Gay Bangkok: owning a bar in Silom Soi 4
Silom in Bangkok is home to a really fun and exciting gay scene, which we initially discovered with our ladyboy friend Regina.
The pedestrianised road, Silom Soi 4 is a staple for all gay travellers visiting Bangkok, for its large numbers of gay bars facing each other, heaving with crowds almost every night of the week.
Telephone and Balcony are the two largest ones where the tables are strategically placed so you are facing the ongoing people traffic coming in and out.
Stranger Bar is one of the smaller bars and our favourite. After many drunken nights here, we buddied up with its very charismatic co-owner Chakgai Jermkwan, to learn more about gay Bangkok and what he thinks makes Thailand one of the most gay friendly countries.
#1 Sawadeekrap Chakgai! Where are you from and what do you do?
Good afternoon you two, I am Chakgai, but you can call me “M”.
I am 29 years old, Thai born and raised in Bangkok. Together with my husband of 8 years, we set up Stranger Bar in March 2012 when it used to be a Greek restaurant and have been going strong since.
#2 What does M stand for?
M is my Thai nickname. Like the Chinese, the Thai also choose an English nickname at a young age totally different from our Thai names.
#3 So what Thai name do you suggest for us?
Ha ha – yes, Seb should be: “Fun Dee” (meaning “good dream) and Stefan: “Fun Den” (meaning “standing dream”). We normally do this for twins so I think this would suit you two he he he!
#4 How was it setting up a gay bar in a road like Silom Soi 4 where there are so many already?
It was no different than opening up any other gay bar. If it’s not a strip bar, the Thai government doesn’t care if the bar is gay or straight but obviously cares that you meet all the other normal licensing requirements.
#5 What is the relationship like between all the other gay bar owners such as Telephone and Balcony? Is it competitive or are you all friends?
I know them and we are good neighbours. No juicy gossip to spill here boys. In fact, when we first set up Stranger bar, some of them gave me very useful tips. We are of course in competition but in a good lighthearted way.
#6 Are you out to your family?
I’ve never had a sit down formal chat about it with them because I never really needed to. I mean my photos are quite widely available to view on Facebook, aren’t they! Ha ha ha!
#7 What’s it really like growing up as gay in Thailand?
I don’t have any bad memories about growing up. I know I always looked super gay from a young age, which caused my relatives to ask my mother a lot of questions about me, but good old mum took care of them for me.
#8 Why do you think Thailand has a reputation for being such a gay magnet unlike many other countries in Asia?
Ha! Because we are smart enough to market ourselves to attract the Pink Pound of course!
But in all seriousness, Thailand started early. We decriminalised sodomy in 1956, a decade before the UK did (in 1967) and before Illinois became the first state in the US to do so (in 1962).
Despite this, Thailand is still a conservative country. For example, there are still few anti discrimination laws yet to protect the LGBTQ community and after getting married with my husband in Boston 3 years ago, our marriage is still not recognised in Thailand, although this should soon change. Until it does, we are just two friends in the eyes of the law.
#9 Will equal marriage laws be passed any time soon in Thailand?
Yes but slowly. The Civil Partnership Act should soon become law, which will recognise same sex couples for the first time in Thailand’s history.
But it is limited to certain rights like sharing the same surname and property rights and doesn’t include parental rights or say anything about adoption. Also you have to be at least 20 years old (the equivalent for straight couples is 17). Yet, this is still a good starting point and should be celebrated.
Also, the world’s first “three way” gay marriage took place on Valentines Day in 2015 in the central Uthai Thani Province between three young guys. They argued that even though they could not have a state ceremony, their union was sanctioned by Buddhist Law because it does not forbid polygamy!
#10 Are there any gay pride events in Thailand?
The main one is Phuket Pride held every April, which has taken place since it started in 1999.
There used to be a Bangkok Pride from 1999 until 2009, but then it stopped for a variety of reasons like disinterest from local Thai activists, lack of funding and homophobia from the police and government. This year however, we are due to have our first Pride in Bangkok in November.
The first attempt of a gay pride in Chiang Mai went ahead in 2009, but there was such a strong backlash by red t-shirt militants that the police ordered it to be cancelled. There hasn’t been one since in Chiang Mai.
#11 What gay friendly accommodation can you recommend in Bangkok?
#12 Which are your favourite restaurants in Bangkok?
Check out Condoms and Cabbages at Sukhumvit 12 Alley, Khlong Toei, Bangkok 10110 for excellent Thai food, though to be honest in Thailand, any street food market is the place you want to be to truly experience good local food.
For good Indian food, I recommend Indus restaurant at 71 Sukhumvit Soi26, Sukhumvit Rd. Klongtoey.
#13 Finally M, after swapping tops with you recently, Stefan felt he had channelled into your tiger prowess and now has delusions about being a go go dancer at one of your next themed nights. What do you think?
Ahahahahaha! Give me my top back first you cheeky boy and then we’ll talk…!