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March comes in like a lion… and May will be Gaga
Friday, March 02, 2012

Our Gay Icon Editor screams: It’s just been confirmed that Lady Gaga will bring The Born This Way Ball to the Rajamangala National Stadium in what must surely be her spiritual home, Bangkok, on 25 May. The long-anticipated event risks relegating this month’s appearance by Olivia Newton-John at the sinisterly-named Hall 106 in BITEC Bangna to the status of a warm-up act. Tickets aren’t cheap for either dream-come-true. But, if you opt to miss La Newton-John and save up for Her Musical Loonyness, you could console yourself with Olivia’s new healthy eating cookbook. Who knows? It might unlock the secret of how she keeps her hair so sumptuously blonde at the age of 63! Now, this Deluge of Divas would overshadow all other news in a normal month. But there’s no such thing as a normal month in Thailand. True to form, the Kingdom has begun March by defying global trends, not to mention its own recent history, with a burst of bullish optimism that’s been endorsed by many gay businesses.

Despite a worse-than-expected shrinkage of Gross Domestic Product [GDP], resulting largely from last year’s floods, the Thai Stock Exchange started this month by rising close to a sixteen-year high. Foreign investors have been no less excited, rushing in to buy $millions worth of Thai shares. Toyota is to increase its manufacturing capacity here, creating new jobs, and other Japanese companies have declared themselves equally optimistic.

The Thai economy enjoys such credibility that the UK’s sometime trade envoy, Prince “Airmiles” Andrew, pleaded with local magnates to invest in British industry when he paid a call this week on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Unfortunately, the British Daily Mail newspaper felt obliged to trivialise the encounter by emphasising the “glamour” and “fashion forward attitude” of our illustrious PM, reporting suggestively on Yingluck’s fondness for “high-end ensembles and accessories” and the fact that HRH “could not stop grinning in front of the dainty dignitary”.

Translation note for non-Brits: when UK tabloids refer to a man with a grin on his face, they usually mean “a man with an erection”. As for what they imply by “high-end accessories”, we’ll leave that to your imagination. Talking of erections, by the way, it’s alleged that Thai teenagers have been gleefully joining in the boom with a surge in pregnancies, quaintly attributed in some quarters to the popularity of Facebook.

Anyway, optimism in bourses and boardrooms is all well and good, but what of the sharp end – the small businesses that are never listed on stock exchanges? What of the bars, clubs, restaurants and intimate hotels that enliven gay Thailand for visitors and expats alike?

Given the importance of day-to-day realities such as cash-flow for these bijoux enterprises, you might expect their ardour to be dampened by headlines about floods and terrorist alerts, as well as the global downturn. If they ever had any caution, though, gay entrepreneurs have thrown it to the wind. Our listings are studded with evidence of eye-opening initiatives.

Nowhere is this more so than in Chiang Mai. Check out two new gay-friendly garden hotels that are drawing approval from early visitors: the Qi68, which just so happens to offer a generous discount to holders of dreaded ned’s member card, and the elegant Mansfield Boutique City Resort.

Our Chiang Mai Bars and Pubs listings feature no fewer than three fresh venues, in addition to the well-established favourites. The newbies are the Radchada Garden Café, RAM+ Coffee and Bar, and Cheerleaders, where you can quaff jugs of cocktails and watch Muay Thai three nights a week. (Just make sure you don’t grapple so many jugs that you end up in a bout yourself on the way back to the hotel). And among the second city’s most impressive events of late has been the launch of the See Man Pub, a large, trendy go-go bar with coyote shows, live music and a crowd of handsome guys.

Not to be outdone, gay Bangkok continues to sprout new ventures. As if in defiance of the economic jeremiahs, a spacious host-bar-with-dancing called The Heart Beat Club has set up shop in a soi previously reserved for “straight” businesses. And on Rama IV Road, the BBB Inn has set in train a programme of expansion that will add several tons of gymnasium gear and associated fitness activities to the existing hospitality services. Asked if this wasn’t risky in a grim economic climate, a representative said:

“We haven’t experienced a grim economic climate. Besides, you don’t need a good economic climate to be successful. Each of the rooms in our hotel is occupied every day, and our turnover so far this year is showing an increase on last year.” Additional staff are already being recruited, and you can see some of them here.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be reporting on how this cheery pattern is being repeated throughout gay Thailand, including the fledgling scene in Hua Hin. And if March ends as expansively as it has begun, April could be even better, not least because of Phuket Pride. This annual event brings thousands on to the streets and has gone from strength to strength: check out the events that have already been announced in our calendar. Shame Lady Gaga won’t be here in time, but you can rest assured there’ll be no shortage of flamboyance.

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