Secrets of Bangkok red light zone laid bare in new museum

Bangkok CNN  — 

Prostitution, the CIA, the Vietnam War and Chinese immigration are all on display in a new museum dedicated to one of Bangkok’s most famous red light nightlife zones, Patpong Road.

Alongside “Triple X,” “fetish” and kinky cabaret exhibits are tamer displays highlighting David Bowie’s 1983 visit to Bangkok, as well as other bits of pop culture, including a nod to “The Deer Hunter” – a 1978 war drama starring Robert De Niro that included scenes reportedly shot in former Patpong bar Mississippi Queen.

But documenting Patpong’s unofficial ties to the US Central Intelligence Agency’s deadly activities in Laos during the US-Vietnam War in the 1960s until 1974 is the museum’s most fascinating purpose.

The 300-square-meter Patpong Museum, which opened in October, reveals why Americans fighting communists on battlefields flocked to Patpong for business, friendship and hedonistic trysts during the war.

It also shows how Patpong evolved over time to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists and expats, before most of the action moved across town to bars elsewhere in Bangkok – namely Soi Cowboy and the Nana Entertainment Plaza.

The lesser known side of Patpong

The museum’s founder and curator, Michael Messner, tells CNN Travel he founded the space to document and display the area’s fascinating history up to the present day, and include the many details that no one knows have gone into creating such unusual facilities, businesses and venues.

“I’d say today everybody knows Patpong,” says Messner. “But nobody really knows what Patpong is about. People associate it with a very narrow segment today, and it would be ‘Patpong ping-pong,’ something like this. And we’ll get to ping-pong, we’ll show that too, but there is so much more.”

Messner is well placed to open such a venue. After managing a museum in Austria in the 1990s, he says he turned his attention to Bangkok’s nightlife, investing in entertainment venues including some in Patpong.

From banana plantation to red light zone