are not there because they want to be. Avoiding the scam part of the show is of course desirable, but avoiding participating in or supporting the sex industry while traveling or while at home is even more important. Better yet, we can seek out human rights organizations and ngo’s working in this area. Hopefully your article will shed some light on this topic for other travelers.

  2. I had been very curious about this, but the only time I went to Patpong was with another German blogger, who told me it wasn’t worth it to go inside. I’m glad he dissuaded me. I know I would feel queasy too!

  3. Devon says:

    For the record, women aren’t the only ones who feel shame and contempt at a ping pong show. And though I’ve been dragged to a few, I’ve never been scammed, hassled, extorted, or threatened. One beer, no tips, and a smooth getaway every time. Then again, I’m not a tourist, so. . . . . . .

  4. PaulJ_Hunt says:

    I’m sorry if you think I’ve taken it to a morally chastising level. That wasn’t my intention, and I didn’t mean to cause offence. This is a subject that I’m really interested in and I meant for the discussion to take the form of gentle debate. I clearly failed in this and should have taken more care to monitor my tone- in retrospect, I fully appreciate why you’ve taken it that way, and how I could have come across as condescending. For this, I apologise.

    Great blog- keep up the good work! :-)

  5. PaulJ_Hunt says:

    @Christine Sorry the reply function wasn’t working. Thank you for your detailed response. I would like to respectfully disagree with your argument though.

    Agreed that experiences can shape your views on things, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, it’s possible that experiences only give you the small picture. For your experience to be truly meaningful, you would have to experience the details. Maybe if you started in Burma, living in the villages from which some of these girls come, examining the reasons they want to leave, asking their families how they feel about their daughters being taken away (or why they ‘sold their daughters, depending on the situation) then that would be a good start. Then you could tour Thailand, interview hundreds of girls working in these establishments, interview the owners of such places and the traffickers. Where would one single visit to a show fit in to this scenario?

    Of course, for most of us, this kind of research is impossible or impractical. That’s why we rely on the research of those with the opportunities, expertise and skills to carry it out. Granted, on many issues, two people can be just as qualified, have done as much research, and have had similar experiences but come to different conclusions on something. We all have different world views and our preconceptions help shape our opinions.

    This is not one of those issues though. I have never experienced or witnessed genocide, rape or slavery but strongly believe they are wrong. Does the fact that I haven’t seen these acts in real life make my opinion invalid? Likewise, views on human trafficking and Thailand’s sex trade are fairly unanimous. The only people with differing views are those without knowledge (e.g. ‘these women are there because they choose to be’) or the traffickers / club owners themselves (even they probably know it’s wrong but don’t care because there are profits to be made). It’s not an untested principle because thousands of journalists and NGOs (of all kinds of beliefs) have tested it, and all come to similar conclusions. If I visit a ping pong show, I’m not adding to that body of research: I’m testing how it makes me feel, and nothing else. It’s a completely self-centric action, ignoring the bigger picture.

    I don’t need to put my finger in a plug socket to know that I may get electrocuted. This reasoning might work if I was a child, but as an adult I’m perfectly capable of making sensible decisions- and I also realise that not all decisions revolve around me.

    Finally, agreed that one of the reasons people vacation is to escape responsibilities. But this tends to mean responsibilities at home- their job etc –not responsibilities towards the local surroundings. The latter is just normal human decency. This is something we exercise at home- we always attempt in our own countries, to behave and interact in a way that’s morally appropriate. This is even more important abroad- particularly in developing countries- firstly, because we are a guest in someone else’s country, and more importantly because that country has different (and often more severe) issues than our own.

    Contrary to your belief that “not everyone feels a ‘responsibility’ in tourism,” most people that I know do. This doesn’t in anyway detract from the experience- in fact it usually enhances it. We should always be sensitive to local issues and try not to perpetuate local problems.

    • @PaulJ_Hunt: I think you misunderstood what I’ve said in my response and are now taking it to a morally chastising level, which I don’t appreciate.

      My “personal beliefs” have been ‘untested’ up until that point. (is what I meant)

      Also, in short, each individual is free to make their own choices in life. I come from different belief/background and I’m responsible for my own life and actions. No one can tell another person how to live, believe or think. To do so would be egocentric, largely hypocritical and offensive. You don’t know me at all to tell me what choice I should’ve made. I’m not you.

      True, I wasn’t looking at the ‘bigger picture’ of my actions at the time. But I won’t apologize for that.

      If you and ALL of the people you know, feel a high moral responsibility towards tourism ‘all the time’ as you’re coming across and you’ve never committed an action, which ‘hurt’ or ‘wronged’ another human being, I applaud you. But I highly doubt that.

      Yes, we should be sensitive to local issues and not perpetuate local problems, but we have no right telling other people how to live their lives either. People must always choose of their free will.

  6. This is one of the strangest stories I have read lately. It is amazing that they have a list of 25 acts that they can do. Maybe they should turn this into an Olympic event.

  7. twitter_PaulJ_Hunt says:

    This is a great piece, and an honest account. I also understand the curiosity. What gets me, is this section though:

    “The acts began to blur into one opaque wall of demeaning shame. This wasn’t the Las Vegas-type freak show entertainment we imagined it’d be. It wasn’t a fun show. For ping-pong performers, these shows are a dull, dangerous and degrading job. You could feel the dirt of it.”

    I don’t understand why you didn’t realise this before, or if you did, why it didn’t stop you going. As you note at the end, many are victims of human trafficking. It’s possible that these girls were lured away from their homes, to escape poverty and dictatorship in Burma, with the promise of a job in Thailand before being forced to work in these shows and as a prostitute. I’ve been to Bangkok, and being aware of this fact, would never have dreamt of indulging in it. As tourists, we should not encourage- if there was no market for the ‘products’ of human trafficking, there would be no human trafficking. It’s irresponsible tourism of the worst kind. You don’t have to be female to realise that. The most important aspect of this article is not the scam, as many people who’ve commented seem to believe.

    As I mentioned before though, I think it’s an excellent piece and I like the honesty.

    • @Paul: Thanks for leaving a comment.

      “I don’t understand why you didn’t realise this before, or if you did, why it didn’t stop you going.”

      Totally valid question.

      I don’t always know what I stand for until I experience it. Responsibility towards ‘sex trafficking’ actually wasn’t my first objective. It was my curiosity & desire for spectacle– I’d heard about the acts and frankly, I couldn’t believe they’d be real. Can women seriously, really do those things with their vagina? And I was also sincerely curious about these women and their lives, so I wanted to get closer.
      .
      You can read about things and intellectually draw a conclusion based on principle, but until you actually experience it, it’s an untested principle and self-belief. ONly after seeing the acts, did it impact me hard. I felt strong emotion/reaction and THAT made me question what I’ve contributed to. I had no idea I’d react to it the way I did.
      .
      Its like your mom saying don’t put your finger in the socket. Some people obey what mom says and that’s law based on someone elses theory. In my house, my dad (an electrician) said– “stick your finger in there… you will get shocked & it’ll hurt for a while, but you should know exactly what an electrical shock feels like, so you know why to never put your finger in there.”
      .
      Obviously, not everyone feels a ‘responsibility’ in tourism. On a realistic level, it’s not peoples’ first priority. For many tourists, taking a vacation and getting away means an escape from responsibility. I accept that even after reading this, there will be some who will be like me and need to stick their finger in the socket to learn how to become more responsible tourists.

      I appreciate your comment. Thanks for calling me on that! =-)

  8. I’ve lived in Thailand for years and yet I have never had the desire to go and see one of these shows. I’m always intrigued by the more obscure items on the menu. “Pussy writes letter”… what the heck is that? Can I have it made out to anyone I choose, and even have it personalized? If I ever see “Pussy writes original Shakespearean Sonnet” my curiosity may be too much.

    • @Lawrence: My curiosity has been de-spelled. The imagined version is so much slicker and fanciful than the actual thing and then when you see it, it’s like ‘Doh, what was I expecting?’. I think if you asked a pussy to write a sonnet or personalize the letter, you’d probably have to pay more. I”m sure it can be done, albeit, don’t expect to look beautiful. Pussy writes, but it’s as good as a child’s handwriting.

  9. Arianwen says:

    I got invited into one of these shows when I was in Thailand but I couldn’t bring myself to go in. I ended up with a bucket on Khao San Road instead! I encountered a lot of scams though. Taxis would agree a price for two people and then say at the end that the agreed price had been ‘per person’ or people would lie and say the place you wanted to go was closed so you were more likely to buy from them instead. And they all knew if we were on an island we would have to pay the high prices for the boat because we had no other option! It was a big contrast with Malaysia, where people offered us lifts and didn’t expect anything in return.

    • @Arianwen: I guess you must be pretty scam saavy by now. ;-) Yeah, sadly I hear a lot of stories about travelers getting scammed in Thailand. For me, the border scams are almost unavoidable; the Thai are crafty folk. A friend who’s lived in Thailand and loves the culture once said that– for the Thai, even though many are devout buddhists, non-violent scamming is not considered a crime or sin. If they can trick you into giving them your money, then it shows how crafty and smart they were. Don’t know if it’s true but it sounds possible when you see how quickly many of them rebound with a smile.

  10. Waegook Tom says:

    Eeek! That sounds dangerous and, well, disgusting. I mean….sewing?! I think I’d have vommed into the ladyboy’s lap. Glad you managed to get out unscathed.

  11. I never really made it there when I was in Bangkok. Not sure if I wanted to see it … and the Thai men on Khao San were so annoying with ”ping pong show, ping pong show” …

  12. Joe says:

    If you’re talking about the club in the first picture, then me and my friend also experienced a scam there. It was slightly different though, in that there was no show on offer, beyond a few topless dancers. Like you, we were told outside that it was 200 baht for a drink with a free show. When we got inside, the drinks were 200 baht, but they tried to ask us to pay 1000 baht between us for the show (3 bored-looking dancers swaying lifelessly to music). We protested, and when they insisted on the money, we just swiftly walked out and didn’t look back. I think my friend left the money for the beer he drank, whereas I hadn’t touched mine, so I didn’t bother. We also later got the chance to undermine one of the con men’s sales pitches, which was fun.

    But then this was just one of about a million attempts to rip us off in Thailand. And it’s not just the seedier industries that are doing it.

    • @Joe: Glad you got out safe and that you got mild retribution on your salesmen. When we got out, the guy was nowhere to be found! I guess that’s just the going rate, but for No Show, even? Wow.

  13. Tom Bartel says:

    I was a journalist for a time and wrote about “sex workers” on more than one occasion. The vast majority of them are virtual slaves, especially if they’re in a country other than their own. Just say no.

  14. Laura in Cancun says:

    I always thought those shows would be more funny than sad. :( We have a plaza here in Cancun that’s pretty much a mall filled with strip clubs. We used to go from time to time, but we stopped awhile back when we found out how close they were with the local drug cartels. Don’t want to support that.

  15. Bruce says:

    I was in Bangkok several times in the late 60s and early 70′s. One time I hired a Mercedes taxi and driver and rode from Korat to Bangkok. I was walking around near the Klong and met a Thai who spoke perfect English. He said the King and Queen were going to be at one of the temples that did and asked if I wanted to see them. Got on a river boat with them and in the middle of the river the boat captain demanded more money or he would throw me in the river. I paid and was taken to the temple. No King and Queen. The Thai was apologetic, but I realized he was in on the whole thing. I’m surprised that they didn’t try to steal my Pentax camera that I was carrying.

    • @Bruce: wow, glad to hear the camera is still in your possession and you’re still alive! On my way to the Golden Palace, two tuk-tuk drivers told me I was going in the wrong direction and that they’d take me (mind you, I was one block from the Golden Palace but didn’t know at the time). I knew something was fishy and had read there was a scam diverting tourists away from the palace. So I playfully scolded them “Aha, you’re trying to trick me. I know I’m going in the right direction. haha…” I’m stubborn when it comes to following my own route- right or wrong. They knew they’d been caught and just laughed and let me on my way.

  16. Andrea says:

    Whew is right – that would have completely scared me. I’m too much of a germaphobe to go into one of those places in the first place – reading this made me cringe a little, haha

  17. Well like I said it’s very under the rug the only reason I know about it is because I sought out the information on my own. I know many of them are promised work as performers or singers and then end up working in a karaoke place or what is known as a “juicy bar”.

  18. Thanks, I’ll know to avoid the ping pong scam artists when we go to Bangkok.

    I guess I’ve been fortunate that we haven’t been scammed when traveling. But it’s probably because we’ve had a local friend who’s able to warn us about any potential pitfalls.

    • @Nate: I envy that you have a local friend to give you insider tips! Travel scams are unfortunate, but they also present interesting challenges and different perspectives when you do experience them. Each time I walk into one, I become just a little more streetwise. Still, an uncomplicated trip is so much better!

  19. Erm, the next time you need someone to go with you to one of these establishments, do give me a shout ha ha.

    Would have loved to done a story here too, but a single guy with camera in that part of town usually gets more hassle than it’s worth. Next time eh!

  20. Korea has a huge problem with trafficking. I myself have been mistaken for a Russian prostitute multiple times as have many of my friends who are blonde. There are shelters in most cities in Korea for women who have been victims of this type of thing. Also on my walk home from school I walk by the red light district and there are literally whole blocks of women in these like human terrariums waiting for a customer and they cannot leave their “cage”. Although, I believe at least some of them are Korean – not that it really matters their nationality. Even the US army is given briefings on this stuff so it’s obviously a known thing. Korea has a very interesting way of sweeping things under the rug whereas places like Thailand are very open about it.

    • @Orange: Wow, I feel like I learn something new everyday! The red light district- yeah, I seen pictures of those but I didn’t really know how it ran with Russian prostitutes and other foreign girls. I know they “bring them over”? but wasn’t certain if it was a kidnapping case or they were being held against their will. Same with the mail order brides that I’ve heard rumor about. The world is a crazy place.

  21. Tim from New Zealand says:

    Scams? Bangkoks got ‘em all. Tuk Tuk’s are a huge rip. Often they’ll way overcharge the price (relative to a metered taxi) of a fare, or try and divert you to a ‘silk factory’ where they pressure you into buying ‘top quality’ are argue insistently sometimes even physically. The tuktuk drivers get paid a commission of petrol for every visitor they bring.

    As a general rule, I found that if you’re in a Buddhist country and someone approaches you speaking English, its quite possibly a scam of some sort.

    P.S – I can’t imagine anything of this sort happening in Korea… I hope to be there teaching English soon.

    • @Tim: I think that’s why I try to avoid tuk-tuks. But thinking about it, actually, you’re reminding me that Thailand does seem to have a lot of border scams too. I remember reading Almost Fearless’ article on the scam they encountered at the Thai/Cambodia crossing. I tried to avoid a scam when crossing myself. I escaped the visa scam but still encountered a transportation scam. Seems the Thai are always trying to get the money before it crosses over to countries like Laos and Cambodia.

      Korea tends to be relatively safe. I’m sure there are people trying to make an extra buck in every country, but I haven’t encountered much of that in Korea. Good luck on your move there.

  22. They pull this same act on every newbie. If you refuse and only pay the quoted price they will eventually leave you alone. Once is definitely enough for the Patpong experience.

  23. I wonder if you are really “promoting” any kind of lifestyle by being there as far as I know none of them are forced into this line of work. Although maybe some are. In Korea we have a lot of trafficking of women in that way many of which come from Thailand. It’s always revolting and sad to see other humans abuse each other like that. Glad you got out ok though!

    • @Orange: As foreigners, I think there’s a lot we don’t know about their economy and lifestyle choices, but I personally, felt my actions were supporting a sex industry and human trafficking and I didn’t consider that at the time. But it hit me in the club. I don’t think these women dream of becoming ping-pong pussy entertainers; it is a dangerous job and some of these women are injured in the process. The article I’ve just posted has an interesting angle on this issue.

      I don’t think ” human trafficking” is a problem in Korea as it is in Southeast Asia. Korea does bring in a lot of Asian foreigners who do that work though & you’re right in that regard. Koreans always say these people are Thai, Vietnamese or Philippines. Any sort of human degradation is sad. =(

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