on August 22, 2009
As Bangkok Index, Silom Road has enough attractions - cultural and commercial - to keep most visitors busy for a long time, but those are obscured by the bad reputation created by the infamous Patpong alleys at the street’s eastern end. However, Patpong is more than two alleys packed with go-go bars; it houses also a very popular night market. But, I am running ahead.SilomAmong Bangkok's main avenues, Silom offers the biggest diversity. That’s the result of its housing the main commercial quarter of the town and its access to several main attractions.At its western end it reaches the Chao Praya River, just south of there is the Shangri-La Hotel, and north is the Oriental Hotel. two of the best hotels in Bangkok, and probably in the whole world. On the corner of Silom with Soi 18, is a night market which is less popular than flashy Patpong. Nonetheless, this one is more Thai in nature and thus more attractive for a late dinner of traditional Thai dishes. At the avenue’s eastern end is Lumphini Park, the largest in the metropolis and probably its most beautiful spot after the Grand Palace.Yet, the best known landmark on Silom is Patpong.The DramaAnyone acquainted with the Thai culture would not be surprised to find this shiny area hides a dramatic and complex history, fit of being featured by a Thai soap opera."Patpong" is named after the Patpongpanit family. Immigrants from Hainan Island in China, they bought the area now known as "Patpong" after the WWII, and built the roads in what was then an undeveloped area on the city’s outskirts. The two main alleys we see today are in fact private property and not regular streets.The big change came with the Vietnam War, when the area became one of the main R&R (Rest and Recuperation) spots for American soldiers; as a result of that go-go bars conquered Patpong. In the eighties, the alleys themselves were transformed into a market and the alleys took their modern shape.Unlikely LocationThe best way of assessing the area is visiting it during the day or the early afternoon, when the stalls begin to be constructed. The unobstructed alleys allow then moving quickly among them. The surprised traveler will find out that it takes no time at all to explore the whole Patpong area.Timing the VisitThe market opens in the late afternoon, the bars open after dark. Thus, a tour of the market is best done after spending the day visiting Lumphini and the other attractions at Silom.Few other attractions in Bangkok are so accessible; the Sala Daeng station of the Silom Skytrain line is practically atop the alleys. If planning to take pictures from the train’s high platform, do that before returning the ticket and leaving the main area. No other spot in the vicinity offers such a top view from the street’s center. Bangkok Metro Blue Line's Silom Station is within walking distance.LayoutTwo parallel alleys running between Silom and Surawang are the heart of the Patpong area. They are called Patpong 1 and Patpong 2. The go-go bars have spilled into two adjacent alleys, called Jaruwan and Thaniya. Labyrinthine alleys interconnect these alleys at surprising angles.The Place Looks FamiliarWhy most travelers reaching the area for the first time feel they have seen the place? Simply The Deer Hunter and Miss Saigon were partly filmed in Patpong.Gewgaws and KnickknacksThe market is clearly aimed for tourists, but is worth a visit during the late afternoon or the early evening, before the place gets unpleasant. Any imaginable gewgaw is in sale there; from fake Timex and Rolex watches to T-shirts in trendy designs. The market wakes up in the late afternoon and is open until midnight. How Do I Know This Rolex Is Real?Let me see. You are walking in a very packed night market with a myriad of stalls fighting for your attention. On one of them you see a pile of Rolex watches packed in plastic bags. The guy behind the stall is shouting a price of around fifty dollars for each one of them. He is expecting you to bargain hard and probably would get rid of any of these watches for thirty dollars.No problem. None of them is real.Patpong has the worst reputation in Bangkok for fake merchandise. The same analysis performed here for the Rolex is valid for DVDs, computer programs, designers clothes and – to be honest – everything in sight. Even the go-go bars personnel is not always what it appears to be.Are the Prices Good?I got a Rolex for thirty dollars! It even came with a free guarantee of ten minutes! Ain’t I lucky?The truth – again – is that not. Regardless your bargaining skills, Patpong is the most expensive street market in town. The same merchandise can be found in many other street markets at better prices. The main telltale of that are the many foreigners crowding the street.Can I ask the seller if the item is original?Copyright practices are different in Asia. This question is meaningless there. It is a watch and it works. The time it shows is real; you can even change it whenever you like. The name on it was put with a lot of thought and care and using high quality ink. Of course it is original!A good way of spotting the fakes – and all of them are fakes - is looking at the logos. Original items feature elaborated logos that were placed using sophisticated technologies and top quality materials. The fakes use the simplest available logo and simple assembling methods. The delicate initials engraved on any Rayban sunglasses are a good example; the price of making such a work is higher than the price of any fake sunglasses.
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