We all know Thailand as the super gay-friendly country in South East Asia, where gay nightlife flourished in the shadows of a gentle society and impeccable hospitality. But just this summer the Thai government, through the Thailand Authority of Tourism Minister, hosted the first ever LGBTQ Symposium in Bangkok, which once-and-for-all cemented Thailand’s role as the gayest country in South East Asia and officially swung open the doors to LGBTQ tourism. I had the honor of speaking at the Symposium to a conference room full of hotel owners, entertainment gurus, tour providers and gastronomic venue operators about LGBTQ luxury client expectations. They are eager to make sure they understand what makes the LGBTQ luxury traveler tick and to get things right. In the process, I was able to personally identify who really is sincere about working with the LGBTQ community in Thailand and you can bet we will support their efforts.
This is no surprise because Thailand for so long has been an oasis of great food, a captivating culture, physical natural beauty and interpersonal respect. We all know that in Thailand “lady boys”, as they are called, are revered as an art form but also a way of life. So I was not surprised when Thailand debuted Drag Race Thailand, in February 2018, which is very closely modeled after, and licensed by, RuPaul’s Drag Race, but with a more gentle and less bitchy tone, in keeping with Thai culture of politeness. The ladies may be polite, face-to-face, but they still knew how to throw shade behind the scenes and serve fabulous outfits on screen.
The art form aside, in my conversation with the producer of Drag Race Thailand, Khun Piyarat Kaljaruek, I reminded him that the show will be touching the lives of LGBTQ people in Thai villages far from the glamour, wealth and glitter of Bangkok, and it will change their lives and the perceptions of those around them. While other countries are still grappling with how to deal with their own gay communities, let alone how to develop their LGBTQ infrastructure, Thailand has embraced its role in the region as the gayest country is South East Asia. By the way, Cambodia is close behind. Think of it this way, Bangkok is the New York in the region, while Siem Reap (known for Angkor Wat) is rapidly becoming the Palm Springs of South East Asia.
More to come on my surprising gay adventures in Cambodia in next month’s installment of Zooming with Joel. Still there is no denying that LGBTQ life in Thailand is more visible than ever. Mainstream clubs like Maggie Choos have a dedicated Sunday Drag Night. The 5 star hotel Lebua has a competing Wednesday Drag Night. And the So Sofitel has a once-a-month Pool Party that attracts the hottest gay and straight crowd. Plus their out-and-proud gay concierge is known throughout Bangkok as a quasi celebrity. Even on the Chao Praya River, the ultra fabulous gay owned Suppaniga Taittinger Champagne Sunset and Dinner cruise is gay owned and gay staffed. And the Peninsula, a Bangkok luxury institution welcomed the LGBTQ contingent this summer with a rainbow flagged life-size teddy bear mascot. You can bet Zoom Thailand will be at the Peninsula as home base and sipping champagne during sunset on the river thanks to the gays at Suppaniga during our February 2019 trip, celebrating all things LGBTQ and more in Thailand.