Neon-lit go-go bars, gyrating pole dancers, ping-pong shows and erotic window displays — imagine witnessing all of this with a 50-something, salwar-kameez clad Indian mother. For my mother and I, our trip to Thailand’s red-light area was eye-opening in more ways than one.
It was our first time in Thailand, let alone the red-light area. Mum and I had just grabbed a steal-deal, which included a 10-day group tour from New Delhi to Bangkok and Pattaya. Our itinerary was pre-planned by the travel agency — with something called a ‘Walking Street’ in Pattaya as an option.
We didn’t know what it meant, let alone the reality of what awaited us. According to some of our co-travellers (who in hindsight were just as clueless as we were), it was a night market teeming with hawkers, shopping carts, eateries — and nothing more. Boy, were we in for a surprise!
Sure, we had heard about the famous red-light districts of Thailand (who hasn’t?), but who knew something this raunchy would have such an unassuming name. One expects something more tongue-in-cheek and explicit. In fairness to our fellow passengers, though, a walking street typically is a roadside market bustling with hawkers, shopping carts and eateries in the day. Night is when it takes a decidedly more risqué turn.
That evening, mum and I, along with our co-passengers, boarded our minibus from the hotel. We sat blissfully unaware, zipping off to an adventure you wouldn’t have with a parent in a million years. At this point, it still appeared to be one of those distinctive Thai night markets: lively pubs, crowded hipster bars and a couple of 7/11s — the usual.
Passing a flurry of sights and sounds, as we gradually made our way into the heart of the market, it took us no time to realise why there was no other mother-daughter duo in sight. All of a sudden, we found ourselves crammed between raucous go-go bars on one side and glass windows showcasing seductive girls on the other. By now, the place was bursting with curious, wide-eyed tourists — and we were no exception. You could see people bargaining and negotiating with the girls. Every few steps, you’d inevitably run into someone dressed scantily, leaving nothing to the imagination. At one point, I remember distinctly, we encountered a sea of ‘ladyboys’ holding placards that read 40% OFF!
I’m not quite sure what was running through my mother’s mind. So intrigued by the spectacle were we that there was no exchange of even a single word. Weirdly, neither of us checked-in on each other or enquired if we’d like to head back from Thailand’s red-light area. Mum gently held my hand. I took that as my cue and we proceeded further.
Closer Look at Thailand’s Red-light Area
Then comes this man propositioning me in front of my extremely stunned mother. “Wanna party?” he asks, promising all manner of fun. I dodge him sheepishly.
As you can imagine, we spent the next few hours walking up and down this buzzing, fluorescent street with as much intrigue as disbelief. We spent half of our time with our jaws dropped and the other half with our eyes jutted out — while also navigating the awkward silence (and curiosity) that accompanied us throughout the night.
We were still accompanied by the others in our group — many of whom were honeymooners and young couples — who funnily seemed more scandalised than my mother. Every few minutes, you could hear a wife say “ab chalo bhi” (C’mon, let’s go!), cajoling their reluctant husbands to wait in the bus while the rest of us finished our tour.
After the early shock, mum and I began to embrace a more progressive mindset. Perhaps, reminding ourselves that we’re after all two well-travelled women, always open to new cultures. Eventually, we were so captivated by it all, we didn’t even stop for a sip of water. I’m pretty sure we skipped dinner, too.
Truths and Throwbacks
As mum and I sit today, a few years on, reminiscing about our time at Thailand’s red-light area, somehow the memories remain as vivid to her as they’re to me. Oddly still, this is perhaps the first time that we speak about it in any detail since the trip. “It was unlike anything I had ever seen,” she admits. “Sure, one hears of these red-light districts in Thailand, but you assume them to be dingy, obscure pockets. What you don’t expect is something so bold, inviting, and well-lit.”
We continue chatting about how eye-opening an experience it was, witnessing another part of the world — one so strikingly different from ours. We talk about what their lives must be like, their problems and the kind of people they may have to tackle.
“It also saddens you to see some of these girls with such somber, almost deadened faces, despite their glittery costumes and all the flirting. ” she says. Even though my then-younger self was too engrossed in the newness of everything, I can instantly recall what she means.
I finally pop the looming question, “Mom, was it awkward for you to visit a red-light area with me?” Without missing a beat, she responds, “Maybe at first. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have wanted to witness it with anyone else.”
Her words immediately strike a chord with me. To us, this tale remains an adventure of a lifetime — of navigating unique and occasionally uncomfortable situations that can daunt many. It’s also a reminder that while we may be separated by generations, our common curiosity for new experiences keeps my mother and I bound together.
Featured image and hero image courtesy: Eustaquio Santimano/Flickr
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Walking Street stretches from Beach Road to Bali Hai Pier. A giant neon signboard marks the beginning of this entertainment stretch.
Answer: Pattaya's Walking Street is roughly one-kilometre long.
Answer: Although Pattaya's Walking Street is open 24 hours, the restaurants and bars open only after 4:00 pm. Most of these establishments stay open till 2:00 am.
Answer: The best way to reach Pattaya's Walking Street is on foot or in a tuk-tuk. Vehicles are not permitted on this stretch.