A gay guide to Bangkok at night

Soi 4 host cabaret–style shows

Soi 4 host cabaret–style shows

By Jen Jones

Strolling along the busy streets of Silom in downtown Bangkok at night will reveal a city that is alive with lights and laughter. The narrow sidewalks are packed with stalls, turning the whole area into a bustling night market where everything, it seems, is for sale.

Two tourists with German accents haggle over watches and a vendor puts a Thai silk tie in a bag closing a sale. Meanwhile, on Silom soi 4, or Gay street, other activities are in play, with the homosexual wonderland offering everything anyone gay ever dared dream of.

There are more people on this street than anywhere else nearby and they come in all shapes and sizes. Tourists from around the world flock here, reveling in the comfortable atmosphere and open nature of this pocket of the capital. Though Phuket and Pattaya have great gay scenes – if you’re gay and in Thailand, Bangkok is the place to see and be seen.

Bangkok hosts Pride Week once a year, but the spirit of Pride is alive every night on Silom soi 4. Most of the bars and clubs in the area have balconies and patios and people spill out into the streets, watching passers–by and taking it all in.

The Balcony has drink specials during happy hour and perhaps the largest number of chairs outside on the street. It’s a great place from which to check out the staff at the bar opposite, who dress in different coordinated clothes every night and gracefully entice passing people into their midst. For those too shy to make face to face contact, the Telephone Pub and Restaurant provides customers with a telephone at every table to facilitate meetings.

Several establishments on and around soi 4 host cabaret–style shows. The former Freeman Dance Arena is still one of the most popular venues for shows. The Arena recently reopened under a new name, the G.O.D club, but still has the same great style. Their nightly shows are legendary – the costumes and coordination are excellent and the drag queens are some of the most spectacular on the planet. But the name really says it all; G.O.D. stands for ‘guys on display’.

“G.O.D. club looks great, the music is fantastic and it’s open until at least 04:00. It blows other clubs completely away”, said British tourist Jack Nambert, who loves the saunas on soi 4 and the discos on soi 2, but who can’t get enough of the drag shows at G.O.D.

Drag queens in Thailand are, as a whole, almost unparalleled. Thai society is very amenable to a little gender bending here and there. The Thai word kathoey is used to refer to someone who is born a male but who chooses to dress and act like a female. Often translated to mean ‘lady boy’ in English, kathoey in Thailand are highly visible and take up positions throughout society in television dramas, as aerobics instructors, shop clerks and so on. It takes a lot to get to the top of the entertainment circuit as a lady boy, so what gets on stage is generally superb.

Kathoeys dress and act like a female

Kathoeys dress and act like a female

DJ Station is a club on Silom soi 2 with an excellent nightly show. Entry is inexpensive and the ticket price includes two drinks. The show is fantastic, the drinks are strong and at the end of the night, the dance floor is packed almost to immobility with hordes of half–naked, beautiful men.

Silom soi 4 can be a little overwhelming. Although it is a great place to meet other like–minded tourists and even hook up with a travelling companion for the rest of your vacation in Thailand, it isn’t the best place to get a true glimpse of gay life for Thai men.

Ramkhamhaeng road has several bars that make up a small gay strip near the intersection with Lamsalee road. ICK, Finalle, SeaTrue and Crazy all serve reasonably priced drinks to a mostly Thai clientele and play great music that gets people dancing.

At weekends, Bangkok hosts a huge market in the north end of the city known as Chatuchak. During the day, it’s a great place to shop and the nearby parks are perfect for picnicking and people watching. As the sun goes down however, people head to a number of small, trendy bars in the neighbourhood, several of which are great places for guys to meet guys.

ICY on Kamphaengphet road was voted one of the top gay bars in Bangkok and is the place to go to hook up with a trendy young Thai guys.

“A friend took me to ICY for the first time. I was really nervous because I usually hang out with other foreigners on soi 4. The music was surprisingly good and there wasn’t another foreigner in the place. Things were really Thai style”, enthused Adam Miller, an American student studying in Bangkok.

“I feel so much less repressed here than I do back home. I walk along the street in Bangkok hand in hand with my man and nobody bats an eye. I love it”.

Things are slightly more difficult for a woman trying to meet another woman, even in Bangkok. While the boys are out on the street making noise and being highly visible, it can be hard for the uninitiated to figure out where the lesbian scene is going on.

When one of the bouncers at Balls, a sports pub on Silom soi 4 was asked, ‘Where are the lesbians?’ he replied quickly, “I think they go to sleep at 18:00”.

ICY is one of the top gay bars in Bangkok

ICY is one of the top gay bars in Bangkok

Fortunately, not all the lesbians in Bangkok go to bed so early. But the truth is, like many lesbian social groups in the West, the social scene in Thailand tends to be discreet and centered around private gatherings.

Although many women in the West have tried in recent years to distance themselves from the clear distinctions of butch and femme, lesbian life in Thailand is still very much divided along those lines. Lesbians in Thailand generally call themselves either a tom (as is tomboy) or a dee(as in lady). Toms are by far the most visible group and generally carry the most sex appeal.

Because modern Thai society is accepting of homosexuality, tom and dee couples can go out together everywhere, meaning there are very few establishments catering exclusively to lesbians. There are a few places along Sukhumvit road that are good including the upscale cabaret restaurant Mambo and Thumb Up (both on Soi 32), which is a great place to get a groove on a Friday night. Phra Athit road has several mixed establishments that attract a decent lesbian crowd, particularly at weekends.

Vega (Sukhumvit soi 39) is a restaurant owned by a tom–dee couple, so you are guaranteed to meet at least two lesbians if you dine here. The place is occasionally empty and occasionally full to the brim, but whether or not the lesbians are in residence, good food and great music are always on offer.

Still, looking for lesbians in Bangkok can be extremely frustrating. “I lived in Thailand for 6 months and every weekend I would go looking for someone else, anyone else, who was gay. I just could not meet any women”, complained Melissa O”Mara, a teacher from Australia. “Finally”, she said, “I discovered the internet”.

Meeting up on the internet is one of the best ways to get inside the social life of lesbians in Bangkok. There are several organisations that can help including the Anjaree Group. Though focused on Thai speakers, they occasionally plan social events which welcome travellers. Websites such as Utopia Asia, Pink Ink and the Pink Couch are excellent resources for meeting and getting in touch with local lesbians, who are often happy to dish out the scoop on what’s happening in Bangkok.

Just as the general Thai public are welcoming and accepting of homosexuality in their culture and from abroad, most gay venues in Bangkok are equally welcoming of non–homosexuals in their midst. Sitting on the patio chairs at bars on soi 4 are families with their teenage children, pairs of snuggling gay couples and groups of straight girls gearing up for a night of dancing.

That’s the great thing about Bangkok – it’s in the Land of Smiles. No matter where you go and who you are going with (or want to get with), someone’s sure to be smiling at you.

About the Author

Andrew Bond is a travel writer who has been living in Thailand and writing about the region for more than 10 years, contributing to numerous local magazines and major web travel brands. He travels around South East Asia by tuk-tuk, bicycle, cyclo, jeepney, taxi, moto, elephant or foot in search of new smells, sounds, sights, and atmosphere. Share your travel bits with him on Google +

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