Ping pong shows service as an anachronism in Thailand, portraying some of the oldest traditions of glitzy glam and high-tech venues (1). While the clubs look rather monotonous and dull, tired girls and old guys do not help make the environment remotely sexier- leaving us to question why the Thai people are committed to keeping ping pong shows in the region. Even, are ping pong shows still legal in Thailand?
Ping pong shows are legal under Thailand’s prostitution law; however, they are regarded as a crime under Thailand’s obscenity legislation. This leaves the door to the ping pong industry open; lawmakers tend to turn a blind eye towards the shows, leaving them room to multiply in the country.
An American Vietnam veteran by the name of Rick Menard opened the first Grand Prix Bar in 1969. Shortly after, the first ping pong show was performed, beginning the start of a national business.
What is a Ping Pong Show?
When hearing the phrase “ping pong show,” you might picture two human beings paddling their rackets on either side of a net table. Well, this is not the case for the well-known and sexualized ping pong shows (2). In strip clubs across Amsterdam and Southeast Asia, women would shoot ping pong balls and perform several confusing activities using the muscles from their private parts. All under the watch of a captive drunken audience. Strange, uncomfortable, yet unique, it is regarded as a “fun” and “hilarious” nighttime activity (2).
The history of such shows in Thailand goes way back. Ping pong shows were formed under the representation of muscular dexterity. Local bar owners began to recruit ladies who had the necessary skills to perform well and please men. In 1976, the release of “Emanuelle in Bangkok” featured a girl on stage making ping pong balls disappear and reappear (1).
There has always been a connection between ping pong shows to the mainstream sex industry in Thailand. Strangely enough, they have become an essential factor in the tourism industry, with ping pong shows being offered around Pattaya and Bangkok.
The topic, however, brings a somewhat consequence to real-life issues happening in the region, including human trafficking and Thailand’s prostitution industry. A mixture of cheap entertainment and sex is further threatening the country’s image.
How Ping Pong Shows are Like in Thailand
Starting with Bangkok, the three main areas for shows happen around Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, and Patpong, while Pattaya’s central red light district is on the famous Walking Street. After thirty seconds of walking down these streets, you will find a show; fast-talking hustlers often roam around hoping to scan tourists.
They will provide you with a menu of their club and tempt you to enter their Barcelona restaurant. However, the menu will not feature the actual intensity of what is inside, from blatant photos and NSFW language; the menu is just a simple glimpse (1).
Ping pong shows generally cost 200 baht ($6.50) at the entrance, while others require a no entry fee, as long as you pay for your drink, often causing a simple drink like coke or beer to end up costing you 900 baht. The real money, however, is being made by performances.
The show itself is unique in various countries. In Thailand, it begins with around one to five girls on stage, wearing bras, tops, or naked from the waist down (1). Most of these Thai girls are middle-aged (in their late thirties) and considered “not attractive.” In general, middle-aged women are hired at lower costs than beautiful women working at tourist bars.
A few minutes into your experience at the club, you will be welcomed by a performer with a pen and paper. After the customer signs their name, the girl will insert a marker between her legs and write down his name on a bigger sheet of paper; of course, you will have to end up paying for this as well. The rest of the event will involve the girl inserting various objects inside her- from razor blades to threaded strings. Men are even offered the chance to pull off their silky clothes.
The show ends with a “star performance”; the girl lays on her back and inserts ping pong balls inside of her, firing them at the audience- quite an uncomfortable experience and one in which you might even end up getting hurt (1).
Are Ping Pong Shows Legal in Thailand?
Ping pong shows are legal, but they are also not. Like any other country, Thailand has obscenity legislation; ping pong shows are not allowed under these laws- if a particular ping pong show were ruled obscene, that club would become a breach of the law. On the other hand, ping pong shows do not fall under the region’s prostitution laws (1).
Since no form of prostitution occurs, and all women are coming under free will, lawmakers tend to turn a blind eye to the matter. Additionally, the shows make frequent contributions to the office’s Save the Orphans Fund, generally providing the idea of “everyone wins,” so there should not be any problems. Under actual prostitution laws, locals can serve up to 20 years in jail.
On the downside, the so-called “bar fine” system is flawed; bar owners often find a loophole around this matter (1). In reality, the actual amount of bars is double the price of any earnings made from drinks; the workers typically make money from what customers pay.
This is a matter for debate, where the “godfather” of prostitution, Chuwit Kamolvisit, was a famous and wealthy man in the late 1900s. Now he sits on a four-year term seat in the Thai House of Representatives (1). This deeply shows the flaws within the system and how such a big business is not punished for its crimes.
Ping Pong Shows Can Be Dangerous
However entertaining the show might sound, it is hard to say what goes on behind the scenes. A museum in Patpong, Bangkok, celebrates the red light roots, where they have an interactive ping pong exhibit. This can give you a good idea about the average velocity at which the ping pongs travel.
Most people leave the ping pong show around 20 minutes after it starts. After getting a drink, it is still not enough to cover the costs of running the club, which is why they tend to load the bill with as many charges as possible; tipping the ladies, and paying for additional seat charges.
There was a report that a man and his wife were attacked by a female bar server in Pattaya around three years back. The 63-year-old man and his wife were drinking alongside the main Walking Street. The British man refused to pay his total of 1,200 baht, arguing that he could buy a beer for a lower price at his local 7/11.
However, still leaving 600 baht on the table, the bar worker took off her shoe, hit the man in the face, chased him, and kicked him in the crotch (1). Although violence like this can be rare in such places, it is often due to the inequality and extensive charges of the ping pong shows.
So should you visit a ping pong show in Thailand? Well, although they are not considered 100% illegal, they can have their drawbacks. While you can argue that women can make good money, there also comes the discussion of prostitution, rises in cases of human trafficking, as well as the portrayal of Thailand’s sex industry.
A 2015 report estimated that $6.4 is generated from the industry annually, making up 10 percent of Thailand’s total GDP. However, with low investments from the customers themselves, these shows are running on their own budget. Keep in mind that it might be a dangerous game to play.
1. Miles. Ping Pong Shows In Thailand (What You Need To Know). Journeying The Globe. [Online] March 24, 2021. www.journeyingtheglobe.com/ping-pong-shows-in-thailand-what-you-need-to-know/.
2. Argos, Samantha. The Truth About Thai Ping Pong Shows. Travels and Tunes. [Online] May 20, 2020. https://www.travelsandtunes.com/home/the-truth-about-thai-ping-pong-shows/.