No country in Southeast Asia is prouder to welcome LGBTQ+ travellers than Thailand. It boasts colourful Pride festivals, widespread acceptance of Trans and non-binary identities, a fierce drag scene, and Southeast Asia’s most active and diverse LGBTQ+ nightlife. While other countries are advancing, a Thailand vacation still tops the list when it comes to gay-friendly travel destinations in Asia.
The Enduring Allure of Nighttime Bangkok
Bangkok’s list of iconic attractions is long. From the magnificent Grand Palace to dazzling Wat Arun, to the colourful floating markets, you’re never short on things to do in Bangkok. The city’s LGBTQ+ life however is an attraction all its own.
Even for non-clubbers, a walk along Bangkok’s Silom Road at night is a must. As the night wears on, everyone hops between local restaurants, bars, and nightclubs mostly concentrated along Silom 2 and Silom 4. Relax with cocktails at Connections, catch a drag show at Stranger Bar, or dance until dawn at DJ Station. Whatever your preferred scene, Bangkok’s LGBTQ+ venues have become part of its mythos. Southeast Asia’s first Pride festival was celebrated here in 1999, attracting thousands of spectators, and it’s only grown since. Visit on New Year’s Eve, and you may wonder if you’ve found not just the gay capital of Southeast Asia, but the gay capital of the planet.
Silom however is only the best known of Bangkok’s LGBTQ+ districts. you’ll find nightlife offerings throughout the city. Perhaps Thailand’s most famous drag queen and host of Thailand’s Drag Race, Pangina Heals reopened her legendary drag restaurant House of HEALS in the upscale Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel. It’s one of several LGBTQ+ venues located just north of beautiful Lumpini Park. The area around Saphan Kwai, near Chatuchak’s famous weekend market, attracts a diverse local crowd. It’s well worth the trip for adventurous visitors who want to see a different side of LGBTQ+ Bangkok.
The Islands of Southern Thailand
Imagining powdery white beaches under limestone stacks that loom over secluded blue bays? Then you’ll want to hit the islands of Thailand’s south. It’s not all about the beach, however. Active globetrotters can explore the islands and wilderness, biking, hiking, and rock climbing, or explore the warm waters with a range of water sports, particularly on the island of Krabi. Phuket is the largest and best known of Thailand’s islands. Patong is its LGBTQ+ epicentre with hopping nightlife and numerous gay-owned businesses, including tour and sailing companies.
Koh Pha Ngan lures young revellers with its (in)famous Full Moon parties on Haad Rin beach. Salad Beach, Bottle Beach, and Haad Yao Beach offer LGBTQ+ travellers a soothing respite on the far side of the island. To slow things right down, head to neighbouring Koh Samui. The island is an ideal spot for luxury, romance, and wellness seekers alike, with a small but active gay community, focused in its northeast corner.
No time to add an island to your Thailand vacation but still want some beach time? Pattaya, just southeast of Bangkok is a popular gay destination, particularly around the BoyzTown district. Once known as Thailand’s ‘sin city,’ Pattaya has rounded out its offerings to appeal to a wider range of travellers in recent years, without ever losing its nightlife edge.
Out in the Culture Capital of North Thailand
Far from the frenetic pace of Bangkok, Chiang Mai offers a more relaxed Thailand vacation while proudly displaying its own unique culture. Its city walls, built at the time of the city’s founding, still contain the old town today. Meanwhile, on Chiang Mai’s doorstep, you can explore gorgeous mountain scenery, or interact with some of Thailand’s biggest residents on a sustainable elephant encounter. After dark, everyone heads to Chiang Mai’s night market, and LBGTQ+ travellers have extra reason to do so. On its edge lies the city’s small but hopping LGBTQ+ nightlife scene, with bars, restaurants, and clubs for a variety of tastes, all within easy walking distance.
Everyday LGBTQ+ Life in Thailand
Thais tend to keep their personal lives behind closed doors regardless of gender. Public displays of affection are usually frowned upon. Respect for Thai etiquette is appreciated, so brush up on the basics before you go. But even in this somewhat conservative society, bucking the gender binary is unlikely to scandalize. Same-sex relations have been legal since 1956 (predating many Western countries). Thailand is also said to have the highest percentage of out Trans people on earth.
Non-binary identities are a part of everyday life in Thailand and LGBTQ+ celebrities are very common in Thai media and entertainment. Gender reassignment surgery has been legal since 1975, though changing gender on legal documents remains illegal. While Thailand still has ways to go to achieve full equality, numerous organizations are working hard behind the scenes for legal and social change. As with many countries, attitudes are generally more open in large cities and travel hubs including Bangkok, the islands, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai.
Thailand’s Hidden Gay History
Want to add a little LGBTQ+ history to your Thailand vacation? Ayutthaya is already an essential day trip for any visitor to Bangkok. The Thai capital from the 1370s to the 1760s, its magnificent stupas still watch over the picturesque modern-day town. What the guide books won’t tell you is that lesbian relationships between concubines in Ayutthaya’s royal palace were commonplace, despite the threat of harsh punishments.
Thailand’s LGBTQ+ palace history doesn’t end there. Prince Kraison, son of Rama I was the first recorded out member of Thailand’s royal family. Kraison famously supported an all-male theatre group, enjoying intimate friendships with several of its actors. While this led to an investigation, it ultimately caused little scandal. This might have been because Kraison was just one of 42 children born to Thailand’s first monarch.
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