Most travellers in Thailand have heard about the ping pong shows being offered in Bangkok and Pattaya. In a country that’s infamous for its often lurid nightlife, the ping pong shows still jump out as something fairly extreme.
Thailand’s ping pong shows are a peculiar mix of cheap entertainment and sex show. There are plenty of discussions on whether these shows are a must-see attraction, or simply a preview into the world of prostitution and human trafficking.
But first, we’re going to look at exactly what to expect from ping pong shows in Thailand, and whether you should visit one.
What is a Ping Pong Show in Thailand?
Here’s the definition as found in Urban Dictionary. We looked in the Oxford English Dictionary first, but surprisingly it wasn’t listed…
And whilst we’re defining things, here’s two things that a ping pong show definitely isn’t: it isn’t sexy, and it isn’t even really that much fun.
For a start, where that definition says “including fruit and goldfish”, it means real live goldfish (yuk!) which are projected through the air and aimed to land in a nearby goldfish bowl. Another ‘object’ often used, which can be found all over Thailand, is a Sapgreen Tree Frog.
How to Find a Ping Pong Show in Thailand
The two major red-light cities in Thailand are Bangkok and Pattaya, about 90 miles away from each other on the Gulf of Thailand coast and near to the border with Cambodia.
Within Bangkok, there are three main red light-areas — Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and Patpong — whereas Pattaya’s XXX district is on the famous Walking Street. You’ll find ping pong shows in all of these areas, and they all operate in roughly the same manner.
To find a show, you literally just need to stand still for about 30 seconds. By then (and normally a lot sooner), you’ll be approached by one of the fast-talking hustlers, who scan the streets looking for tourists. To save time, they will usually present you with a menu of the attractions on offer at their club, in much the same way that a Spanish waiter will try to tempt you into their Barcelona restaurant. But in this case, the menu is slightly different…
You’ll see many variations of this menu as you walk around the red-light areas. Some of them list up to fifty different objects! Also, most of them are a lot more blatant, but we couldn’t include photos of those menus because of the NSFW language. And perhaps it’s just as well — some of them don’t draw the line at swamp eel.
How Much is a Ping Pong Show in Thailand?
A lot of the clubs will advertise with menus that say ‘No Entry Fee, Pay for Drink Only’, whereas others will take a cover charge at the door, usually 200 baht (about $6.50). But that’s not where these clubs make their real money.
As soon as you walk in, you’ll be shown to a table. The show, which is performed on a continual loop, will already be in mid-flow. After a few minutes, you’ll be offered a drinks menu. If you were expecting the same prices as the bars outside, prepare yourself for a bit of a shock. You wanna coke? 900 baht ($25). You wanna beer? 900 baht. You wanna whisky? 1,500 baht.
You might feel that’s a bit much for one drink, and you’d be right – it’s outrageous! But, if you remember, the sign said ‘No Entry Fee, Pay For Drink Only’. So, by walking in, you’ve agreed to pay for at least one drink — or at least that’s what they’ll tell you. Now we’re not legal experts in Thailand’s Bar and Club regulations, but we’re pretty sure that’s not a real law. However, debating that with a bouncer is not something we recommend, so you’ll have to pay for at least one drink.
But that probably won’t be the last of the cash you’ll end up handing over. You’ll see what we mean as you keep reading. But now let’s get to the show itself.
What to Expect at a Thailand Ping Pong Show
Every club runs their shows in a different way, presumably in an attempt to be ‘the best’ and thus earn more money from tourists, but here’s a general overview of what goes on.
As we’ve already told you, most of the shows are run on a continual loop, so there’s always someone performing, no matter what time you walk in. Depending on the club, there will be between one and five girls on stage, most wearing bras or tops but naked from the waist down.
Now you may have seen some pretty girls on the streets outside, but you won’t find them on stage in these clubs. The majority of performers are in their late thirties (about ten years too old, by Thai sex industry standards) and not the most attractive. And it’s not hard to work out why — if they were younger and prettier, they would be earning more money in the tourist-area go go bars, not performing in a tiny club with a maximum of 20 customers.
Within the first few minutes, and especially if you’re in a large group, a performer will probably approach your table and offer a pen and paper. One of you (let’s call him Dave) will be encouraged to write his name on the paper and hand it back. The girl will then go to the stage, insert a magic marker between her legs, squat down and proceed to write a nice ‘Hello Dave!’ message on a big sheet of paper. You’ll be pleased to know that the piece of paper can be taken home as a nice souvenir, after handing over a ‘voluntary’ tip of 100 baht. And it’s only fair that Dave should pay it — after all, it was his name she wrote!
The rest of the ‘action’ will involve inserting and ejecting various objects, usually by more than one performer at a time. At some point, someone in your group (probably Dave again) will be asked to hold a balloon. The bar staff will usually then make a big fuss, as if something special is about to happen, and then one performer will come to the front and attempt to burst the balloon using a dart. If she bursts it – guess what? Dave will be expected to hand over another 100 baht!
Other ‘highlights’ usually include an almost endless chain of knotted silks being produced — similar to what a magician might pull from his sleeve, but from a very different part of the body. If you’re lucky, you’ll be asked to hold the first silk and do the pulling. For a tip, of course.
And if that isn’t enough, later on another girl (or the same one) will pull a large number of razor blades from her vagina, threaded together on a string. And then she’ll start using the blades to make cuts in a piece of paper, to prove that they’re still sharp. Once again, you’ll be asked to give her a tip. Actually, this time the tip is probably worth it because……razor blades!?!
Two other ‘acts’ that you’ll usually see include a cigarette being smoked in a most unusual way, and a girl blowing a whistle without using her mouth. And then comes the big finale – the part you’ve all come to see…
One of the girls, the ‘star performer’, will lay on her back and be given a bucket of ping pong balls. These will then be inserted one at a time and fired out at the audience, who usually start out by showing their appreciation, but end up trying to dodge a barrage of lubed ping pong balls. Trying to catch one is not advised (!), and putting a hand over your pint glass is usually a good idea. To be honest, the force at which these balls fly around is impressive, and there are genuinely stories of people leaving the clubs with a black eye.
We can’t help but imagine the scene of a guy getting home late at night and his wife saying “Darling! What a terrible black eye! Were you in a fight?”
“Well”, says the guy, “you’ll never believe what happened…”
How Fast Are Those Ping Pong Balls?
It’s hard to put it into words! Obviously we can’t show you any video from a ping pong club, as it would definitely be far too explicit. However, there is a museum in Patpong, Bangkok which celebrates the red-light roots of the area, and they have a live ‘interactive’ ping pong exhibit. We can show you video footage of this exhibit, which will give you a good idea of the average velocity of ping pong balls when fired from… well, you’ll get the point. Please be assured that the video contains no explicit images (although bearing in mind the subject matter, it’s quite obvious where the ping pong balls are coming from…)
Leaving The Ping Pong Show
Although going to see a ping pong show in Bangkok or Pattaya is almost a rite of passage, once you’ve been to one all you want to do is leave. As we said earlier, this is not a sexy show, nor is it particularly fun to watch. As a result, most people will have their compulsory one drink and then head to the bar to settle the bill, having seen enough. And this is where the next surprise comes in.
On average, most people will leave a ping pong show after about twenty minutes — that’s more than enough time to tick the ‘been there, done that’ box. The staff know that, and they also know you’ll probably only buy one drink each, which is not enough to cover the cost of running the club. So they will try to load the bill with as many charges as possible, with the sole intent of separating you from everything in your wallet.
The first scam is overcharging for drinks. If there were four of you in the group, then why are there six drinks on the tab? Well, remember when two of the girls came over to your table and did the whole “Cheers! Clink-Clink!” thing with their drinks? Turns out they ‘accidentally’ forgot to take their drinks with them and left them on your table. And if they’re on your table, then you must have ordered them. And guess what? Both of the girls were drinking a single-malt whiskey (yeah, right!) and they cost 1,500 baht ($48) each. So, by leaving a couple of empty glasses on your table, the bar has just made itself close to $100. Kerr-ching!
Another popular charge is the Seat Fee, which can be anything from 100 to 1,000 baht per person. You can argue that “the man outside said there was no entry fee!”, but they’ll just say that this is not a charge for entering, it’s a charge for sitting down. And if you leave early (which you’ll want to do as soon as you’ve sat down), they’ll also try and hit you with an ‘Exit Fee’.
Yet another charge is the ‘Show Fee’. You’ll be told that you’ve watched four or five different shows, even though you’ve only been there 20 minutes, and you’ll be charged for each one.
Well, remember the menu you were shown? The one that listed all the different objects (and animals)? Turns out each one of those is a different show, and you’re expected to pay for each one separately!
These, and similar scams, are as much a part of Thailand’s sex tourism industry as the girls (and boys) that ply their trade on the streets. The inflated drinks prices and ‘hidden’ charges are completely illegal, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll find anyone to complain to — and the clubs know this very well. So how do you avoid being ripped off?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that the club staff are definitely trying to scam you, and they also know that you know they’re trying to scam you. So instead of thinking of the final bill as a fait accompli, think of it as the starting point in a negotiation. Unless they physically restrain you (which is illegal), the staff know you’re going to make it out the door eventually. They’d rather have some money from you rather than none at all. Of course, you need to read the situation properly and decide whether to risk annoying the staff — sometimes it won’t work in your favour, as the next paragraph shows…
About three years ago, there were reports that a man and his wife had been attacked by a female bar server in Pattaya. The 63-year-old British man and his wife had been drinking with a group of friends in a bar just off the main Walking Street red-light district. When he was ready to leave, he was given his bar bill but refused to pay the total of 1,200 baht ($38.50), claiming that he could buy beer for a lot less at the local 7/11. Instead, he put 600 baht on the table, and he and his wife went to leave the bar. Realising that she would have to make up the difference from her own tips, the bar worker took off her shoe and hit the husband in the face, before chasing him into the street and kicking him in the crotch. Ouch!
However, violence like this is rare, and most of the time you’ll be able to negotiate a price that everybody’s relatively happy with. Think of it as offering a settlement figure. Tell them “we had four drinks, which is 3,600 baht, and the seat charge is another 400. That’s 4,000 baht total, and here’s another 500 for tips.” Then take out exactly 4,500 baht from your pocket, count it out into the bar server’s hand, smile sweetly whilst nodding your head a lot, and leave.
Congratulations. You’ve seen a ping pong show in Thailand, and you’ve still got some money left in your pocket. That doesn’t happen too often!
Why Are There Ping Pong Shows in Thailand?
That’s a great question.
In a country like Thailand, where the world’s oldest profession is dressed up with glitzy venues and hi-tech lighting, the ping pong show is something of an anachronism. The ping pong bars and clubs look old and tired, the girls on stage look old and tired, and the beer is probably old and tired as well. As we’ve already said: there’s nothing remotely sexy about the ping pong shows — so why do people still go?
The answer is the same one that people give for wanting to climb Everest: because it’s there.
The first go-go bar in Thailand was the now-defunct Grand Prix Bar, which was opened in 1969 by an American Vietnam veteran called Rick Menard. The first ping pong show was performed shortly after, although no one is exactly sure of the date.
However, stories of the ping pong shows began circulating amongst the regulars at the Grand Prix Bar and other similar US vet watering holes. More and more people wanted to witness this ‘feat of muscular dexterity’ (although they probably called it something else) and local bar owners were quick to recruit ladies that had the necessary skills. Throughout the 1970s, everybody who was anybody (and a few nobodies as well) wanted to “catch a ping pong show” in Thailand.
In fact, the shows got some unlikely free advertising when the 1976 release of ‘Emanuelle in Bangkok’ featured a scene with a girl on stage making ping pong balls disappear then reappear. Although the scene was quite tame in comparison to what goes on in Thailand today, the film’s risque release saw a sharp rise in the number of tourists to Bangkok, with every one of them wanting to know where they could see the famous ping pong girls.
And nothing’s really changed. Thailand is where you go to see a ping pong show and, as long as people are willing to pay, there will always be a show to see. The shows aren’t really part of the ‘mainstream’ sex industry, but they are a part of the Thailand sex show experience (the ‘sexperience’?)
Strangely enough, although tourists flock to the shows and hand over their money, the bar workers themselves hate the shows. They find them repetitive and boring, and the performers themselves aren’t exactly thrilled.
Are Ping Pong Shows Legal in Thailand?
This is part of a wider question, but first, here’s the answer to whether ping pong shows, specifically, are legal. And the answer is yes, it’s legal. And no, it’s not.
Let’s deal with the ‘no’ part first. Thailand, like every other country, has obscenity legislation which is written into Thai Law. So, if a particular ping pong show was ruled to be obscene, that particular club would be in breach of the law and the owner would be charged with a crime.
However, it would ‘only’ be a crime under the obscenity laws — not under the prostitution laws, which carry a harsher penalty. And so, because no actual prostitution is being carried out in the bar, the lawmakers tend to turn a blind eye. Especially as the bar owners make frequent contributions to the law office’s Save the Orphans Fund. They even have a name for it: it’s called ‘pon prayote’, which means ‘everyone wins’.
Actual prostitution is illegal in Thailand, and can carry a jail sentence of up to 20 years for the girl, but bar owners have found a loophole to avoid prosecution. This is the so-called ‘bar fine’ system. If a tourist…. Actually, let’s just keep on calling him Dave. If Dave goes into a bar and he sees a girl he likes, he has to pay a fine to the bar. That girl would normally be encouraging tourists to buy drinks, and the fine is paid as compensation for the missing earnings. In reality, the fine is much, much higher than the profit on a few drinks — in fact, bar fines are the main income for the sex clubs and bars in Thailand.
So, Dave decides to pay the bar fine. The actual amount varies: in Bangkok it’s about 600 baht ($20) in a beer bar, and up to 2,000 baht ($60) at the go go clubs (because the go go girls are the better-looking ones, apparently). Up to now, Dave hasn’t paid for any services the girl may offer, he’s just paid for the right to take her out of the bar. So, Dave and the girl have a chat, she tells him her ’short time’ and ‘long time’ rates, and they leave the bar together: presumably to discuss the philosophy of Wittgenstein or the influence of Claude Monet on early French impressionism. Or something.
The point is, the girls are never employed specifically to work as prostitutes — instead, they’re waitresses and bar staff. What they do on their own time is completely up to them. As long as Dave’s paid the bar fine!
So, in short: are ping pong shows legal? No, but no one can be bothered to prosecute them. And on that topic, here are two facts about Bangkok:
(1) The so-called ‘godfather’ of prostitution in Bangkok between 1990 and 2000 was a man named Chuwit Kamolvisit, who was the owner of several massage parlours and a very wealthy man. In 2005, he was elected for a four-year term to the Thai House of Representatives.
(2) In 2016 the new Thai minister for tourism, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, announced a crackdown on the sex industry and oversaw months of raids, with many arrests. She told the press: “tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. “They come here for our beautiful culture”. Kobkarn was replaced as tourism minister in November 2017.
Should You Visit a Ping Pong Show in Thailand?
Well, we’ve given you all the information, so now it’s your choice. Whether you visit a show or not is all down to your personal code of ethics.
Supporters of these kinds of shows will argue that the girls are making good money, so where’s the harm? And this is true — a prostitute in Thailand can earn about 5,000 baht ($160) a night, which is nearly twenty times the amount she could hope to make staying at home. There’s also a bigger context for the money argument, which is that it boosts the economy for the whole country. Again, there’s some truth to this: a 2015 report estimates that about $6.4 billion is being generated each year in revenue, which accounts for a massive 10 per cent of Thailand’s total GDP.
With all that money coming into the country, whether you personally visit a ping pong show or not won’t make much of a difference to Thailand. Nor will it make a difference to the sex workers and performers.
The thing is, hiring a girl in a go go bar for a few hours is one thing; watching a bored, middle-aged lady shoot objects from her vagina is totally different. There’s a reason most people want to leave a ping pong show after 20 minutes — it’s not really entertaining, it’s definitely not erotic, and you’ll almost definitely end up being scammed.
But, as we said right at the start, for some people it’s all part of the Thailand experience. If you’ve already visited the clubs and the go go bars, and you’re looking for a ‘different’ night out, then a ping pong show might be just the ticket. Just bear in mind that once you’ve seen one, it’s hard to unsee.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
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