Love it or loathe it, Bangkok is a huge, crowded, polluted city with some rather terrible traffic congestion problems. But on the positive side it’s exciting, edgy and cosmopolitan, with wonderful tourist attractions, spectacular shopping plazas, a great gay scene and fabulous food.
Getting to the city
If arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport (Bangkok International), the cheapest and easiest way to make your way to a city hotel is by train. Costing less than $2 for a one way journey, the train leaves every fifteen minutes, starting at 6:00am until midnight. Most people travel to the last station Phaya Thai, then either take a taxi from street level or ride the Skytrain to get to their final destination.
Where you stay in Bangkok is very important. Go five stars and you’ll love Bangkok. We mostly stay at the Royal Orchid Sheraton and the rates are excellent for this five star hotel. Located right on the Chao Phraya River, the Sheraton offers a world class standard with stunning views of the river and city from every room. The hotel has two pools, one set in the gardens of the former Portuguese Embassy and the other is located near the gym and sauna and is great for lap swimming, if that’s your thing.
Cocktails by the river in the evening with the twinkling lights of the boats plying their way up and down is magical and mesmerising. The hotel has several good restaurants and we would especially recommend Thara Thong, serving some of the best Royal Thai cuisine in Bangkok. Giorgio’s is also considered one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
Next door is River City, great for antique and souvenir purchases and we always visit one of the tailors for our fitted suits and jackets. If staying at the Sheraton don’t forget to use their shuttle boat to Sathorn Pier down town and it’s free! This pier is also a good place to catch commuter ferries to the major tourist attractions such as the Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn.
Our other favourite hotel in Bangkok is Lebua in the State Tower. This hotel is considered one of the finest in town. With its luxurious suites, breathtaking views, fine dining and iconic rooftop bars, the hotel was voted number one in Thailand by guests in the Condé Nast Travel Reader’s Choice Awards. The hotel’s pool and gym are also outstanding. Lebua is famous around the world for its Asian restaurant Breeze on the 52nd floor and fabulously trendy Skybar on the 61st floor.
If you are a virgin traveller to Bangkok you need to take ‘a deep dive’ into your wallet and treat yourself at least to a drink at Skybar around sunset. Dinner at Breeze is pricey but, if it is a special celebration, it’s worth it. Expect to pay around $200 pp with wine for a three course meal you will never forget, and bookings are essential.
We have not stayed at Babyalon Sauna but many of our friends have and all reported that the rooms, ranging from bunks to plush suites, are clean, large and well furnished. Breakfast served on the sixth floor is very good and you also receive free entry to the sauna while you are a hotel guest. Not a bad deal at all.
This is the place most gay men visit at least once on their trip to the city and most love to spend time socialising around the pool, using the modern well-equipped gym or eating in one of the two fabulous restaurants. Maybe you need a haircut or a massage or just a relax in one of the hot tubs, saunas or rest rooms. This place has it all and whatever you do, don’t miss it.
The Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha (Wat Po), The Royal Barges and Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) are cultural icons of the city. All of these attractions are magnificent and if you do them all you will definitely need a full day. Try to use the river to access them, it is cheap and a pleasant way to travel. If you arrive by taxi it is more than likely you will be told the Palace is closed. Take no notice as the Palace is open all year round. An insider’s tip is to wear long trousers to the palace otherwise you will have to join the long line to borrow clothes provided by the entrance police.
The Chao Praya River is the jewel of Bangkok and we suggest you take either a long tail boat ride or a commuter ferry. The river is always special and at times like New Year, Loi Kratong (November), and Song Kran (the April water festival), it really comes alive with highly decorated boats, thousands of lanterns and spectacular fireworks.
Other fascinating places to visit in Bangkok are Lumpini Park, especially on Sunday mornings when the markets are open. Chinatown is fantastic with many street eating stalls. We suggest a night visit so you can experience the locals flooding in to enjoy dining together in the open air and the wide variety of exotic foods available at very cheap prices.
A must do is a visit to Jim Thompson’s House . Now a museum in Bangkok, it is a complex of three traditional Thai teak houses that the American businessman Jim Thompson turned into one stately mansion. His notoriety came from introducing Thai silk to the world and shops bearing his famous name are scattered all over Thailand. His sudden disappearance on 26th March, 1967 is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the world and his stunning former home, set up the way he left it on his final day, is filled with priceless antiques collected from all parts of Asia and attracts thousands of visitors year round.
Shopping in Bangkok is outstanding. Of course there are night markets and street stalls everywhere and Pat Pong, off Silom Road, is world famous. For serious shopping you should head straight to MBK to grab some bargains, Central World to find Zen for casual menswear and Gaysorn for latest fashion and, for top shelf purchases, you can’t beat Siam Paragon.
In Bangkok you will find beautiful shopping, although the crowds in the malls and night markets can be challenging. Don’t forget towards the top of most of the shopping malls there are hawker food markets where you can have excellent, cheap, clean food.
In Silom Soi 4 (gay street) we love to eat upstairs at the Telephone Pub. Say Hi to Tai, the owner of the bar, from us. He is one of our oldest friends in Thailand. After dinner take your place on the front deck for an evening of people watching and socialising. The friendly and attentive staff will make sure you are well looked after.
Fork & Cork by Sphinx, owned by the super friendly Mr Nat, who always makes his guests feel thoroughly at home, is located further down the lane and serves delicious Thai and western food. This is a great place to eat if you want to escape some of the hustle of the bar area, enjoy a quiet drink or an intimate dinner with friends.
For a change of pace we like tapas at Tapas Café opposite the Telephone Pub and G’s, near the top of the Soi, serves authentic German style food and an extensive range of craft beers.
Something a bit more ‘high end’ is Eat Me off Convent Road (opposite Silom Soi 4) which has outstanding food and excellent service. It has become synonymous with chic in Bangkok and a place to be seen. Let Polo the manager know you heard about the restaurant from us.
We sometimes opt for traditional French in a beautiful old Thai colonial style house at restaurant Indigo tucked away just off Convent Road. Serving superb, classic French cuisine, the service is excellent and, on a balmy night, sitting in the restaurant’s beautiful garden, sipping French wine, nothing could be better.
For a very special occasion Breeze in Lebua State Tower, as previously mentioned, is a world class dining experience.
Another hot favourite of ours is the Mango Tree serving wonderful Thai dishes for over twenty years at 37 Soi Tantawan, Surawongse Road. While in that area treat yourself to a fabulous massage at Paradise Male Spa or take in the erotic ‘sexy’ male show at the Tawan Club which starts at around 10.45pm each night (see details below).
Soi Twlight is an alternative gay street with Maxi’s Bar the standout here for great food and friendliness. Tell Tom the American manager GayMenOnHoliday.com sent you. In this lane you will find the Thai boys, Fresh Boys, Dream Boys and plenty of massage boys. Soi Twlight is a little quieter than Soi 4 but the focus is more on erotic shows and steamy male massage.
Start by seeing our article on Silom Soi 4 for information about gay bars and restaurants.
Babylon, said to be the most beautiful gay sauna in the world, certainly is a favourite destination for gay men in Bangkok. The sauna is huge and features two restaurants, a bar, swimming pool, gym, and the usual suspects like wet and dry saunas, dark rooms and cabins. The Thai masseurs are excellent but book them as soon as you arrive as they are in high demand. Babylon also has a range of accommodation and the high end suites are beautiful. Weekends and public holidays are the most crowded with both local and international guests.
Another club we go to at least once when in Bangkok is the Tawan Muscle Club. This is where the big boys perform and the club purports to be the world’s premiere man-to-man muscle sex show bar with Asia’s largest selection of musclemen and bodybuilders available for muscle worship and muscle sex.
Tawan Club opens at 8pm and closes at 1am with shows around 10.45pm every night and extra shows after midnight sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays. There is no entry fee but the drinks are expensive (expect to pay about 400 baht per drink). Tawan Club is a safe venue, hassle free and the staff are very friendly.
Maggie Choo’s underground bar at the Novotel Hotel Bangkok is the big tease on Sunday’s when it hosts its gay night. Expect shirtless leather men on swings, Thai hipsters throwing back expensive cocktails and devilish drag queens whipping up the local and international crowd.
Both a bar and a restaurant, though we saw no evidence of food in the place, this former East India Company brick dungeon is sexy and sultry with its dark mood lighting, studded leather lounges, and bar resembling a gaol. It’s the place to see and be seen in Bangkok, dress code is at least smart casual.
Obviously in a metropolis like Bangkok there are loads more places to try and we have only skimmed the surface here. New places are opening all the time and you’re never far from great food, a relaxing massage and every style of shopping. One thing remains a constant, the wonderful welcome and superb hospitality you will experience in this sometimes frantic but always friendly city of smiles.