If you want to get away from the big city life of bustling Bangkok and just chill out, there is nowhere better than Chiang Mai, the former capital of the northern Lanna Kingdom (1296-1768) and now the capital of Chiang Mai Province.
Set in a valley surrounded by hills, Chiang Mai is the only part of Thailand to have made it into Tripadviser’s list of the 25 Best Destinations of the World. Not surprisingly, it boasts an amazing variety of hotels, from 5-star deluxe resorts to small, immaculate gay guesthouses, and plays host to over 1.5 million foreign tourists every year.
Given its population of less than 200,000, Chiang Mai has less to offer the gay visitor than Bangkok or Pattaya. But there is still so much for the gay tourist to see and do in and around the city. And once evening falls and the desire for a special massage, a show in a gay bar or simply the company you find in a gay sauna takes over, you will find that Chiang Mai in no way disappoints.
The historic centre of Chiang Mai is the old walled town surrounded by a moat. Much of interest to the visitor lies within this area, including temples galore, from the main Wat Phra Singh to the restored Wat Chedi Luang, originally begun in the late 14th century. At the last count, there were estimated to be an astonishing 300 temples both within the city and its outskirts.
The most famous temple of all is outside the city in the hills to the west. Rent a car and driver for half a day to make the short trip up to the glistening Doi Suthep. On the way, take in the gardens at the Royal Palace which for years was one of the homes of the Thai Royal Family.
Also outside the city, you can wander through orchid farms, visit an elephant camp to take a ride through the forest before watching many of them at play with their trainers, or go white-water rafting on the Mae Teng River. Of the many National Parks, Doi Inthanon is especially interesting in the rainy season for its stunning waterfalls
At night, a part of the city near the river is converted into the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Here you can purchase all manner of handicrafts and other goods, including the usual brand name items – all at a fraction of the ‘real’ price! During the day, though, you can also purchase exquisitely made silks with hill-tribe patterns at specialist shops like Sop Moei Arts on Charoenraj Road to the east of the river.
For wining and dining, Chiang Mai hosts some of the best and most reasonably priced restaurants in the country. Try the River Market beside the Ping River, or The House near Thapae Gate. The Dusit D2 hotel also has special promotions like all you can eat and drink wine and cheese evenings (with the buffet not exclusively cheeses)!
When it comes to nightlife, presently there are four main bars with go-go boys and/or hosts which present sexy shows in the evenings – Adam’s Apple, New My Way, Circle Pub and Free Guy Club. All are roughly in the same area – relatively close to the Mercure Hotel. Only New My Way has go-go dancers as such, but these dancers and the hosts in the other bars do present rather more diverse and interesting shows than are generally found in Bangkok. Many of the young men will be from Myanmar rather than Thailand and are unlikely to be as versatile as you might like. Always check with the mamasan and the host himself before you take anyone off.
The several non-show gay bars dotted around the city tend to be quite small. Yokka Dok near Thapae Gate (in the eastern wall of the old city) has a few hosts to help you enjoy your evening. SoHo, just across from the Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel, is a more sophisticated bar with a varied clientele of expats and locals. Outside Adam’s Apple, there is the Lotus Garden Bar by the Lotus Hotel. The boutique Ratchada Garden Café, part of a beautiful Thai teak house, is a little further from the center, situated in the north east part of town near the Super Highway ring road. Though catering to a mixed clientele, this is very gay friendly place that has become increasingly popular.
In the city center, there is a cluster of beer bars just behind the trendy Dusit D2 Hotel. Caution here is definitely advised. Before you take anyone off, it is essential that you check the identity card to make sure of age. There are severe penalties if you happen to find yourself with someone not yet 18.
A good alternative to bars are the male massage establishments to be found in many locations throughout the city. Check the websites on our listings page where you will find details not only of opening times but also photos of the masseurs. It’s almost certain, though, that only a few will be on duty at any one time. So if there is one whose photo you particularly like, make sure you call in advance to see if he will be working when you wish to visit.
Popular places include One 2 Come, 2 Brothers, Mystic Orient, River House and His Club. As in Bangkok, new massage parlors open and older ones close; so once again always check in advance and post a message in the Forum for the latest information from our posters.
The sauna scene in Chiang Mai is limited to two, but they are definitely worth a visit. House of Male is a long-established sauna situated behind the Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel (but to get there you need to go out on the main road further northeast, before doing an extended U-turn down its one-way soi). Situated in an old Thai teak house, this is especially popular on Tuesdays and Thursdays when it offers Buddy Nights with 2-for-the-price-of-1 entry after 6:00 pm. With Chiang Mai University relatively close by, these evenings are always popular with students. The sauna includes a small gym, a restaurant with a limited but inexpensive menu, a swimming pool in the garden (but you must wear your shorts – nude swimming is not permitted) – as well as several cruising areas and dark rooms.
Club One-Seven is to the south of the city on the Ping River near the bridge leading over to the Chiang Mai Holiday Inn hotel. This is another old teak house, which offers guesthouse facilities in addition to a sauna. The Club also has a pool and the various other usual facilities offered in gay saunas.
Don’t plan too much in advance when you visit Chiang Mai. Adapt to its natural laid back pace of life. Many have said the city boasts the best-looking young men in Thailand. We are sure you will agree!
cc: 2012 GayThailand.com
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