The Land of Smiles directs a most welcoming grin towards LGBTQ visitors and residents alike, and Bangkok, also known as the City of Angels, with a population of approximately 12 million, is one of Asia's most essential, exciting, and rapidly evolving metropolises. The city became host to the first official Asia-set spin-off of RuPaul's Drag Race, "Drag Race Thailand," which has launched numerous queens' international careers in its two seasons (so far!) including its English-speaking, UCLA-educated half-Taiwanese Bangkok-based co-host, Pangina Heals.
Transgender identity is also a thread woven into the society's fabric, with celebrities including pop music stars Gene Kasidit and Belle Nuntita, model Kulchaya "Candy" Tansiri, and filmmaker turned MP (she was elected to the House of Parliament in May 2019), Tanwarin "Golf" Sukkhapisit, who is determined to follow Taiwan in bringing legal marriage equality to Thailand. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)'s English language Go Thai Be Free website and campaign is rich with information and resources, including dedicated sections for its major cities and islands, including, of course, Bangkok.
April's Songkran, Thailand's New Year celebration, sees the entire city turn into a jubilant, water-drenched playground, with plenty of queer folks getting in on the action. During this time, Bangkok also hosts the annual gCircuit, a four-day series of jam-packed LGBTQ dances and events, including pool parties for bears, muscle boys, and everyone in between, with an impressive line-up of both global and local DJs. And the city's famed Silom Soi 2 and Soi 4 strips remain buzzing LGBTQ nightlife (and all-male massage joint) meccas with their bevy of bars, nightclubs, and drag cabarets.
Bangkok is also home to a significant and visible lesbian population, including the masculine-appearing "toms" (short for tomboys). Check out the online short documentary, "Toms: The Complex World of Female Love In Thailand," for more on this scene and LGBTQ subculture. Women can also get their groove on at the monthly LESLA lesbian party.
As Southeast Asia’s tourism gate from the West, Thailand has long been at the forefront of actively welcoming LGBTQ travelers to this enchanting part of the world. While attitudes throughout the country tend to be more progressive in the South, further away from its border with the more conservative nations of Laos and Myanmar, where LGBTQ people face serious legal obstacles, the centrally located city of Bangkok offers both a vibrant nightlife and an active day life headlined by plenty of restaurants, rooftop bars, and shopping strewn about the invigoratingly chaotic capital. LGBTQ nightlife is centered around the Silom neighborhood, where two streets, Soi 4 and Soi 2, are crammed with gay venues ranging from dance clubs to lady-boy bars, with a variety of niches between. The only bit of Thai magic missing from Bangkok is the Southeast Asian nation’s legendary beach collection, and the best of those can be found with just an hour-and-a-half flight south to Phuket, home to one of Thailand’s three annual pride celebrations, magnificent beaches, and similarly jaw-dropping nightlife.
The Best Things To DoFor other LGBTQ what's ons during your visit, check out Time Out Bangkok, BK Magazine, and Bangkok 101.
There's no better way to get a true sense of place in Bangkok than a cruise along the Chao Phraya River, lined on either side by iconic structures and temples (and luxury hotels!). The gay-owned 40-seat Supanniga Cruise ship is one of the classiest ways to take in the sights and atmosphere and offers a daily choice of a cocktail and champagne cruise (with an optional "afternoon tea" style set) or a full six-course sunset dinner excursion that includes a glass of bubbly and authentic Thai dishes. You're sure to spot both Thai and farang LGBTQ couples enjoying the romance, food, cocktails, and sights, and it's a welcome alternative to the gaudy disco-blasting, buffet-serving vessels that overtake the river after sundown.
Opened in late 2018, IconSIAM is the Chao Phraya's newest addition and the first major, glittery, top-end shopping center on the other side of the river. Home to Bangkok's first Apple store and a ground-level food court, Sook Siam, the shopping center also boasts a mix of major international prestige brands and local artisanal goods alike, including aromatherapy and spa brand Thaan. There are also dozens of restaurants, including the casual, fun, and delicious Thai-Italian fusion restaurant Greyhound Cafe (a big favorite of local and visiting Asian LGBTQ folks, from bears to Toms to drag queens!). Greyhound has multiple locations around the city and is a must.
One of Bangkok's most underrated attractions is its Museum of Contemporary Art, MOCA Bangkok. Although outside the city center and requiring a taxi or Uber ride to access, its five floors are dedicated to the stunning breadth of Thailand's contemporary artists—quite a few being LGBTQ—and their work. Meanwhile, the Bangkok Art & Culture Center, located right off the BTS Skytrain and just next to major shopping centers MBK and Siam Discovery, recently hosted Asia's largest art exhibition of regional LGBTQ work to date, "Spectrosynthesis II — Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia." Resembling New York's Guggenheim inside with its spiral-like architecture, the building is also home to cool local shops and cafes.
The entire sixth floor of shopping center Central Embassy is home to the incredible gay-owned Open House Bookshop by Hardcover, a photogenic, beautifully designed series of shelves packed with mostly art-themed tomes and goods surrounding a fabulous variety of cafes and restaurant outlets as well.
More than just a gay bathhouse, Babylon is an internationally beloved, well maintained gay men's Bangkok institution with sauna facilities, a swimming pool, gym, and full-service spa pampering services. It's frequented by both locals and visitors alike. Also popular, the creative and hipster Ari district's Chakran celebrates its 21st anniversary in 2020, while 39 Underground, just one BTS stop north in nearby Saphan Khwai, draws an almost exclusively local Thai crowd.
Bangkok is also home to a family-friendly, excellent Japanese-style onsen facility, Yunomori. It's a perfect day and night indulgence, with full massage treatments, food (the beer with a sweet ginger shot is delicious), and wet areas (nude and gender-segregated). While the term "ladyboy" has finally been tossed in the rubbish, one can still see Thailand's talented transgender women perform in a cabaret performance at Calypso.
Time Out Magazine: https://www.timeout.com/bangkok
BK Magazine: https://bk.asia-city.com
Bangkok 101: https://www.bangkok101.com