By Steve O’Donnell
This is my third visit to the Thai capital and Bangkok has lost none of its magic or charm for me. From its early roots in the 15th Century, the city has grown to become home to over 8 million residents and first impressions of the city could create a false impression that you have arrived in yet another modern Asian city dominated by high-rise office blocks and condominiums and grid-locked traffic congestion. However, look beyond the modern edifices and you will discover a city full of contrasts reflecting its illustrious past with narrow lanes bustling with street food and market stalls, traditional long tail boats on the river and glorious temples and palaces.
Among the must-see landmarks of Bangkok is the Grand Palace, established in 1782, that houses the royal residence and throne halls as well as the renowned Tempe of the Emerald Buddha. Walking around the grounds of the palace you have the feeling you are in an open-air museum surrounded by Buddhist sacred sculptures, towering monuments and even a miniature Angkor Wat, the world-famous temple in Siem Riep, Cambodia. Located almost opposite the Grand Palace is Wat Arun, the most iconic temple in Bangkok. The 17th Century monument is often called the Temple of Dawn and sitting on the banks of the Chao Praya River, can be visited either by road or by boat.
An impeccably preserved example of traditional Thai architecture can be found at Jim Thompson’s House, rebuilt from original houses by the American architect who did so much to revive and promote the silk industry in Thailand. Today, the house still displays many artifacts of ancient Thai traditions.
Thai hospitality is renowned worldwide and gay travelers to Bangkok are well catered for with many gay bars, restaurants and clubs offering a variety of attractions and shows from karaoke to drag shows and live sex shows. Most of Bangkok’s gay life is centered in the Silom district with many gay bars and restaurants to be found in Soi 4. One of my favorites is Telephone Bar which houses an ambient restaurant upstairs, a lively music bar downstairs with seating outside and a karaoke room if you feel the urge to let loose your X-factor potential.
An absolute must-visit for gay men is the world-famous Babylon Spa. Set in a private, lush garden, the outdoor swimming pool features an array of sun loungers under tropical palms and a poolside bar where you are served cocktails by courteous and attentive bar staff. The spa houses two buildings connected by another wooded courtyard and open-air cocktail bar. As well as featuring two saunas, two steam rooms, a large jacuzzi and several labyrinthine cruising areas, the complex also offers a bistro serving lunch and drinks, a restaurant providing both Thai and international cuisine, a massage spa and a fully equipped gym. If you really can’t bring yourself to leave, they even offer hotel accommodation on site. If you are a gay man visiting Bangkok, Babylon is the perfect place to relax after a day exploring the city. The spa is open from noon until 10:30 p.m. and entry costs 220 Baht (approximately £4.50) A full-body oil massage (probably the best you will get in Thailand) will set you back 800 Baht (approx. £16).
A perfect way to round off your visit to Babylon is to enjoy dinner at the nearby Vincent’s Restaurant. The menu is varied and innovative, offering mouth-watering Thai and Taiwanese cuisine alongside some western dishes with Vincent’s new addition of Thai-flavored burgers for those looking for a quick bite. A good selection of wines and draft beer is available to complement your dining experience.
Top tip: Taxis are very cheap in Bangkok but traffic congestion can make taxi journeys somewhat lengthy. The best way to beat the traffic is to speed through rush hour in Bangkok on a motorcycle taxi. It’s quick and more fun than a roller coaster ride!
Steve O’Donnell is UK Director of Serene Journeys, an independent travel company specializing in meeting the needs of LGBTI travelers to India. He is also a freelance travel writer and photographer. Contact Steve on email@example.com