Tim Firmager heads to Thailand’s capital Bangkok to explore the culture and LGBT-friendly hangouts for our LGBT Travel Guide Bangkok
Thailand is a well-know destination to the gay community, not least because of its promotion of tolerance to homosexuality, and high-profile transgender community. We at Vada are keen to explore what this is really like for LGBT tourists visiting the country, so are publishing a series of LGBT travel guides to Thailand for Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
In this travel guide, we explore the country’s capital city, Bangkok, known for its Ladyboy transgender community and LGBT clubbing scene. In this second part of the travel guide we explore culture and fun to be had for LGBT tourists in Bangkok. Part 1 explores LGBT friendly accommodation options in the city.
The Thai culture, with such a heavy basis Buddhism, revolves around respect for all life. This colliding with the realm of clubbing and sex has created an intriguing external perspective, specifically one of submission. Whilst many Thai guys do seem to prefer the bottom position, when exploring Silom we found a whole array of male strip clubs, bars and clubs – a veritable variety of versatility. Strip clubs and a couple of hang out bars (such as Banana Bar) can be found near Le Meridien hotel, off a little ‘soi’ (side street) walking towards the motorway.
5-10 minutes walk away are Sois 1, 2 and 4, just off Silom Road, which is where the majority of other gay bars and infamous ‘DJ’ club can be found for late night partying.
As a capital city, with a big International presence, Bangkok has a lot to offer in terms of food. There is so much choice in fact that it’s impossible to give an overview of everything. Rather, here we point out where we enjoyed eating and drinking, and encourage LGBT travellers to explore the expansive food scene at their leisure.
Expats and western travellers flock to Moon Bar at Banyan Tree. This rooftop bar (the highest in Bangkok), is approximately 70 floors high offers. Digital menus, a vibrant atmosphere and the best views in the city match the high end cocktails (each priced at circa £15). Whilst this venue is expensive by any standards, we highly recommend a visit. For those wanting to dine, the Vertigo restaurant (taking up the majority of the rooftop terrace) shares the same spectacular views.
For those on the lookout for a mythical unicorn, the Unicorn Café will impress. It is quite possible the most gay venue ever. Every surface has been touched by the magic of a unicorn: ceilings, floor, wallpapers, and the thousands of soft toy unicorns adorning the café. The venue specialises in brightly coloured treats, all of which are unicorn themed from unicorn horns (horn shaped pastry filled with bacon and mozzarella) to rainbow spaghetti, and unicorn waffles. Unicorn Cafe is located in the Bang Rak district of Bangkok (a five minute walk from Chong Nonsi station).
Street Markets are a big part of the food scene in Bangkok. For those who can swallow their (justified) concerns about hygiene, there are a lot of treats on offer. Between Siam and Victory Monument is Ptchaburi Soi 5, in the evenings this soi comes alive with dozens of street food carts and restaurants with their doors open, catering to many people coming home from work. Since it’s a neighbourhood, much of the street food in the evening is for takeaway, but there are still some places to sit down and enjoy a meal. Street food carts include noodle vendors, salad vendors, fruit stalls, and infinite snacks. P’Aor restaurant on this soi is well known for its tom yum goong noodles – rice noodles swim in a thick and creamy broth that sweet and sour and milky from the shrimp head oils.
Rangnam is another area of trendy bars, international restaurants, hotels, massage parlours, some restaurants and a worthy mass of street food stalls, again mainly sprouting up in the evening. Kuang Seafood is a Thai seafood restaurant worth visiting, and opposite a small food stall.
As well as these venues, we also take a brief look at Bamboo Chic Bar at Le Meridien Hotel, and WooBar and The Kitchen Table at the W Hotel in part 1 of our LGBT Travel Guide Bangkok.
Bangkok boasts a truly momentous number of temples dedicated to Buddhism. It is quite simply not possible to visit without visiting at least one…or five. We’ve rounded up a few of the biggest and well-known site to choose from including The Grand Palace (and Wat Phra), Wat Pho (the reclining Buddha), Wat Arun and Golden Mountain Temple. The best way to travel to some of the riverside temples is to take a narrow boat. For about 200 THB (circa £4) the thrill of being so close to the water marks an adventurous start to exploring Bangkok. In fact river boat is the best way to get to all of the below cultural spots below with the except the Golden Mountain.
Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is considered as one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in Thailand. The dark green Buddha, sculpted out of a single jade stone is 26 inches tall, and can be found in the temple complex within the grounds of the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace itself has been the official residence of the Thai royal family since 1782. Although the King now reside in another palace, this is still used for official events. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions, which means there are plenty of guided tours and a lot of visitors. The Grand Palace complex is walled, encompassing a space of approximately 218,400 sqm, so you will need several hours to look round. The Grand Palace is nothing like the architecture and design of any palaces in Europe. The numerous buildings and gardens are designed to be asymmetrical, and are intricately adorned so every view is visually stimulating.
Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple complex very close to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra. Wat Pho is known as the reclining Buddha, which is a 46m long masterpiece. As well as the Buddha, it contains many marble illustrations, and is the birthplace of the Thai Massage. We suggest paying homage to the traditions and filling the metal cauldrons with a coin each, in order, and admiring the intricate detail on the feet of the Buddha.
Immediately across the river from Wat Pho, is Wat Arun – a very cheap riverboat service runs to ferry visitors back and forth. Wat Pho’s distinctive shape is one of the most well known shapes of the Bangkok skyline. For those up early enough, the light reflects off the spires beautifully.
Our last cultural visit recommendation is the Golden Mountain Temple (Phu Khao Thong), given its name for the large gold stupa on top of an artificial hill. There are approximately 300 steps to get to the top, although this is split into sections and not tiring. The ascent takes you through a series of bells and gongs, to signal your arrival. The sides of the building are white and steps terracotta, which offset against the sky blue beautifully. At the very top, inside the stupa, there are many shrines and visitors can pay tribute here. The easiest way to Golden Mountain is by taxi.
Given the lush vegetation, we also recommend a visit to one of the flower markets such as Yodpiman Flower Market. The vibrant hues (changing each season) resemble a child’s colouring box run amok. The sweet scent of flowers in the air with so many varieties on offer tempt the senses. Colour, smell and sound all collide to for an enriching experience.