Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Real Bangkok: Gaining Entry into the Ever-Evolving Thai Capital's "Boutique" Gay Scene

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Real Bangkok: Gaining Entry into the Ever-Evolving Thai Capital's "Boutique" Gay Scene

Article excerpt

One the approach to the brand-new Bangkok International Airport, rice fields dotted with scattered temples and canals come into view. Nothing prepares you for the urban mash-up to come. Oozing tropical heat, teeming with some 10 million people, and exuding exotic style fused with the insane glamour of Tokyo's youth culture, this phantasmagoric collection of old villages and hypermodern communities soon will take you.

A giggling group of party boys passes a row of monks who are on their way to collect alms. It's Sunday, approaching midnight, and a gay squad has taken over Bangkok's hippest spot. The Bed Supperclub and its all-white decor throbs with electro delivered by a Dutch DJ, and upper-crust guys dance to the ripping beats. Edward Enscoe (the organizer of "Think Pink," tonight's gay Sunday bash) and I are trying to grab a drink, but the bartender is surrounded by young execs on their last hedonistic escape before the first Monday morning meeting. When we retire to the upper floor to take in the body expo below, we find the music has its grip on us too. Later, en route to an unofficial after-hours joint, Edward confidently sums up Bangkok: "It's Asia's premier gay destination!"

Indeed, Bangkok has stopped reapplying heavy makeup, gotten rid of that too-short minidress, and become a chic diva donning a sleek little black number. The city's throbbing nightlife scene is emancipating itself from the notoriously sleazy money-boy bars. Always a gay-friendly city, Bangkok is morphing into a truly attitude-free place where anything goes, as long as it involves a bit of glamour and fun. Grant Thatcher, publishing editor of the edgy Luxe City Guides, loves to come to Bangkok to soak up its style. "They don't call it the Big Mango for nothing," he says. "It's fruity!"

Asia's gay capital since the 1970s, Bangkok is as accepting as ever. The local club kids don't care about politics when the sun goes down, and Thai society doesn't differentiate between straight and gay. Buddhism, which is deeply embedded in everyday Thai life, has always been the mediator with regard to social differences, and thus, where gaps in understanding exist, acceptance takes over. An ethos of eternal transience keeps everything but basic values in flux. Strictly distinguished stereotypes are foreign to most Thais; gender roles are fluid or evolving. The only people staring at the stunning "ladyboy" transsexuals are the Bangkok novices (so don't stare; just smile as you pass).

Never mind September's military coup--the junta that attempts to refashion Thailand as temperate manages to keep corrupt police forces from raiding clubs. Never mind the 2 A.M. closing time--tiny after-hours venues (missing from any guidebooks, with owners trying hard to keep it that way) are opening almost monthly. Never mind drooling pensioners out for cheap sex--nightlife spots outside the Silom Road district are maturing into destinations for Bangkok's urbane beauties. And never mind machismo--the lesbian scene is finally, if slowly, eschewing the tried-and-true (and tired) Asian teahouse culture.

"One night in Bangkok"--that weary conceit that has had millions of visitors looking for cheap thrills, bad drugs, and worse drinks--is on its deathbed. The real Bangkok is alive. So much so, in fact, that affluent Singaporeans fly in for party weekends, even though their own city never closes and has developed into one of Asia's most popular gay destinations. Always on the quest for something new, they have been invading Thailand's capital for the last two years or so, mingling with the always smiling locals: drinking at the Room, a hot-pink shop house converted into a funky joint for the young (or at least those who get away with looking the part); partying at NEO Bar, the sleeker annex of Bangkok's fiercest club, DJ Station; eating at hip bistros that have banned fusion cuisine; and shopping at the glitzy Siam Paragon, which boasts the chic Euro-boutiques, restaurants, movie theaters--and even an aquarium--that would befit one of Southeast Asia's biggest malls. …

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