Taboo; exciting; wretched; seedy; naughty; lewd – however you view it, commercialised sex is here to stay. The world’s oldest profession is alive and kicking in every city around the globe, as sins of the flesh continue to satisfy and fascinate many.
Forget well-lit streets, iconic skyscrapers, and stuffy museums. Give your travels a rougher and wilder edge by making a visit to one of these world-famous red light districts, be it to simply quell your curiosity or to seek carnal pleasures.
After all, nothing says cultural immersion better than delving deep into the underbelly of a city stripped down to its most debauched form.
1. De Wallen
Fans of the all things sordid will be no stranger to the most famous red light district in the world. Nestled in one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam, De Wallen overflows with character, with heaps of erotic entertainment cradled within ageing medieval dam walls.
The hefty De Wallen is a network of alleys containing over 300 tiny one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services behind glass windows and doors (curtains are drawn when they get down to work).
Feel free to gawk at the working girls unabashedly displaying their charms through the glass to window-shoppers. If that doesn’t satisfy you, get an eyeful of the place’s sordid allures at its sex theatres, peep shows, and even the Erotic Museum, or make some kinky purchases at the sex shops.
That said, Amsterdam’s sex hub is not just about girls, girls, and more girls. Tamer entertainment is aplenty: chill with your friends in the bars or hop on to the coffee shops selling marijuana.
This red light district is tourist-friendly and relatively safe, with regular police patrols and doormen being a common sight.
Think you know all about red light districts? Well, you are in for a heck of a surprise; Kabukicho is everything a regular red light district is not.
Right in the heart of Tokyo’s major commercial district that is Shinjuku, it is not at all hidden or obscure! Also, the sleepless Kabukicho is far from being dark and dingy, with its stream of screaming neon lights that can be ignored only by the blind.
As Japan’s wildest red light district, Kabukicho looks deceivingly normal in the day, but once the sun sets it undergoes a radical transformation: strip joints, nightclubs, and sex shops open their doors, as do host/hostess bars and love hotels. And the sleazy bunch is in for an even racier treat when they enter the pornographic emporiums, ‘blowjob clubs’, and panty-less tearooms.
Interestingly, it is perfectly normal to spot yakuza on these streets, since the mafia members run most of the bars and nightclubs here. Don’t worry; the district is nonetheless pretty safe. You might also catch the strange sight of Nigerian touts there – yep, African pimps in Japan!
Had enough of erotic pursuits? Kabukicho is home to some of Tokyo’s most famous restaurants and theatres as well, patronised by tons of tourists and locals alike.
Visiting Soho and hope to see a polished tourist-friendly red light district? Well, dream on, because Soho is not exactly squeaky clean – in fact some describe it as being downright depraved and shady.
This grubby area is the epitome of underground seediness and raw sexual urges, so if you are a fan of the most lurid attractions and extreme debauchery, Soho is perfect for you. Prostitutes diligently ply their trade in studio flats which sport signs saying, “Models” or some other variation (see above photo). Check out the licensed sex shops and adult cinema if you are keen on other erotic pursuits.
An extremely exclusive and infamous cabaret nightclub called The Box Soho can also be found here, and it is popular among the high society, counting Prince Harry and Kate Moss among its guests. Soho also used to be home to the renowned Windmill Theatre.
Non-sexual activities are also entirely possible – after all, Soho is London’s ultimate entertainment hub, with its many theatres, pubs, and eateries.
Soho is not any more dangerous than other parts of London, but don’t let your guard down totally! Also be wary of strip clubs that offer cheap dances since some tend to lure in unsuspecting tourists but later charge them exorbitant rates.
Las Vegas might be the undisputed Sin City, but Bangkok takes the cake for the title of Sin Capital – besides Patpong, Bangkok is also home to the major red light districts of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy!
Patpong is a world-famous red light district heavily throbbing with excitement. Popular with inquisitive visitors and lecherous sex tourists, it is the gaudiest and most unbridled red light district in Asia (and possibly the world too)!
The area is littered with raunchy go-go bars with bikini-clad women, ‘blowjob bars’, dubious massage parlours promising a ‘happy ending’, and gay bars. Risqué sex shows are also nothing unusual, with girls performing bizarre tricks using their genitalia such as shooting darts to hit targets.
In true Thai nightlife style, Patpong also has a fair amount of ladyboys. Another intriguing part of Patpong would be its fetish club, BarBar, which is BDSM in its full glory, complete with dominatrix ladies, candlewax, and a dungeon. Fetish lovers will get their hearts aflutter at BarBar, but curious visitors are also welcome to have a look!
Be careful of the usual tricks involving men’s drinks being drugged by go-go girls, and avoid buying drinks for girls as it is a common scam for bars to later charge tourists ridiculous prices for the drinks.
When you’ve had enough of sleazy Patpong, you can eat at its quality bistros or shop at the tourist-centric night market which hawks pornographic DVDs and counterfeit goods.
Size matters, right? Meet Asia’s largest red light district, Kamathipura. Today’s sleaze central is the oldest red light district in Mumbai, first designed to be a ‘comfort zone’ for British troops.
Satisfy your carnal desires for cheap – at your own risk – among Kamathipura’s 14 lanes of sex workers, often said to be so packed with working girls that there is barely any space to sit down. Hordes of women line the dingy streets and peer out of windows to look for interested customers.
Don’t expect a single trace of glamour as this place is dismal, gloomy, and bordering on depressing. You might be intimidated and appalled by some of the brothels which turn to child prostitution and are crawling with venereal diseases, but you will soon realise that many brothels here are still rather reputable and well-run. Regardless, it is worth a visit to see with your own eyes both extremities of the sex industry, in order to get a complete red light district experience.
Regardless of which part of the world they are in, all red light districts pose a certain danger, so always stay safe! While having fun, remember to be extra careful and act responsibly because you won’t want your spirits dampened by a thief or robber.