The Turtle & The Whore: A Downward Spiral into Bangkok’s Red-light Underworld
DISCLAIMER: While the following events, places, and conversations have been depicted as loyally as possible, I’ve taken artistic liberty in distorting the debauched individuals involved, to protect both their identities and their dignity… Like my brother Sean, whom I’ve renamed “Mark.”
Nothing says “Bangkok” like a baritone transvestite belligerently peddling hand jobs outside a 7-11… except for maybe a stripper penning a letter with her genitals… or a leather-clad Siamese beauty riding on the back of a naked slave in a clown mask. But I didn’t know about those things yet.
The hot, sticky night air pulsed with a hundred bass systems. My friends Kurt, Mark, and I stared down into the seedy, red glow of Patpong—Bangkok’s infamous pleasure district—a vast, waking nightmare of neon, whisky, and gonorrhea.
Go-go dancers blew kisses. Vendors waved novelty condoms, brass-knuckles, and Tasers. Balding sex tourists plowed through the crowd with their distended guts, clearing a trail for their beautiful, pubertal hookers in tow. These timeworn perverts were the white whales to Chris Hanson’s Ahab, evading To Catch A Predator simply because they were too old to understand chat rooms.
A crooked-toothed hobbit leapt in our path. “Hello, wait!” he cried, thrusting a yellow card in our faces. It looked important. I squinted.
It was a drink promotion for a go-go bar—a Chang beer and a Thai hooker firing darts out of her twat for only three dollars and your conscience.
“This is important,” I declared.
“Indeed,” nodded Mark.
“Yes,” Kurt concurred.
Not that we’re perverts or anything.
Honestly. I don’t get my rocks off watching a prostitute spit darts, smoke cigarettes, or dice a banana using her shabby, annihilated vagina. This was curiosity, more like seeing a chicken fetus with three heads. In my eyes, Patpong was a depraved, vomit-stained hole in the earth—I just wanted to see the bottom of that hole. I wanted to scour its godless warrens and witness unspeakable shit, to glimpse the darkest, most deviant recesses of the human psyche. I wanted to watch a naked midget funneling boiling fish oil into a nun’s asshole. And I wanted to document it for the betterment of my readers.
“Special ping-pong show!” cried the man, making a suggestive popping noise with his lips. “You come,” he waved, beckoning us into the crush.
It’s interesting to note that the only overweight girls in Thailand seem to be the strippers.
Our eyes adjusted to the dim, pink-and-purple classiness of ‘Super Pussy.’ A smoky dance beat cooed as a stripper dozily gyrated her hips on stage. She had the face of a pterodactyl and a body that suggested she enjoyed a good cupcake.
“This way, sit please,” barked a surly, old Thai woman, gesturing us to a front-row table. “Super Pussy show starting now.”
As we settled into our seats, someone handed the stripper a bamboo blowgun. She then collapsed onto her ass, jammed the blowgun into her crotch, scrunched her face, and THOOMP! Fired a dart across the bar, popping a balloon.
Before we could process this, we were attacked—Thai bargirls, at least fifteen strong, exhibiting the beauty and grace of Viking warlords. They swarmed to sit on our laps, squabbling for our attention, pawing at our balls. It was like Hungry, Hungry Hippos, except with more painted eyebrows and fishnet.
“Hello you so nice where you from?” “You buy us rum?” “You so handsome!” “You buy us whiskey?” “I like you!” “You buy us vodka?”
“AH!” cried Kurt, batting them away.
A tray appeared at our table laden with cocktails. The girls handed us whiskey-cokes before grabbing their own.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “But we’re not paying for all these.”
“You do shots with us! You so tall!”
“No thank you,” I walked away to the bar. “Can we get three of the Chang drink specials?”
“What you talk about?” grimaced the surly, old woman. “No drink special.”
“The promoter who brought us here told us three dollars for a Chang.”
She folded her arms. “Chang beer ten dollars.”
“That man no work here.”
“Yes, he does.”
“Yes, he does.”
“No. No work here.”
“Yes. You pay him commission. He had a sign and everything.”
“Are you telling me that man went out of his way to lure us here just for his own amusement?”
“So then he’s some sort of philanthropist? He just goes around all day promoting local businesses? Does he lead tourists to his favorite dry cleaners?”
“CHANG BEER TEN DOLLARS.”
“We’ll give you three dollars or we’re leaving.” Mark stood behind me. “This is a scam!” he deduced.
The old woman scowled. “You pay three dollar, then you sit in back!” She pointed to a table next to the bathrooms.
“No!” Mark protested.
I glanced to the stage, where a new stripper was exuding boredom. Someone handed her a beer bottle, which predictably found its way to her crotch. She used her kegel muscles to dispatch the bottle cap. Then she tumbled onto her back, plunged the neck of the bottle deep inside of her, and began ‘chugging’ the beer through her cooch. Once emptied, she removed the bottle, scrunched her face, and unleashed a projectile mist of beer foam, spraying the two men seated at the table next to ours. They shrieked as if it were boiling acid.
“We’ll sit in the back!!” I declared, “We’ll take the back.” I fumbled change out of my wallet.
From across the empty bar we watched a demented variety show unfold. Some of the pussies could smoke cigarettes. Others composed letters, with excellent vaginal penmanship. One could blow out a candle. Another produced a twenty-foot long, rainbow ribbon.
Then a glass tank of water was pushed into the spotlight. A frumpy woman appeared, squinting with intense focus, waddling uncomfortably. She stopped at center stage and lifted her arms for dramatic effect. Everyone in the bar stared uneasily. It was like an awkward magic show. I was half-expecting her to pull a live rabbit or a dove out of her twat, but no.
It was a turtle.
She scrunched her face and THOOMP! Fired out a shell like it was Mario Kart. It splashed into the glass tank and began furiously paddling to escape.
“Mmm,” Kurt shook his head. “This is pretty tame.”
“WHAT,” I cried.
Mark nodded. “Yeah, man. You should have seen the show we went to on New Years.” He tipped back his beer. “This chick came out on stage and got down on all fours. Then this guy came out, and they start playing that Enrique Iglesias love song. You know the one? ‘Oh I can be your hero, baby.’ It’s all sweet and shit and they’re kissing. But the guy gets behind the girl and he just starts reaming her. Like really hard and raunchy. Then he starts drilling her back door, and this sappy love song is playing on repeat. ‘I can take your breath away.’ And she’s like moaning her head off… Yeah,” Mark gloated. “We were the only ones in the bar.”
“That was pretty tame too,” sighed Kurt.
“No, what–” Mark started to object, but stopped. While Mark and I were only visiting, Kurt had been living in Bangkok for several years.
“If you guys want to see the really crazy stuff,” he said, “We have to go to ‘BarBar’ or ‘Demonia.’” Suddenly his gaze fell, as if having a war flashback.
Four beers and a pitcher of margaritas later, we were standing under a large mural depicting a woman in a leather harness riding on the back of a naked man in a clown mask. To the right of this painting, a dark staircase ascended to a black door. To enter this door, one must pay forty-dollars—a financial impossibility by my watch. Fortunately, I am a skilled bullshitter.
I flashed my hokey business card and proclaimed that I was a travel writer researching an article on Bangkok’s sex industry. I said that I wanted to interview the owner and take notes on the establishment. I then sealed the deal by waving my moleskin officiously.
They let us in for free.
Each of us were handed a shadow-black jacket—the club’s mandatory dress code.
The owner of Bangkok’s most hallowed fetish club was a friendly, articulate Belgian named Michael. “It’s slow right now, so I can answer some questions,” he smiled, leading us up the stairs. “You guys want some beers? It’s on the house.”
The door opened to what appeared to be a horror movie set—blood red and black, dim and sinister, sculls and candles, leather and mirrors, a loudspeaker moodily humming scary music. Restraints and torture implements cluttered the walls. Cages and harnesses dangled from the ceiling. An antechamber had been eerily renovated to look like a hospital room, replete with stethoscopes and an operating table.
“This is very nice,” I attempted. “The ambience is… it is good. Yes.”
There was a wooden table near the bar, on which sprawled a naked, pretty Thai girl. A dolled-up dominatrix stood over her, dribbling hot candle wax across her chest. They both moaned, while a third girl used her perky breasts to spread the hot wax around.
A pensive-looking white man sat in a nearby armchair, admiring their teamwork.
The rest of the club was completely empty.
“So what did you want to talk about?” Michael asked, pulling up a barstool.
I put on my glasses and opened my moleskin. “Mmm, let’s see,” I nodded, feigning professionalism and sobriety. I didn’t have any questions. “Where to begin… Well, so… What… What type of stuff goes on here?”
Michael raised an eyebrow. “It’s a fetish bar,” he said.
Kurt and Mark hid their faces.
“Interesting,” I noted, jotting this down in my moleskin. An awkward silence followed.
Michael shifted his weight. “The… girls do feet mostly, then pain. They also like costumes, candle play, bondage… watersports… dildos.”
I scribbled journalistically. “Mm. Dildos. Interesting… What’s the freakiest thing you’ve ever seen here?”
“If you’re writing an article, I think there are more important issues we can discuss.”
“Indeed…” I drunkenly adjusted my glasses. “Do animals get involved?”
Michael said nothing.
“My readers want to know.”
“You know, man,” sighed Michael, “It’s close-minded attitudes like that which cause all our problems. When we talk about the sex industry, everyone suddenly becomes so puritanical. This is something that needs to be seriously discussed. Women are being hurt and exploited.”
My gaze slowly drifted to the two girls eating candle wax off their co-worker’s breasts. “Don’t you think that’s a little hypocritical?” I asked.
Michael seemed surprised. “How so?”
“I mean, you started a club that deals in exploiting and trafficking sex.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know how to put this delicately…” I gestured towards the girls, who were now decorating their nipples with alligator clips.
“Ha! The sex industry is not sex trafficking. That’s like comparing pharmacy care to drug smuggling. All the bars in Patpong are heavily policed. The girls run the show here and nothing is forced.”
“Interesting,” I scribbled in my book. “Prostitution… Is… Like… Pharmacy… Care… Except it’s completely illegal, right?”
“The UN pressured a ban, but Thailand is very open-minded about sexuality and prostitution has been accepted here for centuries. The law is never enforced. Especially now that it’s a $4.3 billion dollar industry. That’s three percent of the whole GDP!” Michael laughed. “Three percent!”
“Interesting,” I huffed. “I guess prostitution is pretty okay then.”
“If we can change our attitudes towards legalization, then everything can be regulated and controlled. That’s what most of the charity groups are working for.”
I tried to imagine the Red Cross airdropping sequined panties and hooker boots on an underprivileged village. “No!”
I shook my head. “This is a problem.”
“It’s not a problem. Not if we could monitor wages and apply safety regulations for disease and abuse.” Michael peeled the label off his beer. “Thailand is a manufacturing giant, yet the factories pay laborers nothing and provide terrible working conditions. The economy is so rich that it runs on surplus, but it’s not sharing that wealth across society. That’s the problem. These girls earn more money in a night than most Thais make in a month. People just demonize it because they have unfair perceptions of Patpong.”
Mark smirked. “I can’t imagine.”
“Sure, many of the girls are from poor areas. But many are also students, or have other stories.”
“MReoow,” came a strange noise. Everyone looked down. Nuzzling against Michael’s leg and crawling on all fours was a pretty, olive-skinned maniac in a leather bodysuit.
“Sawatee krap,” greeted Michael.
“What matters,” he turned back to us as if nothing had happened, “Is that the girls are in control. My girls all have their own specialties and preferences. And at the end of every night they make a fortune. They enjoy what they do.”
“MReoow!” the woman cried, burying her face in Michael’s lap.
We stared in alarm, but Michael found this outburst precious, patting her on the head. He turned to us with a wholesome grin. “You see, we’re like a family here.”
“Bhum, do you want to give our guests a tour of the intimate rooms?”
The woman rose on two feet and led us up a staircase, into a series of themed torture chambers. Bhum only spoke a few words of English, but we could tell that she was kind, sprightly, and completely detached from reality. Occasionally she’d point to a torture device and eagerly demonstrate it on herself, just for posterity.
Eventually we reached a chamber where an iron cage dangled on a chain. Bhum opened the cage door, ever smiling, and gestured us to crawl inside.
She gestured again, grinning with frightening intensity.
I crawled in and she locked the door. She then climbed on top of the cage, where she quietly stared down at me through the bars. This lasted for an awkward minute, before she announced that the tour was finished.
We were about to walk out the front door when Michael called out, “You still want to know the weirdest thing I’ve seen here?” He leaned forward conspiratorially and we huddled in. “We see all sorts of different fetishes here, some more unusual than others, but on a primal level they all boil down to dominance and submission. There’s this one Japanese guy, really nice guy, very quite and polite. And the only thing in the world that brings him to climax is smashing handfuls of birthday cake in a woman’s face. It’s better than sex for him, you should see his face. Every two or three weeks he flies all the way from Japan just to come here with his cakes. He’s a regular. Most of our clients are, because this is a safe place for folks like them. That’s why we’re here, to give shelter and outlet for sexual deviancy. Instead of going out and assaulting or raping someone, these people can come here, where we provide them decency and privacy. So why is that so bad?”
I shifted my weight. “Maybe because… poverty-stricken women don’t want to have cake smashed in their faces.”
“But if the client is happy and the girls are happy, why is that a problem?”
I didn’t have an answer. “I agree with your points. But we don’t live in a perfect world where things are always so simple and linear. Tonight I saw a woman play ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ on a recorder hanging out of her pussy. And people clapped… They smiled and clapped…” My gaze fell.
“When we have people being told that their choice of profession makes them worthless, and law enforcement is driving it so far underground that the chance of something bad happening increases exponentially, it’s a recipe for disaster… but I just don’t know if our society is ready to have a level headed conversation about this.” Michael looked away. “I don’t know what kind of article you’re going to write.”
“Neither do I,” I said.
Two months later, I still don’t know.
I know that Patpong is a depraved, vomit-stained hole in the earth.
I know what awaits at the bottom of that hole, and at what price you shall find it.
Some nights my dreams turn foul and I awaken in the darkness, thrashing and screaming amongst damp sheets, my head aflame with white-hot images involving a turtle.
For more ethically questionable misadventures, take a trip to China’s Dwarf Kingdom in: “Three Words: Midget. Theme. Park.”
For more genital euphemisms, laugh at my horrific fate in “The Mystery of the Immaculate Herpes”