While crossing each intersection along Sathon Tai Road, I felt as though I was being engulfed by cars and motorbikes and blinded by their headlines as they swerved around me.
I was walking to The Babylon Bangkok hotel in Sathon but I didn’t realize that the small street that I’d started on would turn into a nine-lane motorway. It was the sort of surprise chaos that seemed so synonymous with this city.
My new Australian friend Steven, who I’d met at Balcony Pub, invited me as his guest. He was staying at The Babylon for a week, and mentioned that there was a spa and sauna there too. He made the place sound more like a social club with its swimming pool, restaurant and the gym — the main reason he invited me.
I turned onto Suan Phlu Road and across to Suan Phlu 8 alley. After getting used to the bustle of Bangkok, this new quiet threw me off.
I ended up at a gate with some guards and explained that I was going to Babylon. I was expecting some trouble since it was a gay venue but one of them smiled instead and pointed the way.
I entered Babylon through its sauna entrance and found Steven, in only his shorts, waiting for me past the front desk. He handed me a guest pass and the guy at the desk gave me a key with a number looped onto an elastic wristband, like one that you’d get at a bathhouse.
The decor felt like a clichéd take on the orient with its various statues and art. I couldn’t decipher whether they were going for a Babylonian or Buddhist aesthetic. Maybe both.
Steven walked me through to the change room past a mix of East Asian and Western guys, cruising the halls in towels. He explained that I too would have a towel inside my locker to change into. I found condoms in there as well.
I got changed and met Steven out by the pool. He showed me the gym first, since it was the reason I came. It had all the equipment that you’d need, although somewhat outdated. There were two guys working out in only towels and another guy lurking in the corner, cruising, kind of creepily, which made me wonder whether the gym was just for show — a sort of fantasy, like the one at Steamworks in Toronto. I appreciated the sexiness of it, but I wasn’t sure it was ideal for a daily gym.
As Stephen took me around the pool, a Thai guy asked, in broken English, if he could kiss me. I politely declined.
Soon after, Stephen asked if I was hungry, saying that the food was pretty good. I was reluctant to have dinner in what was more more of a sex sauna than the social club I’d been promised. I know that some baths in Toronto serve pizza and continental breakfast, but I personally have never liked the idea of eating in a place where public sex is going on. And from what I sensed, there was a lot of sex happening in the areas we would soon explore.
At the same time, the restaurant was kind of fancy-looking so I thought, why not?
The dining room was large and dimly lit with a panelled glass wall along one side, looking back out onto the pool. There were two muscular Thai guys in the corner sipping smoothies but otherwise, the place was empty. We took a seat by the window.
There was something hedonistic about being served dinner in only a towel by beautiful young men. It was like an illusion of an ultra-liberal gay society, but it couldn’t be; I read that approximately 2.5 percent of LGBT teens in Thailand are forced to enter the Buddhist monkhood in an effort to “cure” them, which is basically a form of conversion therapy.
It makes a place like Babylon, that’s so far tucked away from the realities of the city, that much more artificial . . .