It's a Guy Thing

A Night in an Adult-Only Museum

with Bella Smiles / @bellasmilesmodel

Photography by Nantpipat Vuthisak / @FotoCandiny

Shooting Venue: Patpong Museum – Bangkok, /

What do an Austrian, David Bowie, the movie Apocalypse now, the CIA, American Airlines, top model Kendal Jenner and rock star Steven Tyler have in common? Think about it for a moment. Okay, we didn’t think of it either. It is the oldest red-light district in Thailand: Patpong. And in the middle of this red-light district, the Patpong Museum tells the story of this district.

When you think of a museum, you might not necessarily think of the CIA, David Bowie or Robert De Niro and the spectacular movie: The Deer Hunter, nor of Go-Go dancers, or the movie Kickboxer with Jean Claude Van Damme or the airline Air-America. Nor to the war movie Apocalypse Now or a 72-ton marijuana confiscation by the U.S. Coast Guard. The artist Salvador Dali also plays a role here. Confused? Rightly so. Because all of this – and more – has an origin in a banana plantation in Thailand. And where this banana plantation was in 1946 is now the oldest Red-Light District in Thailand.

Our protagonist is Austrian. His name is Michael Messner. Michael has been living in Bangkok for a good 30 years. He came to Thailand with his brother Baruch to produce brass sculptures for their father. The father of the two is Ernst Fuchs. An Austrian artist, co-founder of the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism and a close friend of the artist Salvador Dali. The two sons inherited their father’s creativity. And through a few detours, they came – by chance – to a bar in the Patpong district. Michael had a mentor. A long-established Thai who virtually controlled this district. Michael and Baruch brought their creativity and built their first bar. Then a club. More followed. To this day, their bars and clubs are second to none. One towers 15 meters above the street of the Patpong red light district on a glass bridge. Just 50 meters from it is BARBAR, which makes Mr. Grey of Shades of Grey look old, because in BARBAR, Red-Rooms, the playroom of Mr. Grey, extends over three floors as a bar and club. But Michael’s heart always beat for living out his creativity. To create something born of the spirit. That’s how his successful bars and clubs were born. At the beginning of 2010, he wanted to turn an old dream into reality. He wanted to tell the story of this red-light district. In a museum. He had never built a museum before. And on top of that, this was not going to be a classic museum as an exhibition building for art, but an exciting journey through time from 1881 to the present. He began researching the stories he had heard about the neighborhood. Then in 2018, he rented a 300sqm space on the third floor of a building in the middle of the Red-Light District. Had all the walls torn down and sat down in the middle of the room with a few sheets of paper and started drawing his museum. First a timeline, then the events on it. The story was to follow a time travel from the entrance of the museum to the exit. And then, after almost 10 years of research and planning, he opened the Patpong Museum in 2019. CNN travel sent a television crew and covered it. The press quickly picked it up and from TODAY to Playboy to the South China Morning Post, Michael’s Patpong Museum now found itself in the press. On Tripadvisor, it was quickly voted into the top ten “things to do in Bangkok”. Now everyone can experience the myth of the Patpong district live. We have summarized for you the story that is told in this “Adult Only” museum:

In 1946, the Chinese immigrant Luang Patpongpanich bought a banana plantation for the sum of 60,000 baht, which equals to $2,400 USD.

He purchased it to build a house for his family and to connect two Roads at the corner of that time Bangkok a new road, think of it as a shortcut. He never envisioned that it would become one of the hottest red-light districts in Southeast Asia. Spoiler Alert: Now you know why the district receives the name of Patpong, and it is due to the buyer’s last name. 

Luang’s oldest son Udom studied in America, and this is where the ties to the CIA begin to arise, because during this time he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which later became the CIA.

Udom was a key factor because the CIA was planning to use it to fight against Japanese occupation of Thailand, which was against their interests. Therefore, they trained him to become a Seri Thai – Free Thai – an insurgent against the Japanese, to advance the interests of the CIA in Thailand.

Once Udom arrived back to Bangkok – which was after the war ended – he began his plan to develop his father’s road into a profitable and busy business zone. He envisioned that, since the road had plenty of traffic, it was an amazing business opportunity. In 1950 his father Luang passed away and Udom did take the chance to deploy his vision of a business district. 

He looked for tenants… but they were not ordinary tenants, because they were his CIA and OSS friends. So it is not by accident that one of the most important companies in Patpong was Civil Air Transport, which the CIA owned entirely. They used this airline to do covert operations throughout Asia from 1950 to 1959. Similarly, the CIA also owned Air America, which played an essential role in the US war against communism. They used it to transport troops, ammunition, supplies, refugees and casualties, especially in Laos. In consequence, they became the world’s most shot-at airline.

Nonetheless, several other companies rented Udom’s buildings, and those include:

IBM, Shell, Air France, Caltex.

Now that the ties between the CIA and Patpong have become clear, it is time to talk about the most representative person in this case, Tony Poe. Never heard of him. Maybe you have heard of the movie: Apocalypse Now. Marlon Brando portrayed their Colonel Walter Kurtz. That crazy sick guy who hangs the ears of his enemies around his neck. Tony Poe is recognized as the model for Colonel Kurtz. He was, according to historic records, the most macabre CIA paramilitary officer. He came to Patpong in 1958, when he joined the SEA Supply, a CIA covert company. He is remembered as such because he led bloody battles against communist Pathet Lao forces in Laos and their North Vietnam allies. Furthermore, he ordered the forces under his command to cut off people’s ears and heads to confirm they had done their job.

According to records, he started visiting Patpong since 1953 until the 1990s, when he departed for the United States. He was a frequent visitor of the most important bars, which include the Superstar Go-Go bar, whose owners were arrested and pledged guilty in 1988 for smuggling marijuana to the U.S. Their case? During an inspection of a ship by the U.S. Coast guard, 72 tons of Thai marijuana were confiscated. That’s a lot of weed!

Patpong captivated the attention of many different people and not only those who worked for the CIA and other unconventional visitors. Of course not. David Bowie had an affinity with Bangkok, but especially with Patpong. He visited the area in 1983 due to this moonlight tour, and even shot a video clip here. He also took it as an opportunity to truly live Patpong with its extravagant go-go bars and XXX-rated entertainment.

He shot his video clip in the Superstar Club, which is still active nowadays (The Ownership changed of course after that little weed incident in 1988). Bowie remains one of the most iconic visitors of Patpong because he came to play for the people of Thailand at a very low rate. And also Robert De Niro visited Patpong to record a movie. It was for “The Deer Hunter” in 1978, and it had several scenes that were shot in the classic Mississippi Queen bar.

Other famous visitors include Roman Polanski, which serves to see how Patpong captivated the attention of people all over the world. But the list does not stop there.

The heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali also visited Patpong. A fact that not many people know, but he visited the area. The same goes for Steven Tyler, who also explored Patpong and the different things it has to offer. Another famous visitor was Hugh Grant. He explored the nightlife scene of Patpong, by visiting its most iconic bars. Also, Supermodel Kendall Jenner visits Patpong. 

We found the story of this red-light district so intriguing interesting that we had to tell you and – of course – to show you. FHM got the chance to shoot with the Model Bella Smiles in the Patpong Museum. We think, Bella looks amazing, and Patpong had one more gorgeous visitor. On the following pages, you can see the result.