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.
The Best Things To Do
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.
The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs in Bangkok
Silom Soi 2 and Soi 4 continue to be hotspots for Bangkok's for LGBTQ nightlife and are extremely friendly to travelers. Sadly, local rumors have it that these iconic strips may be redeveloped entirely in the coming years, so enjoy while you can!
Check out "Thailand Drag Race" stars in action at Soi 4's The Stranger bar, including Jaja, Angele Anang, and the show's English-speaking, wickedly funny co-host Pangina Heals, also known as Pan Pan Nakprasert, who helped popularize the queer dance style, waacking, in Southeast Asia.
See and be seen (with a beverage and even some grub of course) at an outdoor table at Soi 4's 30-plus-year-old Telephone Pub or neighbors The Balcony, Connections, and G's. Just up a flight of stairs, the three-year-old HUGs caters to bears, cubs, and their friends.
For elaborate drag production numbers (replete with choreography and back-up dancers) and dancefloor action, head to Soi 2's long-running, multi-level DJ Station, neighboring Disco Disco, and G (formerly known as G.O.D.).
Although the upscale, chic Maggie Choo's discontinued its weekly gay night in early 2020, promoter Ken Kreangsak Lieng continues to throw new, exciting gay parties and events throughout Bangkok via his G-Spot Entertainment.
If you're wanting a lower-key spot with stunning design, craft cocktails, and mixed crowd, check out the Iron Balls Gin Parlour & Saloon, serving locally distilled Iron Balls Gin, the trendy Thonglor district speakeasy J. Boroski (no menus: just cite your favorite spirit and flavors and they'll whip up something with seasonal market fruits and herbs), and Silom's Vesper.
The Best Places to Eat
Openly gay Thai restauranteur Thanaruek Laoraowirodge, known as Khun Eh, is behind Somtum Der, a buzzy, cute, casual, and affordable Isan-style restaurant near the Silom nightlife—you might even spot a few LGBTQ Thai celebs here! Since 2011, he has since expanded the brand to New York (where it received a Michelin star), Vietnam, and Japan, and other locations across Bangkok. Sister venue Supanniga Eating Room, with locations in Sathorn, Thonglor, and Charoen Krung, takes its menu from his grandmother's Eastern Thai culinary repertoire.
Also a gay-owned favorite, 22-year-old Silom restaurant Eat Me is a consistent presence on culinary "Best Of" lists, thanks to both to New York ex-pat chef Tim Butler's inventive, upscale fusion cuisine (there's a vegan menu as well!), fresh contemporary vibe, and edgy art exhibitions. Local LGBTQ foodies also magnet to locavore and organic-centric (and very LGBTQ-inclusive in both the kitchen and front of house) upscale venues Le Du, Bo.Lan, 80/20, and one of the hardest tables to snag in Thailand, Sorn. Awarded two Michelin stars in 2020 and included on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list, Sorn is situated in a gorgeously renovated mansion and presents some of the most upscale, time-consuming, utterly delicious preparations of Southern Thai cuisine you'll find in the world.
Where to Stay
The Sathorn district's 403-room W Bangkok is as chic, clubby, and modern (and yes, LGBTQ!) as one expects from the fashion-loving brand, and conveniently located just near the BTS. Its swimming pool is just begging for social media photos, and the AWAY spa a fab way to pamper away the afternoon.
Located just off Lumphini Park and steps from Silom, The SO/Bangkok, formerly the Sofitel So, offers 237 rooms in four different element-themed designs (water, wood, earth, metal). All are fantastic, while savoring a cocktail at either the outdoor Water Club swimming pool or rooftop HI-SO bar are musts... with a park view!
Gay Bangkok power couple in life and work, Bill Bensley and Jirachai Rengthong, have designed some of Southeast Asia's most stunning resorts and private residences, including Bangkok's own leafy, sumptuous urban oasis, The Siam, which is just tucked away from the Chao Phraya River. If you want to stay on and overlook the Chao Phraya, the 144-year-old Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, which completed a $140 million renovation in December 2019, is as iconic as it gets with stunning spa, afternoon tea, award-winning cocktail spot Bamboo Bar, and direct water shuttle service to IconSIAM across the river.