“Soi Twilight, the all-gay go-go Soi off Surawong, has indeed been boarded up for rebuilding into some tower,” Philip Cornwel-Smith informs me. A gay British expat living in Thailand since 1994, Cornwel-Smith authored an entertainingly deep dive into Thai popular culture called Very Thai (www.verythai.com), and the upcoming Very Bangkok, about the contemporary city. “The redevelopment of Bangkok is at a tipping point. There’s no coherent vision for the city, no brake on the haphazard replacement of diversity by generic condos and malls. Travel media relish the dramatic new venues, parks, and open vistas, but many locals mourn the erosion of ancient communities, alternative subcultures, and the vibrant streetlife that made Bangkok so distinctive and edgy. Some independent creatives and urbanists are helping to improve quality of life, but such fragile efforts can be swept away at any moment. That impermanence keeps Bangkok exciting, but risks what’s best about the city.”
There’s some local speculation that the days of Silom Soi 4, one of Bangkok’s most enduring gay nightlife destinations, full of iconic see-and-be-seen LGBTQ watering holes, including Telephone Bar (114/11-13 Silom Soi 4. Tel: +66-2-234-3279. www.telephonepub.com) and bear karaoke bar HUGs (82 Silom 4 Alley. Tel: +66-2-041-0457. www.facebook.com/hugsbarkaraoke), are numbered, since this also may get redeveloped in a couple of years. It seems unfathomable, and would signal the end of an era, yet in the meantime, Silom Soi 4 has actually seen a couple of new tenants, including gogo bars Jupiter 2018 (92 Silom Soi 4. Tel: +66-61-794-4698. www.facebook.com/Jupiter2018) and Banana Room Club (Tel: +66-93-008-8472. www.facebook.com/bananaroomclub).
Some developments I wholly embrace, however, include a dazzling Waldorf Astoria (151 Ratchadamri Rd. Tel: +66-2-846-8888. waldorfastoria3.hilton.com), which opened in late summer 2018, barely half a block south of the Erawan Shine. Its 55th floor steak and seafood restaurant Bull & Bear, 56th level Art Nouveau bar The Loft, and 57th floor The Champagne Bar offer views to die for, as well as great food and drinks.
Over at upscale shopping center Central Embassy (1031 Ploenchit Rd. Tel: +66-2119-7777. www.centralembassy.com), the sixth floor pops with visual wow thanks to its Open House Bookshop By Hardcover, a sprawling assemblage of bookshelves and towers stacked with mostly art tomes, surrounding Open House’s excellent cafe and restaurant outlets (including pizza geniuses, Peppina).
Here, I had coffee with Hardcover’s amicable, passionate founder, publisher, and art gallerist, Shane Suvikapakornkul, who
is openly gay and will open an LGBTQ-specific Hardcover spinoff called Gender Station in 2020. He’s already giving the concept a test run at Hardcover’s location inside the Guggenheim Museum-esque Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, aka BACC (939 Rama I Rd. Tel: +66-2-214-6630. www.bacc.or.th), and streams a discussion of LGBTQ topics there on Facebook Live (www.facebook.com/shanesvk) every other Sunday night. I also visited Suvikapakornkul’s Serindia Gallery (36 Charoen Krung Rd. Tel :+66-2-238-6410. www.serindiagallery.com), which spotlights contemporary Thai work.
Speaking of the BACC, Asia’s largest exhibition of LGBTQ artwork will be on view here from November 2019 through March 1st, 2020. Titled “SPECTROSYNTHESIS II – Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia,” it’s the handiwork of Hong Kong-born, openly gay art collector Patrick Sun’s Sunpride Organization. It will feature work and brand new commissions by over 50 artists including Thailand’s Sornchai Phongsa, Jakkai Siributr, and Piyarat Piyapongwiwat, Malaysia’s Anne Samat, Vietnam’s Dinh Q. Lê and Danh Vō, India’s Balbir Krishan, and Singapore’s Ming Wong. It’s a must!
Late 2018 saw the Chao Phraya River’s west side blaze with excitement during the opening of the glittery, towering ICONSIAM (299 Charoen Nakhon Rd. Tel: +66-(0)-2-495-7000. www.iconsiam.com/en) shopping center and Mandarin Oriental Residences. Home to Bangkok’s first Apple store and a ground level food court with a faux floating market and stalls representing food from different regions of Thailand, ICONSIAM boasts both major international prestige brands and inventive Bangkok favorites alike, including casual yet cute Thai-Western fusion restaurant, Greyhound Cafe.
Until its in-the-works BTS stop is completed, getting to ICONSIAM from city’s west is not entirely convenient: there’s a free shuttle boat, accessible from the Saphan Taksin BTS stop, but depending on day and time, it can take up to an hour of waiting and crossing each way. Conveniently, the east bank’s luxe, legendary Mandarin Oriental (48 Oriental Ave. Tel: +66-2-659-9000. www.mandarinoriental.com/bangkok/chao-phrayariver/luxury-hotel) runs its own shuttle for guests, and is also close to the brand new Charoenkrung location of gay-owned restaurant Supanniga Eating Room (www.supannigaeatingroom.com), which opens in late 2019.
Speaking of eating, I devoured a wide range of cuisines, including Michelin-starred, contemporary Thai at Sawaan (39/19 Soi Suanplu, Sathorn Rd. Tel: +66-(0)-2-679-3775. www.saawaan.com), which, apart from its location in a very LGBTQ part of the city with loads of eye candy strolling by its glass front, is also notable for its female-led kitchen: Chef de Cuisine/owner Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn and pastry chef Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul.
I also loved the equally Thai-centric, innovative locavore Taan (Siam Design Hotel, 865 Rama I Rd. Tel: (0)-65-328-7374. www.taanbangkok.com), and 80/20 (1052-1054 Charoen Krung Rd. Tel: +66-99-118-2200. www.facebook.com/8020bkk), where innovative uses of deeply Thai, locally-sourced and fermented ingredients in both food and drink drive this industrial space, which offers a 9-course tasting menu. Fermented ant eggs are used for a house made garum sauce, while the edible sand in a prawn dish was fashioned from its ground exoskeleton and head. I’m eager to see what next season’s menu holds!
Southern Thai cuisine is hot both literally and figuratively lately, with the arrival of Phuket’s delicious, unpretentious Prai Raya (59 Soi Sukhumvit 8. Tel: +66-91-878-9959. www.facebook.com/PraiRayaPhuket), and one of the most coveted reservations you can secure today at the 2019 Michelin-starred Sorn (56 Soi Sukhumvit 26. Tel: +66 99 081 1119. www.facebook.com/Sorn-ศรณ์-852134098291382). Sorn is located in a stunningly renovated, nearly 90-year-old house with about 20 seats, arranged sparingly over two floors in several rooms. The setting is perfect for a feast of high-maintenance, traditional technique crafted (even the coconut milk is rendered on site), yet utterly modern, organic Southern Thai fine dining. Much of the set menu is served family style, including a dish with the polarizing sataw (stink beans), and a yellow curry with gaew gu fish and mangosteen, and an heirloom rice. The service was astounding, and the provenance of ingredients was explained each time a dish arrived. Thai Southern comfort indeed.