Gay Thailand: Paradise in More Ways Than One
San Francisco–check. Provincetown, Mass.–check. Miami–check. Gay and lesbian travelers have an increasingly broad–and exuberant–array of gay-friendly U.S. destinations to pick from. Internationally, we’ve also got “gay” Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Canada, and more. But tilt the globe in an entirely different direction, and the average lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person might have no clue where to get their gay on.
Seeking outside-the-box destinations that are also easy on the dollar, many savvy American travelers have recently made Thailand their getaway of choice. But how do gay and lesbian travelers rate this tropical nation? I asked openly gay friends and colleagues James Harris and Mario Diaz for their thoughts on their recent Thailand trips.
Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member nova_chic.
The Window Seat: Tell me about your trip to Thailand. What did you do, and where?
James: I went to Bangkok on business–it was great.
Mario: I was in Thailand for five weeks total. I volunteered for four weeks teaching English in a village in the Isaan province. I lived with a Thai family, and was able to travel during the weekends. For one week at the end I visited places like Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, Phimai, Ayuthaya, and Bangkok. It was an amazing experience, to say the very least!
TWS: Did you go to any LGBT-friendly establishments?
James: Yes, in Bangkok. The area I went to was called Silom, which hosted two main streets, Soi 2 and Soi 4. It’s one of about four or so total gay areas in Bangkok. It was really easy to get around, because a lot of people speak English, and street signs are often in both English and Thai. It’s a very open city; everyone is really welcoming.
Mario: No, but Thailand in general tends to be very LGBT-friendly.
TWS: Were you “out” while you were there?
James: Not particularly, but I didn’t hide it.
Mario: I was not openly “out”–but that doesn’t mean people couldn’t figure it out on their own! The Thai, aside from being very friendly, tend to be very tolerant and respectful of others. I was never intimidated by the fact that they might suspect I was gay.
TWS: Did you notice other LGBT people? If so, how could you tell?
James: It’s hard to tell, especially as an outsider. The world is also changing–people are beginning to blend together and gay ghettos are becoming more disseminated.
Mario: Well, some of the boys tended to be very flamboyant. No questions there. Some transgender people were harder to identify, until I heard them speak.
TWS: Is safety an issue for LGBT people there? Did you or other “out” people feel safe, accepted, or comfortable?
James: Completely. I felt totally comfortable, and I felt like others did too.
Mario: Absolutely! From my experience, Thailand is way ahead of its time in terms of LGBT issues. The Western world has a lot to learn from them.
TWS: Did you notice any difference between LGBT culture in cities like Bangkok versus in more rural areas?
Mario: I, personally, did not. Before I went to Thailand, I read that you don’t necessarily find the same openness toward LGBT people in rural areas that you do in Bangkok or other large cities. However, that didn’t seem to be true in the village that I was living in. I saw teenage boys that left no doubt as to their sexuality, and they seemed very comfortable with themselves. Despite their flamboyance, even other, presumably heterosexual teenage boys seemed comfortable around them, too.
TWS: Do you feel that Western culture has had an impact on LGBT culture in Thailand?
James: The clubs and bars I went to in Bangkok were definitely Western-influenced. When you visit Mexico, you get a lot of Latin music in clubs and bars. But in Thailand, Western music, such as house music, is everywhere.
Mario: No, and I hope it never does. On the contrary, my hope is that Thailand will have more of an impact on Western cultures when it comes to sexuality. We’ve got a lot to learn.
TWS: Did you notice any difference between how gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, or transsexuals were treated?
James: I did see quite a few transgender people outside of gay areas. They seemed to be more evident, and possibly more accepted, than any other LGBT people I saw.
Mario: Looking back, gay men were a lot more noticeable–but I think that’s usually true in most places around the world. I occasionally did see transgender people, and they seemed well integrated, just as the gay men were.
TWS: Would you recommend Thailand as a destination for other LGBT travelers?
James: Absolutely! I loved Bangkok. The food is amazing, the hotels are phenomenal (especially Lebua and the Millennium Hilton), and you absolutely must take a ride in one of their water taxis. I would also definitely recommend traveling outside of Bangkok, since Thailand has so many beautiful beaches and Buddhist temples.
Mario: This goes without saying–yes! I would recommend Thailand to anyone and everyone! There is no other place like it.
Check out James’s photographs here, on his IgoUgo profile.
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