When it comes to backpacking, one of the first destinations that pop into mind (and up the search bars) is Thailand. Thailand is warm, sunny, and friendly — a place that has it all: bustling cities, exciting nature trails, and beautiful beaches. The question actually, when it comes to traveling to Thailand, is not why, it’s “why not?”
For gay travelers, specifically, Thailand is a wonderland, too.
LGBTs in Thailand
Thailand is, arguably, one of the most tolerant countries in Asia when it comes to homosexuality. It took the public’s ideas and views a bit longer to get on with the times, however: until the 1990s, homosexuality and transgenderism were widely viewed as signs of mental diseases or defects; a misconception that was lifted only in 2002.
Members of the LGBT have also been welcomed to the Thai military (since 2005), and in spite of a prior ban, the Red Cross now allows gay and bi men to donate blood without deferral period.
One of the most remarkable advances when it comes to gay rights in Thailand happened only earlier this year, in the form of a law: The Gender Equality Act B.E. 2558 aims to protect members of the LGBT community by criminalizing discrimination among the sexes and genders — the first law in the language that contains words that pertain to homosexuality.
In Thailand, Kathoeys — transgendered women, or effeminate men — are common in mainstream culture.
Kathoeys in Pattaya. Source
Kathoey, actually, is an umbrella term that is not commonly used in Thailand. Directly translated, “kathoey” means ladyboy, a “type” of male. Thai has three very specific terms to refer to one’s gender identification:
- sao praphet song: a trans woman
- phu ying praphet song: a “second-type” female
- phet thi sam: a member of a “third gender” outside the male-female dichotomy
Though members of our transgendered community are more widely accepted in Thai culture than they are in Western culture, the same issues regarding familial and societal acceptance, legal recognition and employment discrimination are still being faced by our friends in Thailand.
Thailand’s Bustling Gay Scene
Thailand has a lot of exciting things to offer to everybody. But if you’re a member of the LGBT looking for adventures, relaxation, or new friends… well, let’s just say that Thailand is not called the “gay mecca” for nothing.
Sightsee All Day and Socialize All Night in Bangkok
If the thought of blinking lights and dancing (or singing, for that matter) all night is precisely what you need, then the Silom area in Bangkok is your best bet. This is the perfect place for you to meet Thai members of the LGBT community, and to see for yourself what it is to be LGBT in Thailand.
Silom Soi 2 & 4 are the prime spots when it comes to the nightlife. After a long day touring around Bangkok (if you think a gay tour group would further add to your experience and/or comfort, you can check out Detours or private groups such as Purple Dragon), head to the Silom Soi 2 and 4 and get ready for a wild night.
Silom Soi 4. Source
The Balcony is probably the most popular gay spot in Bangkok, located in Soi 4. It is frequented for the diversity of its guests — it’s a prime spot for those who are looking to meet both locals and foreigners alike. It’s an open air bar that also serves food vouched by the fact that it’s never empty (especially during the summer and during the weekends), come rain or shine. It’s perfect for people-watching, “to watch and be watched,” as one Lonely Planet commenter described.
Silom Soi 2, on the other hand, is more of a cluster of bars. Do not enter if you’re even slightly claustrophobic — the place tends to fill up especially during the weekends! If you’re in Soi 2, make sure to drop by DJ Station, another famous gay club, and have fun! Indie-loving queer women will also enjoy Go Grrrls, a monthly party that rocks Bangkok’s nights with the best and latest beats. In terms of security, there’s no need to worry: there is a bag check at the entrance of the Soi, as well as an ID check-in.
Clubs and bars? Skin tight. Source
If you’re a lesbian or bi woman, you can drop by the largest lesbian gathering in the city — Chit Chat Pub’s Lesla Night. Lesla is a rapidly-growing lesbian community in the area, and every Saturday night, they hold a party for the members to meet and mingle with each other.
Relax and Unwind (or party some more!) In The Islands
In Thailand, you’re given two choices: to enjoy the party and the crowd, or to relax and unwind in the beach.
We say, and highly recommend, try both.
If you’re ready for the quiet solace of soft sand and gentle waves, pack your bags and head to Krabi. Krabi is a haven for people who are looking for peace and quiet, a little time to reflect and relax (for individuals) or to experience some quality alone time (for couples). It’s a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and Pattaya.
But Krabi gets crazy, especially during the full moon. Full moon parties in Koh Phangan island is the perfect excuse to go extremely crazy–after all, the moon is full!
Though it might seem like it, LGBT rights in Thailand, like in so many places in the world, still have a long way to go. Although Thailand’s tourism authority welcomes (even specifically caters to) members of the LGBT community, its society treats its own quite the opposite: according to a study done by Khon Thai Foundation, more than half of the country’s population still believes that homosexuality is wrong. Being predominantly Buddhist, a lot of people still subscribe to the idea that gay and transgendered people are paying penance in this lifetime for committing adultery in a past one. This kind of mindset is part of why there is still no laws against discrimination, or laws that support and protect same sex marriage and families.
This is a problem that goes deep, stemming from the prevalent backward belief that being gay is unnatural, a sin.
What can you do?
As a traveler, what we can do is to behave the way we want to be treated: show genuine curiosity, love, and respect for Thailand’s beautiful culture. Be friendly and courteous.
Thailand is a place for tourists to party and have fun, yes, but it’s also a place that could use a little help when it comes to gay rights. We can help our brothers and sisters in Thailand by being kind–showing that being gay is not all about the fanfare and sex — it is, first and foremost — about kindness, love, and genuine joy. A way to make your travels more enriching and meaningful is to truly understand a very important facet of yourself — your gender identity — in the context of the culture you’re visiting. After all, the only way to combat ignorance is education.
Being gay is all about love. Source
Get to know members of the LGBT community in Thailand, and earn lifelong friendships and a life’s worth of insights. If you’re looking to have a deeper cultural understanding of what it means to be gay in Thailand, contact The Anjaree Group (Thailand’s largest LGBT activist organization) or the Rainbow Sky Organization of Thailand. As members of a worldwide community, it is vital that we do not only look at our own backyard: being a member of the LGBT community is different for members across the world.
When it comes to LGBT rights, the goal should be clear — no one gets left behind. Everything you learn along the way, pass along.
And as a traveler, you have the power to help brothers and sisters. If you’re looking for an interesting way to meet gay people in Thailand and learn firsthand from their experiences, check out the Gayhopper community!