The seedy side of Bangkok: Nana Plaza

Written by on January 30, 2013 in Asia, Blog, Thailand - 14 Comments

The girls stand around poles, clad in tiny bikinis, looking entirely uninterested at the crowd of mostly expats (and sexpats) who sit around the stage, sipping watered down drinks and gawking.

Daniel and I were unsure about going to the Nana Plaza complex, a part of Bangkok’s red light district, but after a bottle of wine and a tasty dinner, we’ve decided to hop in a bubble-gum-pink cab and learn more about the seedy side of Bangkok.

Nana Plaza

Nana Plaza was never on my itinerary when I decided to hop a flight down to Thailand’s capital and spend the weekend with my friend. In fact, up until dinner, I had never even considered supporting the sex industry in Thailand.

Then, things changed.

As we sit on the balcony of Oscar, a delicious restaurant, which overlooks many a nightclub, he tells me about the book he has finished reading, “Private Dancer.” The novel tells the tale of a western man who falls in love with a woman who works at one of the clubs at Nana.

“I just want to get an idea of where the book takes place,” he says.

After some pondering, I decide I want to see it, too. Especially since the book has just been handed over to me and Thailand’s sex industry is one I am curious to learn more about.

So, we go.

The massive three-story complex makes my jaw-drop. Situated in an area with Muslim storefronts, I find it entirely ironic that there are woman here who are wearing next-to-nothing, a thick coating of booze sticks to the floor and walking — even outside — means passing through billowing cigarette smoke.

We stand outside, hovering under a roof to protect ourselves from the remnants of the rainy season and look around. It’s old men. It’s European tourists. It’s Thai girls and lady boys sidling up to them, acting interested until something better comes along.

“Should we wander around?” I ask.

He nods, and we begin to investigate the first floor. We peak our heads through the curtains as the doormen try to lure us in with “hellos,” and “girls.”

For the most part, everything we see is pretty tame — especially in comparison to what I’ve seen in Las Vegas strip clubs.

Finally, we settle on a bar on the second floor and walk in. A cocktail waitress with a flashlight guides us into the club, weaving us through high top tables to an open seat in front of the stage.

Around us, servers sit with men, giggling, talking, pretending to be interested in what they are saying with the hopes that the men will pay their bar fine.

The stage has about 10 girls on it, some holding onto poles, some standing around. They all wear black bikinis and all look ridiculously bored, barely dancing to the music. Occasionally, they sway a bit, but for the most part, there is a dull look in their eyes as they survey the crowd. In front of us, a girl readies herself for her time on the stage, primping in front of the mirror before she climbs up.

“This is lame,” I say, so we head out and climb up another flight of stairs to the even seedier stuff.

Sex shows! Ping pong shows! Naked!

I roll my eyes at it. I find it all utterly disgusting.

We walk past one club and peak in — there are lady boys doing a dance routine.

“Oooh, can we go in here?” I beg Daniel, excited at the prospect of actually being entertained and seeing — for lack of better words — a drag show.

He agrees and we head into the dark bar. A cocktail server leads us up a few rows of seats to an empty spot and sits down with us.

I don’t want her there. 

“Where you from?” She asks, looking more at Daniel, who is seated next to her, than me.

“Europe and America,” he says.

“Ooooh. You on honeymoon?”

Say yes, Daniel. Then she will leave.

“No.”

Damnit.

We both sit there, taking everything in. The drag show ends quickly and is replaced by some of the most gorgeous lady boys I have ever seen. I mean — they are more gorgeous than most females I have seen. But, like the club before, they seem entirely uninterested. Except a few who don props like fake eyeglasses, and show off their numbers with the hopes that someone in the bar will ask them to come off the stage and sit with them, order them drinks and then pay their bar fine.

I look down the rows of seats and see a woman straddling an older man. She licks his ear and he grabs her breast. I roll my eyes and turn around, saying softly under my breath “gross.”

“You buy me drink farang,” the woman next to us says to Daniel.

I smile, grab his hand and squeeze it.

“No,” he says.

Then, she gets up and leaves, clearly disappointed she has even wasted a moment of her time sitting with us.

I look back over at the couple and the man now is sucking on the lady boy’s breast.

“Seriously,” I murmur to no one in particular. “I mean … come on. This is just … horrible.”

We sit a few more minutes as my mind is blown by this entire culture, then we leave the bar. Leave Nana Plaza.

Grime still on my feet, we head towards a Thai nightclub to grab some whisky and get Nana out of our minds.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In 2010 she quit her job in PR to go on a solo backpacking adventure and tackle her 30-Life-Crisis. After seven months abroad, journeying throughout Europe and Africa, she returned to America and relocated to Las Vegas. Following a year-long stint back in PR, she once again quit her job to follow her dreams; this time her journey took her to the elephants and Elephant Nature Park where she is involved with raising awareness about responsible elephant tourism. Recently, Diana was named a finalist in the Destinology Travel Bloggy Awards for travel writing. She has been a regular contributor to Viator and recently served as the Las Vegas contributor for OneTravel.com and CheapOair.com. Her work has appeared in print and online, including The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Vegas Seven, World Nomads and more.

14 Comments on "The seedy side of Bangkok: Nana Plaza"

  1. Sebastian @ Off-The-Path.com January 30, 2013 at 2:48 am · Reply

    I lived in Bkk for almost a year and never been to such places. There are better things to do in the city and I just wasn’t a big fan of supporting this. Not even with a drink. Which club did you go afterwards? :)

    • Diana January 31, 2013 at 3:10 am · Reply

      Yeah … I did it and would never go back there. There are definitely better things to do there than that. I don’t remember what the club was called. It was near we were staying, by Fortune Plaza. I think near a club called Hollywood. We were the only two farangs in the place. :)

  2. Hannah @ Getting Stamped January 30, 2013 at 11:02 am · Reply

    We were just in BKK in March 2012 and we went to the Patpong area. But we just stuck to the streets and people watched from a distance. I have to admit I was interested in a Ping Pong show but read way too many stories of people getting crazy expensive bills when they try to leave, and I didn’t want to sign ourselves up for that. That just sounded like a bad ending to Bangkok! Glad you made it out without a huge bill! We can’t wait to get back to Bangkok in December 2013 we thats our first stop in SEA on our RTW trip (leave 6/29/13) and our parents are meeting us there for Christmas! Heading to the islands for some sun & fun! Keep up the great articles, we love reading them!

    Thanks

    Hannah @Getting Stamped

    • Diana January 31, 2013 at 3:09 am · Reply

      What an amazing experience you are about to have!! Ping pong shows are among the worst things you could support — they often get the women hooked on drugs in order to keep them there. You will have to let me know when you get here! Thanks for the kind words!

  3. Gaelyn January 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm · Reply

    Thanks for the input. Now I know I can leave this off my list.

    • Diana January 31, 2013 at 3:08 am · Reply

      Definitely! BKK has a lot of amazing places to experience. Nana is not one of them.

  4. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 31, 2013 at 7:04 pm · Reply

    Ugh sooo gross! I wanted to vomit every 5 minutes when I was in Pattaya.

    • Diana February 5, 2013 at 10:45 am · Reply

      Ha ha. I have ZERO desire to go to Pattaya.

  5. Turner February 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm · Reply

    Ah Nana. I got taken here on my first night. Spankys was particulary awkward as men were hitting women with nerf bats.

    Strange world we live in.

    • Diana February 28, 2013 at 3:34 am · Reply

      Truly is!

  6. Nic March 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm · Reply

    Jeez, another western babe with an agenda hits Nana…

    How precious: “Daniel and I were unsure about going to the Nana Plaza complex, a part of Bangkok’s red light district, but after a bottle of wine and a tasty dinner, we’ve decided to hop in a bubble-gum-pink cab and learn more about the seedy side of Bangkok.”

    Glad it only took you a bottle of wine and a tasty dinner… You just could’t resist could you… oh, oh, the SEEDY side of Bangkok…!! You’re almost having an orgasm right there honey….

    “I look back over at the couple and the man now is sucking on the lady boy’s breast.
    “Seriously,” I murmur to no one in particular. “I mean … come on. This is just … horrible.”

    Frankly, no one in particular wants to hear this self-righteous crap… Meanwhile Daniel is having a boner…

    And finally the real clincher:
    “Grime still on my feet, we head towards a Thai nightclub to grab some whisky and get Nana out of our minds.” Yeah right, finished slumming? And Daniel dreamed all night about the good lay he missed because you were around…. Grow up baby; your western prejudices are so cliché by now: good western girl with great moral rectitude goes to taste the seedy side of Bangkok and to report back on her indignation. Grow up, or just don’t come to Bangkok sweetie; no one needs your moralizing.

    • Diana March 26, 2013 at 9:28 pm · Reply

      Ah, yes, I am another western babe with an agenda. Clearly, all I wanted to do was spread my moralizing to my readers. Forget about just writing about my experiences — which is what I do — on my blog. As for no one in particular wanting to “hear this self-righteous crap …” that’s fine. I can rest assured you won’t be coming back to read my writing, especially the post about the sex industry in Thailand — which I support. Then again, I guess that could be based on my immaturity and moral rectitude (or lack thereof).

  7. Jamie S. November 21, 2013 at 1:46 am · Reply

    Well, this definitely doesn´t sound like Amsterdam´s RLD, which in my opinion has a lot of character and is what you´d call tourist friendly. And relatively safe (we noticed regular police patrols and doormen were quite a common sight). Somehow I´m under impression that you´d find far more bizarre (and disgusting) things in Bangkok than in Amsterdam..

    • Diana November 24, 2013 at 9:07 am · Reply

      I stayed away from most of the bizarre things! :) I just wanted to check it out and see what the culture there was like.

Leave a Comment

x