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A guide for first time visitors (2008)
Bangkok may no longer be the anything-goes party town of the 1980s, but it still has plenty of
entertainment to offer gay visitors. Successive governments have
curbed under-age drinking and prostitution - good; but they've also reduced the number of
hours that bars and nightclubs can stay open - not so good. But the basic fact remains that
Thais like to have a good time - their word for it is sanook and foreigners don't have to look far to join them.
First time gay visitors to Bangkok usually head for Silom Road. The evening routine
begins in Soi 4, where a half a dozen gay, straight and anything-goes bars
compete for customers.
Not far from Sala Daeng Skytrain station, the entrance to
An entrant in a recent Mr Silom contest - the judges were particularly impressed by his smile.
the soi (alley) is opposite Convent Road.
Leave behind you the stalls selling souvenirs and pirated dvds and walk past the tattoo artist and men's swimwear shop.
Ahead of you is a riot of neon and noise, with sidewalk
tables and beckoning young waiters, music blaring from every establishment, and Thais and tourists of every gender and sexuality.
If it's early, have a meal at Sphinx, at the far end of the soi. This quiet, dimly lit restaurant is a favourite with gay visitors and their Thai friends offering both Western and Thai food.
Local routine is to eat elsewhere and come for the first drink around nine.
The oldest gay bars are Telephone and Balcony,
which face each other across the soi like aging drag queens.
Beside them sit relative newcomers all-gay Café Four and the gay-friendly
There is much truth in the cliché of older Western man and younger Thai companion. Most locals are under thirty and most visitors are older, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Similarly, although Thais tend to be slim, a minority are dedicated gym bunnies, with the biceps and pectorals to prove it. Workout center of choice is California Wow, directly opposite Soi 4 on Silom Road.
Around eleven, the exodus begins as revelers head for D J Station, Bangkok's premier Western-style gay nightclubs. It is in Silom Soi 2,
and offers a twenty-minute show with male dancers and lipsynching katoey (ladyboys), followed by
hot music and hot men from all over South East Asia and further afield.
If the dancefloor is too crowded or you're running low on energy, make your way up to
the slightly quieter bar at the back of the first (European) / second (N American) floor.
You'll find a slightly older, more relaxed crowd here. Head back to the balcony if you want to
be greeted by cute twenty-one-year olds in low cut jeans and tight t-shirts with fat-free stomachs and perfect behinds who are unable to keep their eyes off you.
As noted earlier, many young Thais find older white men - 30 and up - more attractive than their own age range or ethnicity, and it's not always the size of
the foreigner's wallet that turns them on. Your problem is distinguishing between the youths who expect money (usually 1,000 baht - $35), those who would never ask but who are happy to be given it, and those who would definitely be offended if you thought they were a "moneyboy".
Good luck in working out which is which - and if you do pay, don't be too mean. Many young men earn no more than $200 a month; by the time they've paid for rent and food and busfares, the $7 weekend entry fee to DJ is a luxury they can't often afford.
Alternately, climb the steep staircase to the top floor where you can chill out and watch the bacchanalia coming to its climax far beneath you. The lights will finally go up at around 3am, letting you stumble out into the street lost in a crowd of a hundred or so gay men mingliing among the food stalls (chicken noodle soup, anyone?), not caring whether or not you are going home alone.
(If you're really desperate for more, follow the small crowd that ends the evening at G.O.D. in Silom Soi 2/1...)
The next night start with a drink or a meal
a bar popular with expatriates living long-term in Bangkok.
Ask hosts Richard or Jim for directions to nearby Soi Pratoochai
(also known as Soi Twilight) off Surawong Road.
Ignore the touts pleading with you to enter this or that go-go bar and
head for Dick's caf. It's a good place to relax and
watch the scene; the tourists tend to be older and
rounder in body than in Silom, and most of the Thais are working boys.
Around ten, head for one of the bars. You'll pay 200
baht ($7) a drink to watch a parade of shirtless young men with a
number pinned to their tight shorts. If you see one you want, ask
the waiter or bar captain if he is gay ("does everything") or straight
("only plays the man"). Then have him come over for a drink.
Talk; his English may not be good, but he'll be eager to please.
If you decide to take him with you remember that by the time you
pay for everything - your drinks and his, the bar fine and his fee,
you'll be out of pocket at least $70. If you want to use a room
in or near the bar, the cost will go up another $10 or so. And
don't forget the condom. There's a high rate of HIV in Bangkok
and you wouldn't want to either to take home a souvenir or to
contribute to a growing problem.
Whether or not you are paying for company, stay for
the show. There will be lipsynching and dancing, body-flexing and
mock sex; possibly actual sex, but that is always less erotic than
the scenes that preceded it. The quality varies, but Dream Boys,
Best Boys Bangkok and Jupiter (on the other side of Surawong Road)
are usually entertaining. Don't forget Classic, at the end of Soi Twilight; it has the only swim show in Bangkok, with slender young men in speedos gliding gracefully between each other's legs like underwater mermen. And if you want a room full of muscles and bad attitude, walk down Surawong to the Tawan Club in Soi Tantawan.
Two other options for first-timers to Bangkok. Take a daytime walk in Lumpini Park. Enter at the corner opposite where Silom Road meets Rama IV Road. In addition to the office staff taking a break or on their way home, there are plenty of young men jogging, exercising or swimming, and many are approachable. There is also a lot of cruising at night, but foreigners are rare and often seen as a source of income.
Finally, no gay man can leave Bangkok without visiting Babylon,
one of the world's greatest saunas, a short taxi-ride away. Purpose built in
2000, this mecca offers a pool, an extensive weightroom, two restaurants,
two bars, massage, haircuts, reading areas and regular shows,
in addition to sauna, steam room, a dark area and many private cubicles.
Although it closes at midnight, addicts can stay overnight in the Barracks,
where the rooms lack private facilities but where the natives and
explorers are always friendly...
With Babylon, Silom and Surawong, you've only scratched the surface
of Bangkok's gay nightlife. If you want to see where most gay men in
the city of the angels (the literal meaning of Krungthep, the city's Thai name) spend their evenings, you'll have to look further afield.
But that's the subject of another column; read more here...
Gay Thailand (including updates on some of the themes in this article)
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