This post was updated February 16th, 2020.
We’re constantly on the search for discovering new destinations to visit and one of our top concerns is whether or not the destination is gay-friendly. While solo LGBT travelers can often blend in with the masses, traveling as a gay couple presents additional challenges and risks. So when I heard that a new gay beach festival was headed to Thailand, I jumped at the opportunity to attend.
For the past several years, gay travelers came together on the beaches of Bang Tao situated south of the bustling area of Patong on the small island of Phuket in southern Thailand. We’ve been to Bangkok once before and immediately recognized it as a destination where LGBT people can feel welcome. Thailand is easily the most gay-welcoming country in Southeast Asia. It’s evident by the thriving local LGBT scene found in major cities and tourist destinations. Whether it’s lady boy shows or sexy Thai go-go boys performing for the masses, we knew that Phuket was a destination we couldn’t pass up.
I’ve heard from some in the past that Phuket has a poor reputation as a tourist destination. Though I don’t completely agree, I understand the sentiment. Phuket is incredibly popular with tourists and with that demand in tourism often comes overdevelopment, large crowds and abuse to the natural environment and wildlife. This is not limited to Thailand but occurs across the world. Still, local authorities are continually making efforts to curb these trends.
One thing we really do appreciate about Phuket is how welcoming they are to LGBT people. The TropOut Festival is merely a symbol of how gay-friendly this place is and their decision to hold their first event here demonstrates the wide opportunities available to visitors including cultural excursions, island tours or simply relaxing on the beautiful beaches.
So without further adieu, here are the top 10 reasons why we think Phuket is a gay travel oasis!
Thai cultural is well known for being open, welcoming and non-judgmental. It's customary for Thai people to keep their lives private and equally don't really judge the way others live their lives. This approach makes it easy for LGBT people to feel welcome, as it’s not an issue to be who you are. Same-sex relations have been legal in Thailand since 1956, and it's been a popular gay destination for decades. However, it's worth noting that public display of affection, whether same or opposite-sex, is not common in Thai culture. Just be aware of your surroundings and be a smart traveler.
Thailand has some of the most stunning beaches in Southeast Asia. The island of Phuket has a huge array of options from the most visited beach of Patong to the secluded beaches like Mai Khao, Haad Sai Kaew, Banana, Freedom and Yae Beach.
There are always events taking place in Phuket year-round. The island goes crazy during events like shonkrong or Phuket Gay Pride. We are of course partial to our favorite gay beach festival called Tropout. One of the highlights of the festival was a performance by chart-topping DJ Robin Schulz who performed on the beach at Xana beach club along with 200 Tropout guests and 300 other visitors to the area.
If you make the journey all the way to Phuket, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not visiting at least one of the nearby islands. Take a day-trip to either the Phi Phi Islands, Phang Nga Bay or Rang Yai Island to view shear wall cliffs that meet crystal clear waters flanked by some of the whitest sand beaches we've ever seen.
The nightlife in Phuket is probably the most crazy and energetic in all of Thailand. Perhaps the only rival would be Bangkok that has an equally large and thriving gay scene. You'll find all the gay venues located in Patong and grouped together in an area called Paradise Complex, which is comprised of several gay bars, clubs, saunas and other gay venues.
Thailand is a place where guilty pleasures are ample and many people come here for that reason. It's not uncommon or difficult to find a cute rent boy who's happy to accompany you for an hour, a night or your entire trip. You can find plenty of sexy go-go dancers and even attend a variety of strip shows and group performances. Whether the guys themselves are gay or simply ‘gay for pay’ is tough to determine, but the experience will still leave you in awe.
You'll find most properties in Phuket to be gay-friendly but some go above and beyond. During the recent Tropout festival, attendees stayed at both Cassia and Angsana. Cassia has a younger and more hip crowd and for a “straight place” might be a better option for those wishing to stay at Bang Tao beach as Angsana is more family-oriented. If you want to find a gay-only hotel then be sure to stay in Patong at either Adonis, Aquarius or Baan Phil – all located in and around Paradise Complex.
No Shortage of Gays
Thailand’s gay-friendly reputation and Phuket’s relaxing and equally desirable party atmosphere attracts gays from all parts of the world. Whether you come alone, with a significant other or with friends, you're sure to run into other gays and you might even make a few new friends.
Party, Party, Party !
Whether it's watching drag shows and dancing until morning in Patong, partying poolside or dancing at beachside clubs, Phuket does not disappointment. If you love to party, this is the place for you, and you should fully expect a hangover the next day. Just practice a bit of caution (yes, we occasionally do too!) and drink plenty of water. If you're not from a hot climate, then you'll be surprised how much you sweat and lose water. You'll thank us the next morning for heeding our advice.
Chill and relax
If Phuket offers one thing beyond any other, it's the ability to enjoy the warmth, the hospitality and relax at one of the many beaches, poolside resorts or in the hands of a talented Thai masseuse. Visitors come to Phuket perhaps to escape the cold and dreary climates at home, so it's no surprise that relaxation is a top priority. If we can recommend anything on a visit to Phuket, it would be to enjoy at least one afternoon at a local beach and find a good Thai massage. Though, one must be aware that while Thai massages are incredibly therapeutic, they can at times be slightly forceful or even painful as your body responds to the strength of the masseuse and the unique way they use their body weight to ease the tension out of your muscles.
So is Phuket truly a gay oasis? We certainly think so, and we'd recommend a visit to anyone looking for a bit of Thai hospitality in a welcoming beach destination. If the Tropout gay beach festival is any indication of this destination’s ability to offer gays with an amazing experience, then it's no wonder why countless LGBT people come here. Finally, we cannot recommend the Tropout experience enough as we had the week of a lifetime.
What do you think of Phuket? Which of these reasons most makes you want to visit? Let us know in the comments below!
Note: Both TropOut and the Tourism Authority of Thailand sponsored my trip to Phuket but rest assured all opinions are my own. In fact, TropOut was one of the best travel experience I’ve had and I would recommend it to anyone without any hesitations.