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The Chiang Mai Gay Scene- A 2017 perspective

The first weeks of the year have passed so we thought it was time to review the current state of the Chiang Mai gay scene in 2017. In this article we take a look first at gay trends worldwide and then more specifically Chiang Mai to see what’s changed, what’s gone, what’s new and what is the future for gay Chiang Mai.

Gay scene trends worldwide

Chiang Mai Gay scene with fun loving guys
Across the globe, gay and LGBT emancipation has led to a changes in gay culture, at least in those countries more accepting of gay people and their lifestyles. Obviously, let us never forget that there are many places in the world where LGBT communities are extremely suppressed and that discrimination and prejudice are widespread. Whilst we extend out solidarity to the oppressed, in more moderate countries where gay people enjoy greater freedoms, attitudes, and the way of life are changing fast.

Perhaps the two biggest factors driving change are easy and discreet communication via the internet, and greater acceptance of gay people by society. The role of the gay village ghetto and the gay bar as the place for gays to meet socially, often with the aim of finding sexual partners, has decreased significantly. Although there is still some need for safe spaces where LGBT people can meet up. In many more liberal western countries, younger gays are happy to socialise with their friends anywhere: straight bars, coffee shops, restaurants, cafes and night clubs. They don’t have to have gay bars in their social lives. To find gay friends and sex dates there are a plethora of websites, gay dating applications and social media options that means sex is often just a few clicks away.

Gay Bars – the beginning of the end?

In contrast, some of the traditional gay bars are in danger of turning into freak shows. The clientele now comprising older gays, who still go there by habit and, increasingly, a younger crowd, particularly women, who think gay culture is hip and go to enjoy themselves away from the predatory overtures they find in the breeder bars. In the same vain, younger gays avoid these places as they don’t want to be treated like prey by the habitual grey gay crowd. As a result, many historic gay bars have closed, or are re-inventing themselves as a more mixed environment.

KU Gay Bar london
Doing it right – A still popular Gay Bar in London

The way the gay scene is developing should come as no surprise. Indeed, rather than nostalgically bemoan the decline of a previous lifestyle, we should embrace the greater acceptance of LGBT people in society. If you want to explore the concept further there are plenty of articles on this theme. For example: Good Bye to all the gay Bars – The Guardian Gay Bars are under Threat – The Economist. whereas this article gives a slightly different view Gay bars were supposed to be safe spaces. But they often weren’t – washinton Post concluding safe gay spaces are still necessary.

Chiang Mai gay scene 2017

One of Chiang Mai’s selling points was always that the city that was a bit different. Although it still retains some wow factor, with each passing day the city is becoming more like any other Asian metropolis. The quaint narrow streets with their old teakwood houses are fast disappearing to be replaced with concrete tower blocks and traffic chaos.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Modern trndy shopping malls and traffic jams
Modern Chiang Mai – Trendy Malls and Traffic Jams

Change has happened in the gay scene too, which in some ways is a microcosm of the worldwide gay scene described above – this article, where did all the nice boys go?, predicted exactly this already a couple of years ago. Yet, Chiang Mai has its own set of factors which drive the way gay lifestyle has developed.

The Gay Scene – Thai Style

For Thai people, the concept of a western style gay scene doesn’t really exist. Even though there are thousands of LGBT people living around the city, there is no bar scene as such. The big club scene that emerged a few years ago has also declined, though perhaps more due to governmental constraints than a lack of customers. For socialising, there are no obvious barriers to gays congregating anywhere and in quite mixed surroundings so gay Thai’s can be found right across the city in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, hairdressers and shopping malls.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene: G-star Vintage gay Club
Packing them in at G-Star Vintage – One of Chiang Mai’s big gay clubs – now closed

Notwithstanding the above, there is still significant discrimination against gay people in Thai society, which may not be apparent to foreigners who don’t fully appreciate the social structure here. This is particularly true in the Thai Chinese community where many remain closeted to avoid family dramas. Another factor which has suppressed the gay identity in Chiang Mai is the internationally acknowledged disgrace in 2009, when the Chiang Mai Gay Pride parade was shut down by protesters. The psychological effects of this linger to this day.

Where you will find gay Thai’s in abundance is on the internet. Social media is enormous here, as are the usual gay hook-up sites. A little indulgence and you will discover things can get very feisty online. Everyone is there, from hardened money boys to super discreet Thai Chinese for whom the smart phone can open that back passage out of the closet.

The gay scene for foreign visitors to Thailand

The gay bar scene in Chiang Mai has always been dominated by bars for tourists and ex-pats. The number of bars may have decreased over the years, but there are still some fun venues around. Chiang Mai remains a popular retirement destination for gay foreigners who provide the main customer base for these bars. In high season this is augmented by many tourists and the regular winter birders who return every year. Of course, this demographic means most customers are of a certain age. The scene is now much more about meeting up for a drink with fellow ex-pats than anything else. But carnal pleasures are still both sought and available.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Secrets Bar
Secrets bar – one of Chiang Mai’s most popular gay bars

As with gay Thailand generally, and aside from the tourist trap elephant camps, gay Chiang Mai has another elephant in the room: prostitution. This has always been a part of the gay scene in Chiang Mai and that continues. But, compared with ten or fifteen years ago there are not many Thai money boys hanging around the bars now. The economic situation in Thailand has improved significantly and is less of a driver for young guys to get into the business. Moreover, it is far less socially acceptable than a decade or two ago.

Of course, the lure of some extra baht still has its appeal as a quick cruise around the internet will reveal. Although much of the online action is Thai on Thai, if you are foreigner, those looking for reward will soon find you! You shouldn’t be surprised if they decline your offer to meet in a gay bar, or indeed any public location; being a prostitute is one thing, but being seen to be a prostitute is now taboo.

The Mountain Boys of Chiang Mai

Where Chiang Mai differs from other parts of Thailand is it is surrounded by jungle and mountains which is still home to many hill tribe people who are excluded from the benefits of Thai citizenship. Then across the border in Burma is the Shan State where poverty and lawlessness abound. The result is an influx of refugees and migrant people into Chiang Mai, many of these real mountain boys (Dek Bon Doi) still find the sex trade to be a better option than lowly paid, exploitative hard labour. N.B that’s not to say that exploitation isn’t alive and well in the bar business too. Please remember many of these people are here as victims of human trafficking in one form or another. It is these guys, along with a few from Laos and Cambodia who now dwell in the gay bars of Chiang Mai hoping to meet affluent foreigners. And, it is the mountain boys who for many gay visitors are still Chiang Mai’s greatest attraction.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Tai Yai mountain boys at Adam's Apple Gay Club
Tai Yai Boys from the Shan State

Gay Bar Scene in Chiang Mai

Some of Chiang Mai’s gay bars seem to be in a constant state of change, whereas others have been around for years. A decade ago, the main focus of the bar scene was close to the night bazaar. You can read some of the Night Bazaar history here. More recently the bar scene became rather spread out, but the last couple of years have seen the best bars re-consolidate together back in the Night Bazaar at Chiang Mai’s developing gay Soi 6.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Soi 6 Map

The Chang Puek area and Santitham, Chiang Mai’s traditional red light district, have always been home to many gay venues in Chiang Mai, and particularly the go-go bars which remain there. However, Santitham has developed rapidly as a student residential area, with a crackdown on venues selling alcohol in the vicinity of universities and dormitories. This, and changing economic situations have led to the closure of several gay and gay friendly local venues, the latest of many being the long running Soho Bar. Some gay accommodation options are still found in this area though.

Gay Soi 6

Almost all Chiang Mai’s gay bars are now located close together in or near what is proving to be the very popular Gay Soi 6. Soi 6 Chareonphrathet Rd Runs from the heart of the Night Bazaar on Changklan Rd, opposite le Meridien hotel, down to Chareon Prathet Rd and the river. Note: if driving, the soi is one way down from Changklan. If you are looking to enjoy the social side of the gay life here this is now where its at.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Show time at Ram Bar
Show time at Ram Bar on Gay Soi 6

For more information check out the bars and restaurants section of the Chiang Mai Gay Guide

Chang Peuk: Gay Go-Go Bars and Karaoke

Chiang Mai now has three male go-go bars or host bars, with erotic shows, all of them have been around for more than twelve years. The boys here are almost exclusively Tai Yai from the Shan State. These are the places to go if you want to see naked boys with dicks as hard and as large (metaphorically speaking) as those teak trees in the jungles they grew up in. There are also several gay karaoke bar with available hosts in this area.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Sexy Shan Boys shirtless
Shan Boys at Chiang Mai’s Adam’s Apple Club

Other Gay Venues

Apart from bars the options for meeting other gay people and enjoying sexual encounters are Chiang Mai’s two gay saunas which remain very popular.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Sauna fun
Gay Sauna Fun at Club One Seven Chiang Mai

There are also several gay massage shops around the city offering massage for men by men. Many still offer that euphemistic happy ending, but be sure to set your expectations before the massage as we hear many of the masseurs are not as accommodating as they once were.

Sexy Masseur at Common Massage in Chiang Mai

See out gay sauna guide for details of Chiang Mai saunas and our massage guide for places offering massage for men by men.

Chiang Mai City Development

Chiang Mai has changed at a rapid pace with the last decade seeing an explosion in construction of new condo blocks to blight the city’s rich architectural heritage. This has been supplemented with several major shopping mall developments.

A whole new district has grown up along the superhighway corridor to the east of the city between Central’s flagship Festival mall and the rather more boutique Promenada mall. The area in between has plenty of new condos and business developments which includes a glut of bars and restaurants in the area near Payap University.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Central Festival Mall

Trendy Nimmanahaeminda

Possibly the area most changed is the Nimmanahaeminda area to west of the city, where what was once a quiet residential district has been swamped with bars, boutique emporiums, restaurants and coffee shops. This is now the Chic and trendy district of town where much of the local nightlife is located, though tourists still tend to congregate in the areas around the night bazaar and Thapae Gate. The flagship developments have taken place at the end of Nimmanahaeminda Road on the Rincome intersection with Huay Kaew Rd. Here the Maya lifestyle shopping mall with its trendy rooftop bars dominates the intersection, along with the Eastin Hotel, Think Park and the soon to open redeveloped hotel and shopping complex on the site of the old Amari.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - Nimmanahaeminda
Eastin Hotel and Think Park at the intersection of Huay Kaew Rd and Nimmanaheminda

But, Nimmanahaeminda is becoming a victim of its own success. Gridlocked traffic and lack of parking is strangling business, meanwhile the condo developers have moved in and redeveloped some of the bar and restaurant areas. Other nightlife is then forced to close due to noise constraints.

The rate of new construction, although slowing noticeably, is still appreciable with no signs that the real estate bubble is going to burst just yet. Sadly, the infrastructure development and urban planning considerations have not kept pace leaving the city’s roads, electrical and water systems struggling to cope with the population growth. Moreover, so much of the characteristic Lanna architecture and ambiance has been destroyed to the point that there is precious little left to save.

The future for the Chiang Mai gay scene

From a Thai perspective, gay life in Chiang Mai will continue much as it is now. There will always be the fickle selection of in vogue place where gays like to hang out and the internet will provide anything else.

At present, the small selection of foreigner orientated bars seems to be sustainable and will likely continue for some years yet. Even though most of the customers are well passed retirement age, we have seen an increase of younger gay guys coming to Chiang Mai, and particularly gay couples. This is changing the demographics as, they are here for Chaing Mai’s tourist attractions, not its gay scene. They might visit one or two of the bars to socialise, or see a show, but its not their main reason for visiting Chiang Mai. They too, like younger Thais are soon drawn to the city’s mainstream nightlife offerings.

More younger tourists are seen in Chiang Mai’s gay bars – here watching the show at Ram Bar

The older ex-pat community living in the city appears to be dwindling. In recent years, the increase in traffic and rental costs has prompted many to move to new residential areas some kilometres outside of town. This dynamic, coupled with a continuing crackdown on drink driving means fewer venture into town at night which will further impact the bar business.

The Money Boys

As to the world’s oldest profession, it is alive and well in Chiang Mai the demand will always remain. What will change is the economic drivers for those money boys providing the service. Increasingly young guys will not be driven to work in bars and massage shops to survive, and many are already returning to Burma as the situation there improves. Go-Go Bars and massage shops are likely to continue operating for the foreseeable future. However, at some point, the patronage system that allows them to operate as they do will likely undergo some radical reform.

Gay Chiang Mai – always worth a visit

In conclusion, the Chiang Mai Gay Scene might not be the party central it was a decade or so ago, but there is still plenty of enjoyment and entertainment to be had. Apart from becoming more metropolitan, Chiang Mai still has a great deal to offer tourists and visitors, gay or otherwise. If you’re gay, enjoy Asia, and haven’t been before, Chiang Mai is definitely worth a visit.

Chiang Mai Gay Scene - cute thailand gay boys
Gay Chiang Mai – Come on in, the water’s fine and there is fun to be had!

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