Travel
2 min

Bangkok

In the land of the free, Thais think of sex as a kind of appetite

Wat Phra Kaeo in the Grand Palace Credit: Aimaimyi

A place of great beauty, Prathet Thai, "land of the free," Bangkok has stunning landscapes, tropical vegetation, idyllic beaches, shimmering temples of gold, and people who are generous with their smiles. The foundations of this society are Buddhism and the monarchy. Even taxi drivers at work will stop at small temples to make offerings and pray; and at 6pm each day people across Bangkok stand quietly to pay their respect to the king. Self-assured, fiercely independent, Thais are proud to have stood alone in resisting European colonization of the region..

Buddhist culture has uncommonly relaxed perspectives on sexuality and gender roles. To outsiders' eyes, women working construction jobs alongside men in hard hats, while some men dance in bars in tiny thongs or less, doing sex work with men but living otherwise straight lives, might appear odd. And ladyboys, who don't outrage or scandalize anyone, occupy a sort of third-gender social niche, hard to imagine in most countries. 

In Buddhist traditions, life has far more important concerns, sexual knowledge is not immoral or depraved per se, and such matters are personal or family affairs. This attitude sometimes disorients foreigners who binge (so little time, so many opportunities), but Thais think of sex as a kind of appetite — to enjoy, to partake of in any or all it's varieties, but in moderation.

By the Chao Phraya River, the Silom and Surawong Roads district has a thriving scene of restaurants, karaoke bars, saunas, massage spas, and go-go bars. It's where most gay visitors head first to see the uninhibited strip shows, and more. Clubs might have a dozen to several dozen dancers, and anyone who tickles your fancy may be engaged for some private time alone. The mamasan will help with arrangements, or language difficulites. Besides companion costs, there are house charges and tips to pay. For small tips many dancers encourage hands-on explorations in the club. Lumphini Park, off Thanon Rama IV, can be quite cruisy, especially at dusk along east-side paths.

Few tourists make it so far, but a few of the intrepid might see another area of gay pubs and saunas in the Ramkhamhaeng Road area, a district best explored with Thai friends. English is less frequently spoken here, and most Thais are looking for Thais, but simpatico outsiders are welcome enough if friendly and respectful of local ways. The clubs here are more laid-back social meeting places, with far fewer commercial sexual overtones. Khamphengphet Road, Sukhumvit Road and Saphan Kwai (Pradiphat) are home to similar scenes and to some of the best gay dance clubs in Bangkok. Most of this other Thai gay world is invisible and inaccessible to tourists, but over 50 more gay bars, massage spas, and bathhouses are listed by local guides outside the central tourist district — either without websites or published only in Thai.

Straight friends may head for the Phrakorn/Banglampu area, up-river a bit, to the legendary Khao San Road. This favorite on the old backpacker/hippy trail is still full of inexpensive hostels, restaurants, bars, cafes, and services. Mainline movies enjoy the joke of knowing (or not) the ladyboys from the girls, here in this international party scene. Blame it on the whiskey.

Read more in our Gay Bangkok City Guide.

For the most up-to-date travel information, see our Gay Bangkok Listings Guide, Event Guide and Activities Guide.