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Bangkok: Business as usual

Bar workers wait for clients as usual in Bangkok's infamous Patpong red light district. It is business as usual on the notorious strip of go-go bars at the heart of one of the most famous red light districts in the world in the wake of the military coup that overthrew the government.

Go-go bar girls pose for a picture as they wait for customers
Bangkok - When troops seized power in the middle of the night, Bangkok's infamous Patpong red light district did not blink. And hours later it was business as usual at Spanky's Bar and the Electric Showgirls.

"I was up to 3:00 am looking for lots of fornication with women and I didn't see any soldiers," said English tourist Barney Humble, recalling that images of the coup had flashed up television screens in the bars.

"It was exaggerated on the telly," he added, sipping a beer under the watchful eye of two scantily-clad bar girls the following evening.

Patpong is a notorious strip of go-go bars at the heart of one of the most famous red light districts in the world catering mainly to foreigners attracted by Thailand's huge sex industry.

The day after the military seized power market vendors could be seen unpacking stalls loaded with fake Polo shirts, blackmarket DVDs and illegal pornography.

Bar staff slowly trickled back to work readying for the usual influx of sex tourists, curious holidaymakers and expatriate regulars.

Joe Morrow, a 39-year-old tourist from England, was out enjoying Bangkok's nightlife when news of the coup broke Tuesday night, but he said it had not affected his holiday at all.

Plans for the following night included "night market, beer, drinks, women for the ugly ones," he said, gesturing to his friends, and then "back to the hotel."

"Seriously, we're not doing anything different, just normal," he told AFP.

Business owners and bar workers appeared to share the tourists' nonchalance about the coup, which unfolded Tuesday night when tanks and armed soldiers surrounded key government buildings in central Bangkok.

"Everything is open, we don't have concerns about this. It is the same as before," said Noon, a waiter at Patty's Fiesta Mexican restaurant.

Naiyana Nongnuch, 32, a cashier at a Patpong bar, said that her customers carried on drinking Tuesday night as if nothing had happened.

"They stayed until the bar closed," she said. "I don't think there will be less customers as many are Bangkok-based foreigners and they know the situation well."

But Noi, a hostess in a beer bar, said she thought the coup would leave people reluctant to venture outside. "I think there will be less customers," she said. "They may want to stay home and watch the news."

Sak, a 32-year-old waiter at Dick's Cafe, said the coup may have some effect on tourism in Thailand, but was confident that his bar would be spared.

"We have regular customers and our location is far from the centre where there was a lot of troops," he said.

Thailand was until last year the world's leading destination for sex tourists, according to Interpol. It was bumped off the top spot by Brazil, but Patpong still maintains a reputation for sleazy nightlife and lurid live sex shows.

Although prostitution is officially illegal in Thailand, estimates for the number of sex workers range from 80,000 to two million women and men.

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