Soi Cowboy is a red-light district in Bangkok, Thailand. A short street with some 40 bars, it is similar to Nana Plaza and Patpong and caters mainly to tourists and expatriates.
It is located near Sukhumvit Road, between Sukhumvit Soi 21 (also called Soi Asoke) and Soi 23, within walking distance from the BTS Skytrain's "Asok Station" and the Bangkok Metro's "Sukhumvit Station". The Grand Millennium Hotel is nearby.
The go go bars follow the pattern common in Thailand: alcoholic drinks are served and women in bikinis dance on a stage. Topless or even nude dancing occasionally occurs in some bars, but remains technically illegal. Most of the dancers are also prostitutes and will join a customer if he pays a "bar fine" to the bar and a separate fee to the woman. Sexual services usually take place in the tourist's hotel room.
The area is named after T. G. "Cowboy" Edwards, a retired American airman who opened one of the first bars there in 1977. A tall African-American, Edwards got his nickname because he invariably wore a cowboy hat.
One staple of the Soi Cowboy nightlife are elephants frequently marched up and down the street by their handlers who are in the business of selling elephant food to tourists.
When Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was elected in 2001, his government instituted a "social order" campaign. As part of this campaign, all bars and nightclubs had to close by 2 am, later changed to 1 am for all areas not officially designated as "entertainment zones". (Unlike Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza were not so designated). A mandatory midnight closing time was even discussed. As of 2006, the Soi Cowboy bars switch off their outside neon lights by 1 am and usually close at 2 am.
Soi Cowboy's reputation suffered a temporary blow when, as part of the same social order campaign, the area was closed off by police one Friday night in November 2003 and all workers and patrons were required to submit to urine testing for drugs.
Near their entrances, all go go bars carry government-mandated signs in Thai and English; the unintentionally ambiguous text reads,
NO-ONE INSIDE UNDER 20 YEARS DRUG-FREE
During the 2004 International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, a bead sculpture made in Soi Cowboy was displayed as part of the cultural program.