Bangkok City Guide
Welcome to Bangkok, a city that captivates the imagination of many visitors as an LGBT paradise and a major travel hub for Southeast Asia. Here’s how to keep safe in Bangkok, while having a blast.
The major language in Bangkok is Central Thai, a tonal language, while other Thai dialects are also spoken. Tourists to Bangkok should be aware that most locals speak relatively little English, as reported by local newspaper the Bangkok Post.
SOGIEnary - essential vocabulary related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Thai language has rich gender and sexuality terminology. Some scholars have listed (not quite correctly) up to 18 distinct “genders,” but here are the basic words you should know:
Trans women are known as kathoey, sao praphet song or phu ying kham phet.
Age of Consent
Although Thailand's age of consent is usually said to be 15, the laws can be interpreted to allow prosecution for sex with someone under 18. Having sex with someone younger than 18 years can result in a stiff penalty even when it’s consensual.
Thailand does not criminalize anal sex between consenting adults.
Gender affirmation surgery
Legal, but approval is needed from two psychiatrists, one of whom must be Thai. Person seeking surgeries must be at least 20 years old or have parental consent if 18 or 19 years old.
Change of name & gender marker in official documents
Many transgender people have succeeded in changing their name to one that better matches their gender identity; however, this is at the discretion of local officials, who may not approve a name. Gender marker cannot be changed at present, even following gender affirmation surgery.
Discrimination based on gender expression is illegal as of 2015, with some exceptions. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is a grey area.
Illegal, but in practice widespread and mostly tolerated.
Be warned that consequences for illegal drug possession vary from paying a hefty fine to deportation, even extending to the death penalty for large quantities.
LGBTI and questioning youth can access a dedicated youth clinic for issues involving identity, self-acceptance, bullying, gender transitioning and so on at Ramathibodi Hospital’s Adolescent Clinic.
In general hospitals, mental health professionals are not always sensitive to LGBT issues. Bangkok Counselling Service is a privately run center providing gay affirmative counselling on various mental health issues, including couple conflicts.
Gender affirmation surgeries
The Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre have recently opened a specific clinic for transgender people, Tangerine Community Health Centre, which also provides hormones. Otherwise, hormones and anti-androgens can be bought without prescription at most pharmacies.
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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV
HIV is a major concern for gay and bisexual men, as 24.4% of men who have sex with men in Bangkok are estimated to be living with HIV, compared to 7% nationwide. Transgender women in Phuket and Chiang Mai had an HIV prevalence of around 10%. In the general Thai population, HIV prevalence is around 1%.
HIV testing and treatment is available at general hospitals. For men who have sex with men, specialist HIV testing clinics are a good option, because in these clinics, the staff are fully trained with knowledge on how to handles the health issues of the gay and trans community. Bangrak Hospital, Silom Community Clinic and the Rainbow Sky (RSAT) clinics are some options. Free condoms and lubricant are available.
Adam’s Love, operated by the Red Cross, provides HIV-related information and lists more clinics offering HIV testing. The Red Cross also operates a clinic for men who have sex with men.
While the HIV transmission risk is generally low in sex between women, other STIs are more easily transmitted. Unfortunately, Bangkok does not yet have specific sexual health clinics for lesbian or bisexual women.
Condoms, PrEP and safer sex
In penetrative sex, use condoms with water-based lubricant to protect yourself and others from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are available from all convenience stores; many also stock water-based lubricant. If the one nearest you does not sell lubricant, you can find it at a pharmacy.
PrEP, the HIV prevention medication, is available from private hospitals. For a more affordable and comprehensive alternative, it can be accessed through a research project at the Thai Red Cross for around 1 USD a day.
Be careful when hooking up with someone through an app or at a bar, sauna or park. Is your wallet, phone or laptop going to leave with the good-looking stranger in the morning? There are also sad stories of being raped at a sauna or on a date.
Public displays of affection may be frowned upon whether your partner is of the same gender or another gender, so to avoid trouble, mind the “time and place” to show affection, as Thais say.
Thailand's HM the King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away on October 13, 2016. The government announced a one-year period of mourning, which will involve wearing black or dark clothing. Tourists may be expected to comply with this as well. Entertainment venues may not open normally especially for the first month afterwards, and maybe even later. Be warned that critical or flippant remarks about the monarchy, including on social media, are punishable under lese majeste laws by several years' imprisonment, so do not take unnecessary risks. Public criticism of the ruling military junta is equally risky.
The Tourist Police (hotline number 1155) may be better placed to help a foreigner than local police stations, where officers sometimes speak little English.
What to do in Bangkok
General touristy things to do
For info on the places that you just have to see to say you’ve been to Bangkok, such as the Grand Palace, check out Bangkok’s official tourism site.
If you visit on April 13-15, expect to get wet as water fights are the norm during Songkran Festival, or the Thai New Year. Keep your phone, money and documents in double waterproof bags when going out. Silom Road has the most gay-oriented mayhem, not counting gay circuit parties arranged around Songkran. If you go to Silom during Songkran, some spots will be extremely crowded. Some people take the opportunity to engage in touching without consent, so beware.
The festival of Loy Krathong takes place in late November, celebrated on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month. People make (or buy) the “krathongs,” which are floating floral arrangements made with banana leaves, incense sticks and candles. These are floated down a river, canal or pond, either to ask for forgiveness for polluting the waters from a river goddess, or to float away bad things from your life. To float a krathong with a loved one is a very romantic thing to do. If you’re in Bangkok at the time, check out the Golden Mount temple fair!
Important dates for LGBT related activities
- February 14 (Valentine's Day)
- February 21 (Day for the Elimination of Violence against LGBTIQs)
- May 17 (IDAHOT: International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia)
- November 29 (Human Rights Day for Sexual Diversity)
- December 1 (World AIDS Day)
Events on these dates often combine fun symbolic action and art with panel discussions. They are a great way to meet local LGBT people and have a deeper discussion than at a club.
Lumphini Park is centrally located right next to Silom Road. It is cruisy after dusk, and exudes rainbow history, beginning from its founder Rama VI, whose statue is in the corner of the park. Another park that is cruisy after dusk is Chatuchak Park, next to the famous Chatuchak weekend market. In fact, three different parks here form a large, verdant outdoors area. Bring a sweetheart, or find a new one here!
Bangkok’s gay nightlife is legendary. There are clusters of gay bars and clubs on Silom Road (especially Soi 2 and Soi 4), nearby Soi Twilight on Surawong Road (with gay go-go bars).
Bangkok’s lesbian bars tend to come and go, but some currently existing nightspots are more worth going than others. Queer Mango offers a great review.
Transgender Cabaret Shows
This city guide is by no means exhaustive and merely serves as a resource to help you find your footing in Bangkok. Be sure to check out the BE Navigator for other LGBTI-friendly services and spaces in the city. Happy trails!