LGBTQ+ Travel Guide to Thailand
Interesting Cities to Visit in Thailand
Silom in Bangkok is home to a large LGBTQ+ scene in Thailand. The pedestrianized road Silom Soi 4 is a staple for all LGBTQ+ travelers visiting Bangkok with many bars, which are busy every night of the week. A few blocks away is Silom Soi 2 where the city’s gay clubs like DJ Station can be found. Bangkok also has many modern shopping malls as well as sightseeing gems worth visiting such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market and the bustling streets of the city’s Chinatown. Read more about Bangkok from Passport Magazine >>
Chiang Mai is the largest city in North Thailand and is considered the country's top cultural destination, housing more than 300 Buddhist temples. Many well-known temples can be found within the walled historic center, but the most famous temple is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside 13km (8 mi) away. The mountains also offer outdoor adventures, from treks to biking. Other cultural highlights in Chiang Mai include cooking, perfecting your haggling skills at the night market and visiting a reputable elephant sanctuary like the Elephant Nature Park. Read more about Chiang Mai from Out There Magazine >>
Krabi is a city in Southwest Thailand and is a convenient base to visit some of the more popular islands in the Andaman Sea, like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. Krabi is surrounded by limestone karsts, and its white sandy beaches are popular, particularly Ao Nang and Railay Beach. Also worth a visit is the Wat Tham Sua “Tiger Cave,” part of a temple complex where monks live and worship within a maze of natural caves surrounded by lush jungle.
Koh Lipe is a small island in the southwest, close to the Malaysian border. Sunrise Beach is the cleanest beach on the island with the clearest water. The healthy coral rich with marine life makes it ideal for snorkeling. There are plenty of upmarket hotels on Sunrise Beach, as well as more budget-friendly options and even a gay-owned guesthouse. Koh Adang is a large secluded island close to Koh Lipe just 10 minutes away by tailboat. It’s ideal for a day trip for snorkeling and to escape the large crowds of Koh Lipe.
Koh Tao island is in southeast Thailand and famous for scuba diving. Most come here to get their PADI certification from one of the many dive shops and as a result, Koh Tao has become quite touristy. Nonetheless, it remains an island worth visiting not just for the underwater world, but for the many beautiful beaches. The most popular beach on the island is Sairee Beach on the west side. More secluded beaches worth checking out include Freedom Beach in the south and Ao Tanote in the east.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in Thailand
GETTING UP CLOSE WITH ELEPHANTS IN CHIANG MAI
When visiting Chiang Mai, you are encouraged to boycott the terrible elephant-riding industry. Young elephants are beaten into submission until they are judged to be completely submissive to perform tricks and carry humans. This is called elephant crushing and sadly persists throughout Asia. Instead, travelers are advised to visit an ethical organization like the Elephant Nature Park, which is a rescue center and sanctuary for elephants where you can get up close to them, bathe them, hug them and feed them; anything but riding them!
SCUBA DIVING IN PARADISE NEAR KOH LANTA
Koh Lanta is an excellent base to pursue your scuba diving skills after receiving your qualification in Koh Tao. It has some of the best reefs in Thailand, particularly around the smaller islets like Koh Haa and Koh Rok. There are many highly rated scuba diving tours you can do from Krabi or Koh Lanta. Highlights include turtles, many tropical fish and even a few reef sharks.
LEARNING TO MAKE THE PERFECT PAD THAI
Pad Thai is the country’s national dish, which was popularized during the Second World War. It is a common street food, and very easy to make. Chiang Mai is popular for cooking classes, but you can do them throughout the country and most will also include other recipes such as som tam (spicy papaya salad) and red, yellow or green curry.
BARGAINING AT A MARKET
Thailand has some of the world’s best markets, selling everything from fake Gucci purses to beautifully handcrafted souvenirs. It’s also the perfect place to test your bargaining skills. The trick is to ignore the heavily inflated asking price, counter offer 30 percent and from there patiently work toward a price both parties are happy to accept. You can always walk away if you feel uncomfortable, which will often lead to the vendor calling you back with a reduced price. Some of the best markets include the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai and the massive Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok.
JUNGLE TREKKING, BIKING AND KAYAKING ON KOH TARUTAO
Koh Tarutao in the southwest is a paradise for adventure travelers. Although it was a former concentration camp for political prisoners, the island is now headquarters for the Koh Tarutao National Park and strictly controlled by the government. As such, it is completely underdeveloped with only a few restaurants and basic bungalows or camping spaces. You can rent bikes here to reach the remote jungle trails to scenic gems like the Lu Du Waterfall. You can also kayak through the mangrove forest at Ao Rusi on the northeastern side of the island.
FEEL LIKE LEONARDO DICAPRIO AT MAYA BAY
One of the most famous films about Thailand is The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio, set in the crystal-blue waters of the Maya Bay cove on Koh Phi Phi island in the southeast of the country. However, since this film was released in 2000, Koh Phi Phi has become one of the country’s most visited spots, especially during November-February. The best time to visit is after 4:30 pm when the day tripper crowds have left. While you cannot stay the night here, you can join a sleep-aboard sunset cruise and have your “Leonardo moment” in paradise.
Note: Maya Bay's shores will be off-limits to tourists until at least June 2021 to allow for its natural resources to regenerate.
Experiencing Thai Food
Thai food is world famous and for good reason. It’s full of flavor, easy to make and very healthy. The most famous Thai dish is Pad Thai, which is a stir-fried rice noodle dish cooked with eggs, fish sauce, garlic, shallots, bean sprouts, coriander leaves, tofu or chicken, tamarind pulp and served with spring onions, crushed nuts and lime juice. It was popularized during World War II and has become the country’s national dish.
Som Tam is spicy green papaya salad made with shredded papaya, pounded in a pestle and mortar with lime juice, palm sugar, chili, garlic, shrimp, nut, tomatoes, fish sauce, bean sprouts and green beans. Curries are also ubiquitous throughout Thailand. The most famous are named after the color of the chilis used: red, green and yellow. In the south, Massaman curry is more popular, which is a richer tasting curry with coconut milk that is not as spicy as its colorful cousins. Mango sticky rice is a favorite among Thai desserts. Sticky rice is made from glutinous rice and it is cooked with coconut milk and palm sugar, then served with pieces of mango.
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ Visitors to Thailand
Although Thailand lags behind North America and Western Europe with regards to LGBTQ+ rights, by Asian standards, Thailand is a LGBTQ+-friendly country. Homosexuality was legalized in 1956, well before the UK in 1967 and the United States (on a national level) in 2003. Gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly in the military since 2005 and many pieces of anti-discrimination legislation have been introduced since 2015. Recognition of same-sex couples is under review, but adoption for same-sex couples remains illegal. Thailand also has very progressive laws for the transgender community, with the right to change legal gender enshrined in law since 2007.
LGBTQ+ tourists are unlikely to encounter any homophobia in Thailand. The country has been welcoming LGBTQ+ tourists for decades and it remains one of the most popular LGBTQ+-friendly destinations across the entire continent. However, Thai society is overall conservative, so all visitors should exercise caution with public displays of affection.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for Thailand
The most LGBTQ+-friendly destination in Thailand is most likely Bangkok, which offers one of the best LGBTQ+ scenes in Asia. Phuket and Pattaya are also popular LGBTQ+ destinations in the country. Other islands which have a small LGBTQ+ community include Koh Pha-Ngan, Koh Samui and even tiny Koh Lipe. Phuket Pride is the country’s largest LGBTQ+ event, which takes place in April and has been going strong since 1999.
Bangkok used to have a pride event from 1999 until 2009, but was discontinued because of a mix of disinterest from local Thai activists, lack of funding and homophobia from the police and government.
Finally, Songkran in Thailand during April is the celebration of the Thai New Year. People celebrate by throwing water and talcum powder at each other in the streets and there are many festivals taking place. During this time, there are also numerous LGBTQ+ events, in particular the GCircuit festival in Bangkok and TropOut in Phuket.
For additional information on LGBTQ+ tourism in Thailand, please visit www.gothaibefree.com.
We are gay couple Stefan and Sebastien from London, who left our lives in London in 2014 to travel the world. We write about the different gay scenes in each destination we visit in our gay travel blog called Nomadic Boys.