It’s Saturday night in Bangkok, and, like most gay visitors, I’m cruising Soi 4. In a way, I have no choice. The lively, cramped street is packed with gay bars, lounges, and restaurants, most with outdoor seats facing forward. Anyone who arrives has a built-in audience, and, if you’re sitting, you have a direct view of newcomers. There’s no other gay street in the world with this genius set up that, beyond a pick-up scene, bridges effortless interaction. I’ve made friends right away, often joining them at the late-night clubs. Typically, I’ll return later to my hotel, via tuk tuk, past the witching hour, and feast in the morning on a massive Thai breakfast buffet, then I’ll wander the street for a cheap foot massage. I’ll go to the mall (yes, mall), and browse weird knick-knacks and stylish boutiques and buy clothes without burning a hole in my wallet. I’ll find a Thai show (whether puppet or drag) and eat authentic pad Thai in a market for a buck.
From my first visit in 2006 to my seventh last year, I have found that Bangkok is a city that never gets old. I know what to expect, and I like it that way. You can explore Bangkok on a budget, or have the red carpet rolled out for a swank vacation, and either way you’ll have an unforgettable experience. Bangkok is tantalizing, welcoming, familiar, and exotic with incredible food, hotels, attractions, and culture. For this reason, tourists come in droves, nearly 20 million a year, and the city was the most visited in the world in 2016 and 2017.
Bangkok is especially popular with LGBTQ travelers. There’s no other city in Southeast Asia that has such a strong, gay-friendly infrastructure. “You don’t really need to go to gay bars and clubs to have a gay night out,” says Tatchai Nakapan (Tat), openly gay managing director of Supannina Group, a modern restaurant collective with a loyal gay following. “I think it’s much harder to find “gay unfriendly” than “gay friendly” places here, and Bangkok’s gay scene is growing big time. There are more and more gay movies, TV series, and reality programs being made and many have shown great success, like the first-ever Drag Race Thailand. And, most importantly, the Justice Ministry is now considering the Civil Partnership Bill that would make same-sex marriage legal. We also have the support of the Tourism Authority of Thailand to make Bangkok a top-of-mind destination for LGBTQ travelers.”
Tat, along with his business partner, Thanaruek (Eh) Laoraowirodge, CEO of Supanniga Group, are very much part of the community and I share their sentiment that Bangkok will always be alluring. It’s already a great city; it doesn’t necessarily need new things to make it more exciting. But while I’m OK with so much of what the city has to offer, I can’t help checking out new places, especially when they make every effort to blend in, embracing the culture and contributing to the wonderful city Bangkok already is.
The hotel scene is Bangkok is one of a kind. No matter where you stay, you’ll find excellent service, great food, and genuine hospitality, and every hotel has something to discover. I love Mandarin Oriental for its history; The Siam for the design; and Lebua for its breathtaking views. New luxury hotels continue to open every year (Four Seasons and Rosewood slated for 2019), and they reflect Bangkok’s modern and progressive side, from technology to design.
Many recently opened hotels are also attractions unto themselves. 137 Pillars (59/1 Soi Sukhumvit 39, Tel: 66-2-079-7000. www.137pillarsbangkok.com) is a 37-room, luxury boutique in the heart of downtown Bangkok designed for affluent travelers who want to be removed from the bustle. The hotel is inspired by the centuries-old history of Thai royalty (the hotel also crowns a luxury residence), where the suites are impeccably designed, each touting high ceilings, private balconies (a rarity in Bangkok), marble bathrooms with built-in TVs, electronic toilets, and serious skyline views. In fact, the rooftop pool has the highest infinity-edge pool in the city, and there are two more outdoor pools to choose from on lower floors (one is equipped with a putting range). You can’t miss Nimitr, a Thai fine dining restaurant on the 27th floor; it has an outdoor terrace featuring a glass floor for wild views of the city below.
Also opened last year are two Hyatt hotels, including Hyatt Place Bangkok (22/5 Sukhumvit 24 Alley, Tel: 66-2-055- 1234. www.hyatt.com). The 222-room, contemporary hotel is fun, fresh, and a steal with rooms that can go for about $100 a night. The lobby is beautiful and modern (think backlit shelves with Thai crafts and colorful carpets), a great Thai breakfast spread, and a “pantry” if you want to eat and run. Spacious rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, many that are curved (rather than a typical square-shaped room) and the rooftop bar and pool is a hot social spot.