Not that you would ever visit a red light district during one of your many globetrots, but it’s still important to be well-informed. When it comes to society's seedy underbellies, local laws and customs vary by country, and you, errr, can never be too safe. In addition to wearing condoms (definitely do that), there's other stuff... Here's a comprehensive guide to the world's best erotic playgrounds.
11. Rue Saint-Denis
What to expect: This historic street runs from Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle and Rue de Rivoli and can be split into two halves, but only the northern section is what you’re looking for. It’s not the fanciest part of Paris, as it’s known for its corner mendicants as much as it is for its sex workers. Here you’ll find a slew of sex shops and peep shows, with streetwalkers meandering between them competing for your sex-trade euro.
What it'll cost: The streetwalkers are where the action is here, much more so than the shops and peep shows, and they’ll run you between €30-€70 ($33-$77). If you’d like to do something “romantic” like actually touch her, or take off her bra, that’ll cost extra.
Be warned: Though the ladies standing outside the peep shows look pretty hot, they are in no way representative of what you’ll find inside. So, as with everything in life, the key to a great time is low expectations.
Did you know: The Porte Saint-Denis -- the arch that serves as a gateway to the street -- was modeled after Rome’s Arch of Titus and was built in 1672. Sure, nothing to do with sex, but interesting nonetheless!
What to expect: Kabukichō caters almost exclusively to Japanese locals and their passion for odd sexual fantasy; it can be a difficult place for tourists. Clubs are often themed, and filled with sexy secretaries, nurses, maids, dominatrices, you name it -- it’s like Halloween year-round! There's naked karaoke, rentable sex dolls, and even “soap lands” where you'll get soapy clean before you get dirty. Not to mention hostess clubs, where you pay for companionship. How sweet. While paid sex is illegal in Japan, everything else is fair game -- just be sure to pay attention to the clock, as the sex clubs close at midnight.
What it’ll cost: Prices for host clubs run from about $30-$140 for two hours, depending on the quality of the joint. A pink salon will set you back about $20, while escort services -- where the ladies come to your room -- start around $250 an hour.
Be warned: Don’t just pop into places to check them out -- bouncers are known to hustle tourists with exorbitant, non-negotiable entrance fees.
Did you know: Kabukichō is home to a large region of ladyboys, the local term for transgender individuals who also work the district.
Singapore City, Singapore
What to expect: Geyalng is a three-mile-long road with side streets called “lorongs.” The even-numbered ones are filled with “chicken farms:” legal brothels regulated by the government and filled with Thai and Chinese women working as prostitutes. Your sessions are limited to 45 minutes, so maybe don’t opt for the “extended pleasure” condoms and stick to the ribbed for her pleasure.
What it’ll cost: The prostitutes are split up into $40, $80, and $150 varieties, though top-end $200 prostitutes are also available. But $50, on average, can get the job done.
Be warned: Though the legal brothels are confined to the even-numbered lorongs, there are still brothels on the odd-numbered ones too. Most of these are illegal and unregulated, and you may find yourself running out naked if there’s a raid.
Did you know: The main street of Geylang is also noted for its food, and the iconic dish of the street is called frog-leg porridge. That’s exactly what it sounds like.
What to expect: Paris’ Pigalle is an epicenter of debauchery with sex shops, peep shows, strip clubs, cabarets, and many other, unpublishable X-rated adventures. In terms of seediness, Pigalle might take the cake. That said, prostitution is actually illegal, so it’s more about the strip clubs and live shows. Just be careful; many of Pigalle's establishments have a rep as places where thugs bully tourists into handing over all their money.
What it’ll cost: It’ll usually run you about $22 (€20) to get into a live sex show, and once inside, expect $22 (€20) drinks, as well. Don't be surprised if the clubs randomly tack extra charges on to your credit card or if women try to pressure you into buying them drinks, which can end up running between $45-$110 (€30-€100) each. Yes, you just bought that nice lady a $138 Zima.
Be warned: If you can’t tell, it’s easy to get taken advantage of here. Clubs coax you in with no covers and promises of low-priced shows, but then lure you into buying things you didn’t even realize you were buying. Getting scammed, and possibly fearing for your life, is the norm.
Did you know: The Pigalle is also home to some classier burlesque shows, most notably, the Moulin Rouge. It features full dinner service and, thankfully, less singing/more boobs than the movie musical of the same name.
7. Soi Cowboy
What to expect: Soi Cowboy is not a government-designated “leisure zone,” so it's one of the seedier red light districts in Thailand. Although like the country’s other RLD, Patpong, sex shows are the main draw here. While prostitution (and nude dancing) is illegal in Thailand, it's tolerated and partially regulated. Most of the women working in the go-go bars (including the bartenders and waitresses) are available for a price; whether they say yes or not depends on a lot of factors -- namely, how disgusting you are and how much coin you’re willing to drop. It’s customary to buy a drink for a lady if you’re interested, FYI. Sound familiar?
What it’ll cost: If you leave the go-go bar with one of its employees, you have to pay a “bar fine," usually around $15. From there you negotiate a rate directly with the woman for her services. Rates start around $45 for up to an hour but can extend to $125, you know, if you'd like her to stay the night and cuddle, or talk about why your GF left (go figure), or why you didn't get that big promotion at work. Between the price of drinks, the bar fine, and the hourly rate, you're looking at about $75 minimum.
Be aware: Don’t talk poorly about the Thai monarchy to folks in Thailand (even to sex workers) -- doing so has landed some loud-mouth tourists in jail.
Did you know: Nightlife columnist Bernard Trink gave Soi its name, after the late T. G. "Cowboy" Edwards. He was a retired American airman who, in addition to often sporting a cowboy hat, opened one of the first bars there in 1977.
6. Zona Norte
What to expect: Though the late-2000s saw multiple travel advisories about America’s favorite border city, it’s far safer today than it was a few years ago. La Coahuila -- the main street of Zona Norte -- is a few blocks off Avenida Revolucion and is lined with strip clubs (which, predictably, double as brothels) and young women waiting outside hotels waiting to escort you upstairs.
What it’ll cost: On the street, you’ll pay about $25 plus $5 for “the room,” regardless of whether you’ve got a hotel to take them to or not. In the strip clubs, it’ll cost you more -- anywhere from $50-$100.
Be warned: The police may try to shake you down for a random civic violation that they’ll explain in Spanish (assuming you won't understand), and then threaten to throw you in a Tijuana jail. It’s not as fun as Bruce Springsteen makes it sound, so make sure you bring plenty of cash for both the prostitutes and the cops.
Did you know: Adelitas, the biggest brothel in Tijuana, is also the largest and oldest brothel in North America.
What to expect: While it’s almost impossible to enter a place like Cologne's Pascha or Amsterdam's De Wallen without everyone knowing what you’re up to, Hamburg’s red light district, Reeperbahn, is a huge nightlife area with great bars, restaurants, theaters, and clubs. You know, in addition to your standard sex shops, sex museums, erotic theaters, and strip clubs.
Sex work's only available at certain times of the day and is limited to one street, Herbertstraße; it's actually partitioned off by a wall so as not to offend minors and demure ladies. In Hamburg, strip clubs have overtaken prostitution in terms of popularity and there are fewer than 400 working women currently employed on Herbertstraße, down 50% from a decade ago. The more you know...
What it'll cost: Most strip clubs charge around a $33 (€30) cover, and the ones that don’t will make up for it with $22 (€20) drinks. For some alone time with a lady of the night, it’s the European standard (but negotiable), $55 (€50) for 15 minutes. Erotic massage parlors will cost you around $55-$165 (€50-€150) an hour.
Be warned: Be careful if you're asked to buy a stripper a glass of orange juice (orangensaft). The "orange juice" is actually an offer for the woman to sit down with you, usually at a cost of between $22-$44 (€20-€40).
Did you know: The area was made famous by, none other than The Beatles, who earned their musical stripes playing in Reeperbahn music clubs early in their career. Their impact on the area is commemorated with a Beatles Square.
What to expect: When it comes to Thai red light districts, Patpong is the one that primarily caters to tourists and expats. In fact, unlike Soi Cowboy, it's decreed an official entertainment zone by the government, so venues stay open until 2am. Patpong's a strange mix of sex for sale and overpriced souvenirs, and it's best known for shows where nude women do wild stunts. At most strip clubs, you can pay a “bar fine” to take the girls home with you, or if you'd rather take things a little more slowly, there are plenty of massage parlors and pink salons.
What it’ll cost: Let's be honest, the sex show exists to rip you off, so only go if you have the cash to blow. While they lure you in with the promise of drink specials, expect to get stuck with a hefty bill once the entertainment starts. Getting your oil changed at a pink salon will run you about $25. As a rule of thumb, women in Patpong run a little more expensive than in Soi Cowboy.
Be warned: This cannot be stressed enough -- stay away from drugs of any kind. The Thai police do NOT mess around when it comes to narcotics, and unlike America, where the police are held accountable for the smallest of infraction, Thai cops operate with a lot of autonomy; they can be quick to extort tourists and get violent.
Did you know: The most offensive thing you can do to a Thai person is show them the bottom of your feet. Doing so is considered a terrible insult, and will surely result in aggressiveness or a fight. Save the shoeless handstands for home.
What to expect: Cologne is home to Europe’s first high-rise brothel, Pascha, which was built in 1972 to condense the city’s RLD into one building. Women rent rooms from which to peddle their goods and can be found sitting in the hallways awaiting customers. You roam from floor to floor, room to room, until finding a lady of your liking, before negotiating a price directly with her. Interestingly, some of the women actually live in their rooms; so much for not bringing your work home with you!
What it’ll cost: Entrance into the building is around $5.50 (€5) but the women work independently, set their own prices, and pocket all the profits. Standard European rates prevail though, again, about $55 (€50) for 15 minutes.
Be aware: One floor is reserved for low-cost girls, and another for transexuals.
Did you know: Men over the age of 66 enjoy the girls at half-price during afternoon hours -- no AARP card required. Men who get a Pascha logo tattoo are guaranteed free entry for life! And who says customer service is dead?
2. Villa Tinto
What to expect: Belgium's better known for waffles than women, but prostitution is very much legal here. The pristine-looking district -- a three-block “tolerance zone” established by the government in 2000 (think Hamsterdam from The Wire) -- is one of the safest and cleanest red light districts in the world. Similar to Amsterdam's De Wallen, expect to window shop, as young scantily clad women in Antwerp also peddle their wares behind storefront glass.
The city's best brothel, Villa Tinto, has been dubbed “Europe's most high-tech bordello” and boasts 51 suites, safes to store cash, a biometric scanner to identify workers, an onsite police station, a panic button under the beds for the women's safety, and a control room to oversee the operation. There are also massage parlors and strip clubs that offer sex shows, where, for example, you can pay to watch a monkey slap a naked woman. We're just reporting the facts.
What it’ll cost: Full-release massages start at about $66 (€60). Or, for just under $2.20 (€2), you get about 90 seconds of action in one of the peep shows. Window prostitutes start at the standard rate of $55 (€50) for 15 minutes, although you can pay more for extras like kissing and not having to use a condom. Bonus STDs, however -- totally free!
Be warned: While the ladies working in the windows are regulated, the street hustlers are not. Best stay away from the woman who comments on how much she loves your sweet new fade.
Did you know: Seventy percent of the prostitutes working in Belgium are Bulgarian. So, hope you like Bulgarians.
1. De Wallen
What to expect: De Wallen is the obvious gold standard for red light districts. Thanks to government regulation, it's safer, cleaner, and more efficient than most you'll enter. It’s a huge tourist area, as well, so the streets are packed with pedestrians. The ladies themselves are on display in floor-to-ceiling windows, summoning you to come in as you pass. When you see one that strikes your fancy, negotiate a price at the door.
What it’ll cost: The starting rate for most women is around $55 (€50) for 15 minutes, although talking your way down to $44 (€40) is not unheard of. You're on the clock as soon as you enter the room, so breakaway pants and Crocs are probably a strong wardrobe play.
Be warned: The negotiation is no time to be coy about your goals, interests, and expectations. The women will take advantage of tourists who are ambiguous, and have been known to tack on extra, hidden charges for unspecified “add-ons,” like changing positions. Be as specific as possible.
Did you know: Amsterdam is the only place in the world to have a bronze statue commemorating its sex workers. Titled “Belle,” it depicts a woman in a doorway and the plaque reads, “Respect sex workers all over the world."
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