This is a short overview about some well-known nightlife spots and how this business works.
Nana Plaza is a great favorite with tourists and short-time visitors, and has possibly become the most visited nightlife area in Bangkok. Three floors of bars built around a central open space. Lately becoming more expensive, with the highest consumption prices of all the entertainment areas (though not in all bars). Nana Plaza is located at Sukhumvit soi 4.
Patpong is located at Silom Road, while the other main a go go bar areas are all located on Sukhumvit Road. Is on the program of most tourists during their first visit to the place. Many bars around, the main group being the King group bars. The main street is occupied by numerous vendors, an added attraction for tourists. Definitively interesting place to visit, drinks are reasonable, girls somewhat expensive (see later). Patpong is located at at beginning of Silom Road.
Soi Cowboy is a long time favorite for residents and repeat visitors of Bangkok. It is somewhat laid back when compared with NanaPlaza, but lately with some new bars and more bar girls, it is becoming ever more popular.
Soi Cowboy has been around for a long time, with ups and downs. Generally speaking somewhat more laid back than the other areas. Caters to both tourists and long term residents. Many of the latter seem to prefer this place. More easy to just have a beer and observe the action, than the other places, where the girls tend to be more active. Many small bars in this area however, where you can find quiet some action too. Soi Cowboy is close to the Asoke Road-Sukhumvit Road intersection. It runs parallel to Sukhumvit Road and consist of a street 300 meters long in between Asoke road and Sukhumvit soi 23.
It may take newcomers some time to figure it out, but this is how it goes. The girls dance on stage (of just shuffle a little bit) when it is their turn. The girls are usually divided in 2 (sometimes 3) groups that take turns dancing. In between they are free to go sit with customers etc. It is usually worthwhile to ask if she is going to dance soon, before buying her a drink. At present, girls dance in bikini outfits. Up to few years ago (2002-2003) naked and topless dancing was the norm. Occasionally some bars will 'dare' and naked dancing will temporarily reappear in certain bars. Shows are on offer, but generally girls will remain dressed up.
All kind of comsumptions are available. Comparing prices is easier when we stick to a few standard drinks. Beer prices are around 110 baht at Soi Cowboy, around 100 baht at Patpong, and around 110-125 baht at Nana Plaza(in most of the large bars there). Exceptions are around, and many small bars in all these areas still charge in the 80-100 baht range. Whisky prices are quite similar, cocktails more upmarket at 120-150 baht. Soft drink prices are relatively expensive, often just 10 baht cheaper than a beer.
When talking, sitting with girls, they will often ask for or you may volunteer to buy a so called lady drink. While being just a two sip cola or other soft drink, prices are similar to the other consumptions.
When talking out a girl from the bar, a barfine has to be paid to the bar management. This varies nowadays mostly between 500-600 baht. Sometimes one has to pay a little bit more for service girls etc. The barfine is for the bar, the girl will need her own compensation for required services. The King group at Patpong indicates a price for this at 2000 baht short time. Nana Plaza girls tend to ask for 1500 baht, go sometimes for less. Soi Cowboy girls may ask for 1500 baht, but usually go for less. The price however is up for bargaining. It is best to settle the price in advance, to avoid any problem afterwards. The girls are used to it, do not worry. If she says 'up to you', she may still ask for more than you expected afterwards.
The prices mentioned above are for 'short time'. Short time in general means taking a girl out of the bar with you to your hotel or apartment, spend a few hours together, till the girls leaves. She will not spend the night with you. Most girls nowadays seem to prefer this arrangement. Long term means she spends more time with you, stays overnight, or for a long time indeed. If the girl stays with you for many days, do not forget that the barfine for these days will also have to be settled accordingly. Prices for 'long time' are something like 60-100% more expensive than short time. The bars close, usually around 1-2 AM. Nevertheless, since a few years, it is required that you pay the barfine! This, of course, is not intuitive. You may try to make an arrangement with the girl, to meet her somewhere in the neighborhood, and avoid paying. However, if the barowner finds out about it, she will be in some kind of trouble.
Girls and women come in all forms and shapes. A lot of them come form the Isaan area of Thailand, mainly an agricultural area. The first few weeks after arriving, these girls are usually still quite unaccostomed to the work and to living in the big city alltogether. A lot of them (though mostly by their own choice) end up in the bars, because they are supposed to make a living for themselves and their family, and do not see any other opportunity. Most of them have limited education, do not speak English, and in the beginning usually have little sexual experience. However, after an adaptation period that lasts somewhere up to three months, most develop into semi-professionals. It is quite astounding to see how a shy, inexperienced girl can change into someone who is very good at the trade, and can be quite provocative. There are quite a few girls around, who remain somehow quite 'decent' despite their profession. There are more newcomers to be found at Soi Cowboy, while the really hardened ones usually move on to Nana Plaza and Patpong, where in general more money is to be made.
If efficient at their trade, the girls can make a lot of money. Just look at the prices mentioned above, and you will be able to calculate that the attractive, active ladies will easily make more then lets say 30000 baht a month (they also receive a monthly salary which is usually 4000-10000/ month range). The total income they receive easily surpasses the income of most middle income Thai families! However, in general they are not known to be good savers, spending a lot of money on unneeded items. A lot of them also have to support a family in the country site and send a lot of their hard earned money there.
The girls are prostitutes, they receive money in return for sexual services. However, the bar scene is not exactly the same as 'window' or 'street' prostitution in many countries. The latter usually involves one woman servicing numerous men, in general without being to discriminative regarding the customer. While money can buy a lot also in the a go go bars, there are some differences here. Often girls will approach you, sometimes not exactly the ones that you favor. Do not have the feeling like you have to be active with the first girl you encounter. If you do not like the girls that come to you, just neglect them in a friendly way, they will get the message. If you like a particular girl, just use some common sense, make eye contact, smile etc. and chances are she will come to you, provided she does not have a customer already. If someone neglects you or does not notice you, there is nothing wrong, just claiming her attention, and offering to buy her a drink. The final step, if you are really desperate about someone, is to talk to the mamasan (the boss girl), and mention to her the one you are interested in, she will get her for you.
Usually you end up buying lady drinks for your partner. Some girls will politely talk to you, some will poke fun, some will become sexually provocative in no time, some will not say anything. If they are bored with you, or see another customer, they will just leave you, or not come back to you after they took their turn dancing, or find an excuse, like going to the bathroom and not return. This is common practice, do not get upset. However it is quite another thing if the girl leaves you after just a minute or two, after you just paid her a drink. Just get the message, do not get upset. Some girls will quickly leave you shortly after you told them, you are not going to take them home. Others will happily stay with you for a longer time.
Despite being prostitution, there is a lot of regular human interaction going on in the Bangkok bar scene. To put it bluntly, the attractive girls have a lot of choice, they might want to like you a bit, before they go with you. Money is important, a lot of money can probably always get you the girl you want, but personal or physical attraction still pays a role.