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I traveled to Asia and became best friends with an Australian prostitute. Somehow, I saw a Thai Ping Pong show with her entire family (where her dad had to get naked). I can't make this stuff up. Ask me anything.

Olivia Poglianich
Jun 19, 2017

After I finished college I traveled with a group tour to Vietnam. On the tour I discovered my roommate was a prostitute who lives in Australia. Despite this crazy discovery, we became close friends and traveled onward to Thailand together on a whim. Once we got to the beach in Thailand, I wound up on her family vacation. With her family, we saw a ping pong show and here's a spoiler alert: there is no actual ping pong involved.

I am also happy to share more photos of Vietnam or Thailand. You're not allowed to take any at the ping pong shows, and I don't want to share any of my friend to protect her identity, but anything else I am happy to show, too :)

Ask me anything!

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How exactly did you find out she was a prostitute?

Jun 20, 3:10AM EDT0

She told me. We were looking through her phone at some photos we had taken in the Mekong Delta, and she thought we had scrolled too far to see a scandalous photo she had taken of herself. Turns out we never did. (We being myself and one other friend of ours from the tour who also knows the truth). In essence, she confessed for nothing, because we had no idea what photo she was talking about, but we're so glad she did because we are genuinely very good friends. We were also the first people she ever told.

Jun 20, 1:13PM EDT0

That had to be so awkward! 

Jun 19, 8:25PM EDT0

Lol yes it was, but makes for a funny story now :) 

Jun 19, 10:43PM EDT0

What is your advice for staying out of trouble while traveling?

Jun 19, 1:50AM EDT39

Learn the local customs. Come from a place of curiosity and not blatant disrespect or disregard for how they do things. Not everyone gets the same freedoms of speech/expression as we do in the  US. 

Last edited @ Jun 19, 10:53PM EDT.
Jun 19, 10:52PM EDT30
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What is the most adventurous thing you've done while traveling?

Jun 18, 5:33PM EDT0

lol this story is definitely definitely up there. Ive also learned how scuba dive overseas & peeked at North Korea at the DMZ. The DMZ trip was also on a 12 hour layover so I really maximized my time away from the airport lol

Last edited @ Jun 19, 10:47PM EDT.
Jun 19, 10:46PM EDT0

What did you miss most from home while on your trip?

Jun 18, 8:43AM EDT0

sunscreen without whitening pigment in it, Benadryl because all my mosquito bites were so itchy, and Chipotle. I always miss Chipotle 

Last edited @ Jun 19, 10:48PM EDT.
Jun 19, 10:44PM EDT0

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

Jun 18, 3:03AM EDT13

My bucket list is super long! Here's a  few:

  • Salar de Uyuni
  • Israel
  • Patagonia
  • Australia & New Zealand
  • Burma
  • Tanzania
  • Cage diving with sharks in Cape Town
Jun 19, 10:42PM EDT34
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What most surprised you about Asia and its people?

Jun 17, 9:19PM EDT0

The biggest shock to me was that everyone wants to be pale. Even in the scorching heat of a summer day, men and women are covered head to toe, careful not to let their skin bronze. The sunscreens even have whitening pigment inside. A total reverse of western culture and proof that beauty really isn't  universally defined 

Jun 19, 10:38PM EDT0

Do you have any advice on bartering with locals while traveling?

Jun 17, 5:50PM EDT0

Yeah I would say you should be prepared to walk away without the the souviner sometimes. Vendors may think your price is just too low and not want to barter anymore. I also look at it like a fun game to see how great a deal I can get, but never want to haggle TOO hard to the level of ruthlessness. I've seen tourists get so adamant over the difference of maybe $0.20 when converted back to USD. At that point just stop haggling and let the people make a little money. You're helping support their local economy after all

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Jun 19, 10:35PM EDT0

Do you have any tales about getting through airport security?

Jun 17, 11:21AM EDT17

Yes actually. Nothing so bad in Asia because I applied for my Vietnamese visa pretty early on. The funniest story I have is from Europe. I was studying abroad with a friend and we did a weekend trip to Istanbul and Budapest, then back to Barcelona. We didn't really look alike beyond the fact that we are both brunette females with brown eyes who are the same age and have U.S. passports. We decided to swap passports (at first it was an accident). We made it through customs in all 3 cities without them realizing we swapped. I can't tell if it was funnier or scarier that the didn't notice.

Jun 19, 10:28AM EDT55
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What was the most important thing you packed for your Asia trip?

Jun 17, 10:17AM EDT21

MY DSLR camera. It's always the most important thing I pack, besides, of course, my passport. I love taking photos and they serve as a great way to remember my trip. Other close seconds are my GoPro (For underwater photography and pictures of adventurous things like dirt biking or hiking), sunscreen because, well, it's a necessity, and bug spray because the bugs there are insane!  It's also good to have Immodium on hand because a lot of travelers get sick from bacteria in foods from countries they've never been to before or eating food they aren't used to. Hope this helps!

Jun 19, 10:26AM EDT29

Thanks!

Jun 21, 4:49AM EDT15

What are your most and least favorite online travel tips?

Jun 17, 9:08AM EDT51

Hmmm..what do you mean by online travel tips? Things that I've encountered on the internet?

Jun 19, 10:27AM EDT41
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Can you explain what goes on at a Thai ping pong show?

Jun 17, 3:31AM EDT29

Ping Pong shows are made up of Thai women who can do crazy things using their vagina. Some of them have brute strength and others have endurance. They've pulled out dozens of blades on a string, shot darts at balloons, and even managed to smoke a cigarette using the muscles in their vagina. It's crazy to even be writing about it right now - it's one of those things you have to see for yourself to really experience fully. 

Jun 19, 10:25AM EDT32
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What kind of insight did the prostitute give you into her career?

Jun 17, 2:41AM EDT0

She's told me a lot of stories about the men that come in. Mostly they're unhappy in their marriages and looking for someone to talk to. She's also mentioned it's completely regulated in Australia and everyone has to wear a condom/it's entirely up to her who she chooses to sleep with. It's really fascinating hearing her talk about her job because it just seems like she's treated so differently than a prostitute would be here in the US. Save for I guess Nevada, we just have an entirely different outlook on the whole thing here.

Jun 19, 10:23AM EDT0

What were your most and least favorite Asian dishes?

Jun 16, 10:48PM EDT0

I am not a big fan of cilantro/coriander so I didn't like that they use this garnish a lot in Vietnam. I loved pretty much all Thai food though. Green curry, coconut curry, red curry, pad see ew, pad thai, anything I tried I loved lol. In Vietnam I love pho but have to ask them to make it without cilantro. And the spring rolls are delicious! 

Jun 19, 10:22AM EDT0

Does your career relate to your love of travel?

Jun 16, 10:34PM EDT0

Not yet but I sure hope it does soon. Right now I work at an advertising agency full time in NYC but am also hoping to start my own branding agency to help other entrepreneurs/freelancers with their branding/social media strategy/etc. If that comes to fruition it'd be great to be my own boss and work from anywhere in the world :)

Jun 19, 10:20AM EDT0

What is your favorite mode of transportation for a trip?

Jun 16, 2:10PM EDT0

Tough call. While I find flying the most efficient, and a great way to travel, especially with budget airlines because it's cheap and quick, undoubtedly the prettiest/best way to travel is via train (or boats). You get to see the scenic countryside on a train. Some countries have overnight trains with sleeping carts which is an experience in and of itsself. I took one from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Europe has lots of them too, just like the Hogwarts movies. I have always been a big fan of the ocean, and, while I haven't done enough of it, I can imagine that sailing from island to island is absolutely beautiful.

Jun 16, 5:24PM EDT0

What are you planning for your next big trip?

Jun 16, 1:47PM EDT21

I am going to Europe in July. I planned it based on two things: 1) places I have never been before and 2) the cheapest flights I could find. All together I have maybe 6 or 7 countries (well, cities, but each city happens to be in a different country. That's the beauty of Europe. Everything is so close together. It's like the different U.S. States!) and spent around $800 for all of my flights. Including my flights to and from Europe! I will write a blog post about it :)

Jun 16, 5:18PM EDT10
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Will you keep in touch with the Australian woman you met, and why or why not?

Jun 16, 12:38PM EDT40

Yes! We are still great friends :) She and I even went to Bali together a year later. I plan to visit Australia over Christmas and she said she would be more than happy to host me for Christmas dinner with her family. She's a great person/friend/human being and I am happy to have met her :)

Jun 16, 5:17PM EDT28
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What is your favorite souvenir from your Asian travels?

Jun 16, 7:34AM EDT0

That's a tough one! I have a Chang t-shirt. Chang is a popular beer in Thailand and it means elephant in Thai. Elephants are my favorite animal, and the beer has an elephant on the label. I also love all the ticket stubs I collect. I put them in a vase in my room. Probably the best souvenir is a group photo I have of my Contiki tour group taken in Hanoi in front of an old fort. It's a laminated photo that I currently have on a builtin board. 

Jun 16, 5:07PM EDT0

How do you save up money for your travels?

Jun 16, 6:53AM EDT19

Every time I get paid I automatically put some money towards a travel fund. I also use a credit card to buy literally everything, ever. Of course, I make sure to pay on time, but my credit card gets me a lot of awards points, and I get free flights after I earn enough points. This year I was able to fly to Nashville, Austin and Denver for free using my credit card points. I also try to make my lunch for work every day, never buy breakfast either and only go out to dinner on occasion. I always take leftovers home with me. I do lots of little things to save money and wrote about it on my blog, too. Hope this helps!

Jun 16, 12:10PM EDT45

Thanks!

Jun 20, 6:09AM EDT35

How many countries or continents have you visited?

Jun 16, 6:02AM EDT24

I've been to 5 continents and almost 40 countries. I still have to go to Oceania and Antartica!

Jun 16, 11:53AM EDT25
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How did you become acquainted with the Australian woman?

Jun 16, 5:42AM EDT0

Funny story actually. I met her at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City at 2 am. She was dressed in a fashionable outfit. All black, long skirt, fancy hat. She looked really hot - pretty, yes, but I mean "hot" because it was 100 degrees (40C) that night. I hate to say, I passed judgment on her the second I saw her. We realized we were sharing a shuttle to the same hotel, and then when we were on the shuttle, we found out we were in the same group tour. THEN when we got to the hotel, we found out we were roommates. I was super annoyed and didn't think I would like her at all. She's quite the fashionista, whereas I'm pretty simple in that regard. Luckily, she didn't notice my annoyance. I think a lot of it was jetlag, too. We grabbed dinner together (it must've been 4 am? I can't remember but know it was a really weird hour and we were both exhausted). 

Anyway, after that, we hit it off.  I realized she was a great girl who had a lot of the same values as I did.  We spent quite a lot of time together the first few days and eventually, she told me the truth about her job/career. It was a really interesting experience for me, to get along so well with someone that, at least in my culture, people belittle and make out to be so "dirty" or "wrong." But she's an amazing person. And besides, in Australia prostitution is completely legal and regulated/safe.

Jun 16, 11:48AM EDT0
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Did you have any scary encounters while in Asia?

Jun 16, 3:39AM EDT0

I wouldn't say anything scared me but one night in Vietnam (in Hanoi) we went out to a bar. It was our last night as a group, everyone celebrating with giant buckets of Red Bull and Vodka. (Side note: the RedBull in Asia is very different than ours in the States. It's much stronger) Because Vietnam is a communist country, things close early. And when they close, they really close. The city has a curfew of Midnight. But we found a warehouse bar/party/backpacker secret hot spot that threw a party well into the early morning, say 4 am. Once we were ready to go home, we realized there was absolutely no transportation available at this hour. We wound up hopping on the back of a Vietnemese man's Vespa. Maybe not the smartest decision ever, especially without a helmet, but thank god we were okay and he actually just took us where we asked him to.

Jun 16, 11:43AM EDT0

How do you avoid coming off like a typical tourist?

Jun 16, 12:30AM EDT0

I don't wear things that have large brand names across the front (like the days of ABERCROMBIE t-shirts being cool). I don't pull out a giant map on the street when I don't know where I'm going. Instead, I try to find a nice little cafe to sit down or a park off to the side to collect myself and figure out where I am going. I don't parade my way through a different country telling them this is how WE do it in America or in NY. I'm not in America or in NY, so I should be adapting to their way of life and their culture. And for the record, it's perfectly okay to carry a giant camera around your neck, you just have to own it and look confident. Typical tourists carry them and stare at the sky (at least in NYC) noticing the tall buildings. Yet artsy photographers have them too, but they don't quickly rush to hide their camera if they walk down a "sketchy" street. Those people become the quickest targets. Hope this helps!

Jun 16, 11:38AM EDT0

Do you have tips for choosing eating places while traveling?

Jun 15, 11:45PM EDT0

Hmmmm now this is a tough one. Because every city and country has such different cuisines. I almost always recommend trying street food. It's cheap, delicious, and a great way to get an authentic taste of the culture. Yet for a good restaurant, you can never go wrong with a local's recommendation. Maybe the concierge at a 5-star hotel will steer you to a luxury, expensive eatery (and that's totally fine if you're looking for one), but you can also walk into a hostel and talk to the staff at the front desk - they'll let you know where people eat on a budget, or people can go to splurge if it's some of the best New Zealand steak or the spiciest Pad Thai in Bangkok.

Jun 16, 11:40AM EDT0

Do you prefer to travel solo or with a group?

Jun 15, 10:57PM EDT18

Great question! I enjoy both for different reasons. I think it's important to try both, if you have the time, because you learn different things about yourself (how you act in a group setting versus being entirely alone) and you meet people in different ways. When I travel solo, I meet way more people and go at my own pace, when I want to. I go with who I want to, where I want to etc. Going alone is also cheaper. You can eat street food for dayyyyyys. When I am in a group, though, I am subject to some of the "annoying" things that come with it. Waiting for people to use the bathroom when I don't have to. Or sitting on a bus waiting for someone to finish haggling for souvenirs outside, again, when I don't have to. Yet a great part of groups is that they often comprise people from all over the world spending a week, two, three on end together. You get really, really close. You have deep conversations on the bus about politics and religion and how things are in your respective countries (although to be fair, I've done that while traveling solo, too). I guess the long answer is just that they're both great, in different ways, and I hope you try each for yourself :)

Jun 16, 11:35AM EDT44
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How do you fit a trip to Asia with your day job?

Jun 15, 10:26PM EDT27

I actually did this trip before I started my first job. I graduated from university in May 2015, had about a month until I started my first job in July 2015, and made the trip over to Asia. 

I will say, though, that since then, I've been able to go back. Not often, since Asia is pretty far and the flights alone take up 1 -2 days of your trip. At least from the east coast USA. But I went to Bali over Thanksgiving. We get Wednesday, Thursday, Friday off. So I took Monday and Tuesday as vacation days. I used both weekends and was able to do a 9-10 day trip to Bali!

Jun 16, 11:30AM EDT41
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What are your tips for traveling light and wrinkle-free?

Jun 15, 7:35PM EDT42

A great way to prevent wrinkles is to roll your clothes. As for traveling light, I try to bring lots of solid colors. Black/white/gray/neutrals work really well because you can wear them over and over and no one will notice. You can mix and match your clothes better, too. This way, I need less pieces in my wardrobe. Also, I've learned that you don't really NEED half the things you think you do. I've stopped straightening my hair and learned ways to let the waves flow freely. I don't bring very many toiletries, and of course, always go with the travel sized tubes. Hope this helps!

Jun 16, 11:21AM EDT31

Sure it 'll help! Thanks!

Jun 21, 5:38AM EDT41

What parts of Asia did you visit on your trip?

Jun 15, 7:26PM EDT19

I went all over Vietnam from the South to the North (Saigon, Mekong Delta, Nha Trang, Hoi Ann, Hue, Halong Bay, Hanoi). The only major thing in Vietnam that we missed was Sapa. Next time :)

After, I went to Thailand with my new friend from the tour. In Thailand we spent a few days in Bangkok, then I went north via a night train to Chiang Mai to bathe some elephants (my favorite animals. That's one of the few places in the world where you can truly have ethical encounters with them). I then flew from Chiang Mai to Phuket to spend a few days at the beach. Of course, the time I spent at the beach was the only time it rained! Lol. Then I went home.

Separately, I have also been to Bali, Indonesia. En route to Bali I had a layover in Seoul where I went to the DMZ border with North Korea. 

Jun 16, 11:16AM EDT19
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What do you think about proposed travel bans based on ethnicity or religion?

Jun 15, 6:39PM EDT30

I think it's disgusting. It's sad that we live in a world where people can be banned from experiencing other cultures simply based on their ethnicity, religion, or frankly, the color of their skin. It's unfair and makes me very, very frustrated. Yet at the same time, it helps me check my privilege. For whatever reason, I was born "lucky" - lucky to be an American, lucky to be white (although I am also Latina, but have fairer skin, so I've never been discriminated for this) and lucky to have enough money for food on the table every single night. Because of these things, I try to give back in any way I can. And personally, I don't have any of those hateful feelings towards other people. Sure, I get curious. Places like Saudi Arabia are really fascinating to me. I can't believe that women are still not allowed to drive there. Yet I would never want that curiosity to turn into hatred - for a country, for a religion, for anything bigger than the actual problem, because then I'm really no better than these massively powerful politicians ruling our world. 

Jun 16, 11:13AM EDT32

I agree here - I think hatred is mostly created artificially, for particular political courses or politicians.

Jun 21, 6:11AM EDT24

How did you choose Asia for your travels?

Jun 15, 5:54PM EDT38

At the time I had just graduated from university. I had about a month until my full time job started, and always thought of Asia as pretty far away, so knew that would be enough time to get there. I'd always wanted to explore somwhere new (I studied abroad in Europe during undergrad) so instead of a graduation present, I asked my family for help buying my plane ticket to Asia. I have always been especially interested in South East Asia because of its roots in Buddhism (a religion I have always been fascinated by/enjoyed), beachy/island vibes, and delicious foods that I have always enjoyed here in NYC. After Asia, well, the travel bug only grew from there and I pretty much want to see the whole world now :)

Jun 16, 11:09AM EDT24
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How would you describe your accommodations while in Asia?

Jun 15, 5:50PM EDT0

In Vietnam we stayed in pretty nice hotels with our group tour, I would equate them to 3 or 4 stars in the US. They weren't luxurious, but they were nice, comfy beds in air-conditioned rooms. Believe it or not, it's not that expensive to stay in a really nice hotel in a place like Bali or Koh Samui (an island in Thailand). I mean yes, they are expensive compared to a hostel, but it's all relative. They are far cheaper than staying in a hotel of the same caliber in the US or Europe.Yet when I wasn't on a group tour, I stayed in hostels because they're a great way to save money. You can get a bed for $10 a night as long as you don't mind sharing a room with 5-8 other people. And yes, those rooms are usually

Yet when I wasn't on a group tour, I stayed in hostels because they're a great way to save money. You can get a bed for $10 a night as long as you don't mind sharing a room with 5-8 other people. And yes, those rooms are usually air-conditioned too.

Jun 16, 10:59AM EDT0

How do you immerse yourself culturally while traveling?

Jun 15, 5:26PM EDT23

I love to go with the flow. If I am in a country where the pace of life is slower (which is 99% of the world compared to my life in NYC) I learn not to rush things. If I'm in a country where something is so vastly different from my own, I try to embrace it by asking questions. Why do you do this? Why do you do that? And I try to teach myself how to adapt. I haven't been to Japan yet, but Japan would be a great example here, because it's rude to keep your shoes on indoors. So naturally, I would just take my shoes off and ask them if there are any other things I should know to "Fit in" with how they do things.

Jun 16, 10:56AM EDT30
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What brand of luggage do you prefer, and why?

Jun 15, 4:35PM EDT0

I really like my Osprey Fairpoint Backpack, because it's small and light weight, doesn't hurt my back, but fits all the things I need for a 2 week trip. Even if you're traveling longer, you never need more than 2 weeks worth of clothes, b/c you can always hit a laundromat. And even 2 weeks worth is a lot. The only stuff you really need is weather dependent. A jacket for the cold, shorts for the heat, etc. My Osprey bag also comes with a detachable day pack, which is great for shorter trips like an overnighter to the jungle (where I can leave my big bag at my hostel in the city or something).

Jun 16, 10:51AM EDT0

What are some sources for insider travel tips from locals?

Jun 15, 4:11PM EDT0

Great question. I love using CouchSurfing (I've blogged about it before) and posting on the message boards to get their advice on where to really go/what to really eat/if they would like to meet up. I also made a profile on Showaround, which is similar, but a paid experience, if you are looking for more of a local immersion/tourguidey experience. And the more people I meet on the road, the more connections I have on Facebook/Snapchat/WhatsApp, so I usually ask them for advice if I am coming to town, and sometimes meet up for a drink or two!

Jun 16, 10:54AM EDT0

Do you have any advice for scoring the cheapest travel tickets?

Jun 15, 4:05PM EDT49

Oh yes. I plan on writing an e-book about this. Without giving toooo much away, one thing I highly recommend is being open-minded about your destination. If you absolutely HAVE to use certain vacation days, try search engines like SkyScanner or Google Flights that let you search  those dates from wherever you live to "Everywhere" or "Europe" or "Asia" - here you will see lots of cities pop up at different prices and it'll help you start formulating a destination with your budget in mind. 

Jun 16, 10:49AM EDT52

Wow, thanks!

Jun 21, 5:42AM EDT10

How do you get off the beaten path while traveling?

Jun 15, 2:45PM EDT0

Great question. I've done quite a few group tours which have allowed me to meet people from all over the world. In Africa, I got close to a group of Swiss girls. Then, I saved up my money and booked a trip to Switzerland. I was able to stay with them, which was great because I spoke not a word of German, but it also allowed me to see Switzerland from their perspective. True locals. They fed me Swiss dishes, invited me into their Swiss parents' home in the Alps. And I reciprocate as much as I can. Those two are actually coming to visit me in NY soon. But in general, I love love LOVE to spend as much time with locals as I possibly can. They know best. And if I can't, I google like a fiend. Lots of backpackers have touched every corner of the globe at this point. Where have they gone that may have been a hole in the wall restaurant on the outside but serve some of the most authentic food on the inside? things like that. I've also recently taken to starting my own blog to help other people learn about off the beaten travels/any advice in general. Lostwithliv.com (shameless plug) :)

Jun 16, 10:48AM EDT0

What are some tips for making new friends while traveling?

Jun 15, 2:05PM EDT30

I always like to travel with an open mind. People from other parts of the world (and sometimes even our own country) grew up in very different environments from us. They have different families. Different stories. Different life paths. The more traveling I've done, the more I've realized not to judge other people for their perspectives that are so vastly different from my own. I appreciate them for their differences. And whether instinctively or not, I seem to find other people who also appreciate these differences, rather than cite them as a reason to discriminate and argue. 

I also like to push myself out of my comfort zone. I sit at a table full of strangers and ask if anyone is eating breakfast with them, something I would never do in the comfort of my day-to-day life. I look for tours that cater to solo travelers, because other people traveling by themselves are equally as friendly, openminded and eager to make new friends. 

A more tangental tip I would offer is looking into group tours. Especialy those tours that cater to solo travelers (with groups like G Adventures or Contiki). These allow you to form a bond with strangers after traveling with them for 1 or 2 weeks straight, sometimes even longer.

Jun 16, 10:46AM EDT19
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Would you recommend seeing a Thai ping pong show as a family?

Jun 15, 11:11AM EDT0

It is definitely not for the faint of heart. I would NOT recommend taking children to a ping pong show. But if your children are teenagers/old enough to watch R-rated movies, I would say it could be a funny family experience. At the very least, it's definitely a cultural one.

Jun 16, 10:42AM EDT0