My descent into the ‘inferno’ of Bangkok’s red light district


By Mark Ellis

Sex trade area in Bangkok
Sex trade area in Bangkok

There should be a warning sign at the entrance to Bangkok’s red light district: any resemblance between this street and Dante’s second circle of hell are purely coincidental. Proceed at your own risk – few escape without burns to their soul.

But inferno is an apt description of Bangkok’s sex trade capital, and the squalid streets bear an eerie resemblance to Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem describing his journey through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

On the last night of our mission trip to Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma, we decided to venture into the heart of darkness. Our church has begun to support the mission of Annie Dieselberg, who has lived in the red light district in Bangkok with her husband Jeff for almost 20 years, offering hope, healing, and rescue through Jesus to young women trapped in the sex trade.

Man solicits young Asian woman on the street
Man solicits young Asian woman on the street

We knew she operated a coffee shop in the midst of the squalor, but weren’t sure how to find it. As God led us, our taxi driver dropped us very close to her storefront location near Nana Plaza.

I had some trepidations as a man in entering this adult fantasy world, but thankfully, they evaporated quickly when I saw that the seedy, fetid reality was merely depressing and sad, with none of the enticement or allurement I might have expected.

Most of the male customers appeared to be Europeans or Americans, mostly gray, paunchy, long-in-the-tooth sad sacks, who spent a substantial amount of money to transport themselves to this man-made gehenna – something akin to the smoldering trash dump Jesus compared to hell.

At the open-air bars, with tables for two lining the boulevard, stacked 10 deep, men consumed by demons of lust prey upon young girls with fair skin from the countryside. Sipping tropical cocktails, they look longingly into one another’s eyes and make silly jokes, attempting to bridge the gap between the depravity of cruel intentions and lost innocence.

The customers are like a rollicking, lecherous ship of fools, headed madly for hades.

Dante condemned these “carnal malefactors” who allowed their lustful urges to overwhelm their senses. He

Descriptive bar name speaks to their bondage
Descriptive bar name speaks to their bondage

believed they would be at the forefront of those punished in hell.

We stopped to witness to a male prostitute convincingly dressed as a woman. As soon as he-she opened her mouth and we heard the whisky baritone voice, we felt compassion for this lost soul.

“Do you know God loves you?” I began. “God created you and He wants to give you hope; he cares about your future. He loves you with an everlasting love. If you want to get out of this, if you want to find a different job, there are some people who can help you…”

Older man with young girl at bar
Older man with young girl at bar

His eyes began to tear up. Perhaps God was touching this young man’s soul. We witnessed to several other young women and pointed them in the direction of Annie’s coffee shop.

The next morning following our visit, God brought a flood of tears to my devotional time, as I considered the horrors of the world I witnessed, considered the grace that saved me and freed me from my own lusts, and the gifts God gave us in our journey.

The English poet John Keats, in his sonnet “On a Dream,” further describes this lust-fueled ring in the abyss:

“But to that second circle of sad hell,

Where ‘mid the gust, the whirlwind, and the flaw

Of rain and hail-stones, lovers need not tell

Their sorrows. Pale were the sweet lips I saw,

Pale were the lips I kiss’d, and fair the form

I floated with, about that melancholy storm.”


  1. Incredibly sad…. but a great opportunity to offer the transforming purity of God’s love as the only solution to such darkness and depravity.

  2. I think more should be done about the middle aged men who prey on the young women. If there weren’t any buyers, there wouldn’t be a sex trade anywhere in the world. Seriously, what makes a man who is old enough to be these girls’ fathers or grandfathers pursue such pleasure at the expense of his own self-respect? And there are thousands of them.

  3. wow. i never thought you could turn perversion into poetry, but you have done it, mark. Congratulations on this highly readable article. And a huge shout out for the missionary couple who live in and minister in the heart of darkness! God bles you and prosper your ministry.

  4. What never ceases to amaze me is how these men who clearly have plenty of money to spare can find enough to travel to these places and pay out the money to use these poor destitute people for their own gratification.

    Is it not as clear as light that the money these men and maybe women also spend on using these poor people should be shared by donation and given as God intended in order to make the whole world a better place for everyone.

    What I mean is, how come dirty old men can afford to spend their money on self gratification. Where is their sense of fairness and sharing their obvious spare cash without demanding someone else’s ruin, along with their own ruin

    Just my impression.

  5. Some good comments here. It strikes me that it may be fruitful to approach these men rather than their victims. Some convicting comments may produce some shame and regret. Pointing “vertically” thought rather than “horizontally”. In other words, quoting what Jesus said should happen to those who lead the little ones to sin, rather than pointing smugly at them personally.

  6. I visited the red light district in Bangkok with a couple friends when I was in my mid twenties while backpacking through Asia. It was called Patpong Street, or something like that. I remember being disgusted by what I saw, especially by the fat old Germans and Americans who indulged themselves in public, and I felt so sorry for the girls. One girl sat with me and we talked for a few minutes. She was from Chiang Mai originally, a country girl who was far too sweet for that terrible life. I asked her if she liked what she did. She pretended that she did, but she wasn’t very convincing. I never forgot her. So sad.

  7. A buddy of mine told me of a couple of US sailors who visited that area on leave fro Japan. They found a young lady and took her out to eat dinner (paying for her time and dinner both) while they listened to her story. Same thing – from the country, parents had released her to a pimp in order to work and repay their debt for a loan he had calculatingly provided them, about $600.00.
    They then bid her good evening and returned the next day with what her parents owed, paid off the pimp and escorted her to a lady who ran a training center for seamstresses to get girls off the street.
    On another occasion I was in China and met a lady who, tho’ not a Christian, made it her mission to visit and counsel young girls and women who had attempted suicide and failed, often ferrying them from their hard scrabble farm to a training center in a larger city where they could earn enough to live and perhaps attend school. This lady was not a Christian and accepted funds I offered almost reluctantly, yet with gratitude. Several times she wrote to me and told me of the good that had been doe by that. She showed so much more integrity and accountability with those few funds than I have seen in many who have much more.

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