In Bangkok, the Patpong district, its spies and its “snake”

LETTER FROM BANGKOK

A sign of the times, Patpong, Bangkok’s girls’ bar district, now has its own museum. Because the three alleys of the emblematic place of the “gogo bar” are nothing but the shadow of themselves: the signs dangle here and there from the facades corroded by humidity. The Madrid Bar is barricaded. A homeless man laid his mat in front of the Iron Curtain of Glamor. Patpong, in a coma, did not recover from Covid-19. Construction sites near department stores threaten their survival. The Patpong Museum, which opened in October 2019, shortly before Covid-19, and was less affected by sanitation regulations than drinking establishments, is often the only entertainment.

The museum was born from an idea of ​​an Austrian, Michael Messner, who landed in Bangkok in 2001 at the age of 22. There he opened several bars under the wing of the district godfather, protected by senior army officers. The economic model of prostitution in Patpong has flourished thanks to a gray area of ​​the law: girls make the customer drink drinks, who pay a fixed price at the bar if he leaves with the lady. It is therefore up to them to negotiate prices with them in complete discretion. Key money is often sold at exorbitant prices to foreigners. The forty-year-old Austrian has maintained shares in the nightlife sector, but Covid-19 has finally decided to devote himself to his passion: the history of Patpong, these few streets still privately owned by the family of the same name. . His museum brings together thousands of archives, photos and objects.

It all began with a young Chinese man, Tun Poon, who arrived from Hainan at the end of the 19thAnd century. He took over his rice business from a relative in Bangkok and made a fortune by recovering a rice husk derivative from farmers, which was used in the then flourishing cement industry. His ingenuity was rewarded by King Rama VII: he ennobled him in 1927 with the name of Patpongpanich – abbreviated to Patpong.

Sent to the United States during World War II, his sons joined the Thai resistance movement in exile against the Japanese occupier. They were trained by the United States Office of Strategic Services, which became the CIA in 1947. They returned to Thailand in 1945 via Sri Lanka accompanied by an American intelligence officer, one Jim Thomson, who served in Bangkok undercover as hotel manager and silk entrepreneur, until his mysterious disappearance in 1967.

With the Vietnam War, Patpong is collapsing

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