Thailand is considered a gay mecca by many. In some ways, it is — but don’t believe everything you’re told about the gay scene here.
Straight or gay — the distinction isn’t made in Thailand as it is in the U.S. In this largely Buddhist country, sex and sexuality come without the guilt and other baggage that accompany them here. Many Thais engage in sex with both men and women, without worrying about how to label themselves.
Thailand does have a gay culture, but much of it has been created by westerners. As a visitor, looking for nightlife, for gay sex, or for gay friends, this is largely the culture you’ll most readily find. Here you’ll meet outgoing and friendly Asian men who are interested in meeting westerners.
This can give the impression that most Thai men who we’d think of as gay are looking for westerners. That’s not the case. But those you meet will often be interested in meeting Americans.
Thai culture does not place a premium on youth in the way that western societies do. If you’re over 35, you probably feel over the hill in the U.S. You can still be quite desirable in Thailand. This comes as a pleasant surprise to middle-aged and older gay Americans!
Until quite recently, the visible, public gay establishments in Thailand were virtually all commercial: bars, go-go clubs, saunas, and massage parlors. These still account for the majority of gay spots, and you won’t really have seen gay Thailand until you visit a go-go boy bar. But the largest cities now have a few discos, bars, or coffeehouses that lend themselves to non-commercial encounters, as well. The largest cities have gay karaoke bars and other establishments just for local gays. The best way to find them is to ask some locals.
“In America, you can say anything but you can’t do it. In Thailand, you can do anything but you can’t talk about it,” noted one observer.
What two adults do in private is their own business in Thailand. Public displays of sexual affection, however, are considered highly inappropriate. Kissing in public is frowned upon.
This isn’t an anti-gay prejudice: Heterosexual kissing is also unacceptable. In fact, it’s amusing for American visitors to see two Thai men walking down the street arm-in-arm, when heterosexual Thai couples never do so. What’s going on? The two men are non-sexual friends, and thus aren’t crossing the line.
If you’re seen walking arm-in-arm with a Thai boyfriend, people can figure out what’s going on. Your boyfriend may not mind, so if he takes the initiative in this direction, go right ahead. It’s better for you not to initiate any public displays, however: You could put him in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between either offending you, or acting in a way he feels in inappropriate and embarrassing.
Public discretion continues briefly in the bedroom. “I came out of the bathroom, and my date was already under the sheets,” recalls Mike, a gay American visitor to Bangkok. “I peeled off my shorts, got in with Chai — and discovered he was still wearing his t-shirt and underwear! I thought he must have lost interest somewhere along the line.”
No — Chai was just being Thai. “A few kisses, a little cuddling, and that underwear was quickly gone. He turned out to be a real acrobat! We were on the floor, on the dresser, in positions I’d only dreamed of. There wasn’t an inhibited bone in his body!”
Public nudity is verboten in Thailand. The country’s few nude beaches are created, and largely populated, by Westerners. Even in the same-sex locker room at a gym, men often change clothes under a towel, and shower in private.
If you bring home a date, you may not see him naked before he gets under the sheets. But once things get started, anything can happen.
Well, perhaps not anything. Few Thai men are interested in S/M, B/D, water sports, or much of anything beyond vanilla sex. Many are interested in being only a top, or only a bottom. If you’re versatile, you’re pretty sure of having a fun and uninhibited time. If you have specialized interests or expectations, discuss them in advance to avoid disappointment all around.
Cross-dressing is far more accepted, and publicly widespread, in Thailand than in any other country. Males who cross-dress are referred to as katoeys, or ladyboys. Drag shows are popular at gay clubs, and also in many establishments catering largely to a straight clientele.
For Thais themselves
While Thais do not, by and large, make moral judgments about being gay, there remains a strong pressure to marry and have a family. Since they aren’t into labeling themselves, it’s common for Thai men to have predominantly same-sex relationships while in their twenties, then to marry and have kids, without feeling like they’ve switched from gay to straight.
An increasing number of Thai men do identify as gay. Frequently, just as in the U.S., they’ll leave their hometown to get breathing room. Those in the plains and hills of the north and northeast generally move to Bangkok or Chiang-Mai. Those in Bangkok may go abroad for a few years.
Theft is rare, violence even rarer. But of course, there are no guarantees in life. It’s always wise to keep valuables in the hotel safe when traveling, and not to tempt fate. Someone who came home with you only for love might reconsider if he sees a wallet on the dresser with the equivalent of a month of his wages — and realizes that to you, it’s little more than enough for a night on the town.
The bars know who they hire, so taking home a bar boy creates an extra element of protection. In addition, it’s common for hotels to request the ID’s of overnight visitors, and your guests should be ready for this.