Jatujak, Chatuchak, JJ’s, whatever you call it Bangkok’s Weekend Market is a swap meet on steroids, a SE Asian street market gone wild, a shopaholic’s paradise, and a great place to get your gay on. Fashion queens will salivate over the oodles of local designer’s shops, all offering trendy clothing for the price of a song. Bling can be bought by the pound, although it’ll only cost you a tuppence. It’s the cheapest place in town to purchase tacky souvenirs, or for those with a more discriminating taste you can find some truly unique mementos that scream Thailand, often handmade by a local artist and often one-of-a-kind. And then there are the boys. As well as those who once were boys.
By numbers alone with the sheer mass of humanity that shows up at the Weekend Market you can assume 5-10% fly the rainbow flag in their heart. Add in the thousands of shop vendors and the draw of one of Bangkok’s premier shopping destinations and the percentage balloons thanks to the gay man’s love affair with the retail trade. Cruising the warren of small sois that make up the market is part of the fun of spending your Saturday at Chatuchak. You can find some great bargains at the Weekend Market. And possibly a new friend too. And that’s just before the sun goes down.
Officially Chatuchak closes at 6 pm. Unofficially, that’s just when the real fun begins. The older touri crowd heads for a night of gawking at the risque elements and high street market prices of Patpong’s Night Market, the Euro-Trash doing SE Asia on a budget head home to Khaosan Road, and the local hipsters begin to claim JJ’s as their own. A small quasi-legal market where stalls are replaced by blankets spread out on the pavement opens up selling everything from screen-printed t-shirts made by the guy selling them, to retro collectibles, to cheap knock-offs of whatever’s been recently knocked-off, to an eclectic array of secondhand merchandise that only a Thai could love. Spread along the main drag between gates 2 & 3 from 6pm until around 8-ish – or until the Boys In Brown make an appearance – it’s a more local and younger crowd, many of whom move from making a buck or nabbing a deal to partying their ass off as the shopping part of the evening dies down and the drinking part of the night begins. It’s also a great time to start getting your gay on.
The Silom ghetto with the pubs of Soi 4, the clubs on Soi 2, and the gogo bars on Soi Twilight, is the usual hangout for gay touri. It’s where you go for a sense of gayja vu and/or when your companion for the evening will be a commercial one. Die-hard sex touri may expand their boundaries and head for the cheaper, sleazier sex clubs, the small dingy hole-in-the-wall places that sprang up around the muscle marys’ nirvana of Tawan on and around Soi Tarntawan. Some gay visitors even brave the more local gay bars of Ratchada, Ramkhamheang ( AKA Lamsalee Junction), Saphan Kwai, and Or Tor Kor. But without a Thai friend or two in tow in those areas they may feel like a fish out of water – especially if they stumble into one of the lesbian bars, or try to ‘cuz several of those only allow entrance to real fish. Truth be told, if you are looking for the typical gay touri One Night In Bangkok experience – regardless of how many nights that lasts – the Silom ghetto is your best bet. Especially if you equate being gay with getting laid. At whatever the cost.
But if your world is larger than the experience of paying for a happy ending, if you are a gay who can be happy with nothing more than a fun night out surrounded by like-minded individuals, if you’ve come to the realization that your penis isn’t the only gay part of you, you may want to give Chatuchak a try. And with the right attitude, you might still end up making your best buddy’s night.
Ratchada is where the younger, local, university kids head; if you are over 30, on the prowl, and don’t have a Thai friend with you your night will not end happily. On the other hand hitting clubs like Ratchada Soi 8 – where you can drool over the coyote dancers – or G-Star Pub, with its world of whiskey-guzzling hormonal local lads and spiky-haired university students, can be a fun night out if you go with some Thai friends.
Or Tor Kor, located across the road from Chatuchak (and often referred to as the same) attracts a slightly more mature, but still predominately local crowd. Fake Club is the most popular venue and is often packed to the rafters. Obama Bangkok is less frantic, less cramped, but a whole lot more camped thanks to its grating ladyboy emcee. And El Ninyo goes for the truly fabulous with its extravagant ladyboy cabaret show, replete with lots of exaggerated lip syncing and over the top costumes. The whole strip is like one big club; you can hang out outside or go inside any of the clubs lining the sidewalk to dance your ass off. But like Ratchada, you’ll have more fun if you speak Thai, or have some Thai friends with you when you hit the Or Tor Kor clubs. It is not a new prowling ground for older farang sex touri. This is Bangkok, not Pattaya.
The scene at Or Tor Kor isn’t specifically gay either. Younger gays no longer feel the need to build ghetto walls around their favorite haunts. ‘Mixed’ is the name of the game these days. And that’s a good thing. Straight eye candy is just as delicious, and you never know when one of those straight boys is actually a closeted gay boy out for the night while flying under the gay radar a mixed atmosphere offers. The result is a classic gay clubbing night in true Thai style, where you never really know which of the boys likes playing with boys’ toys. And which may decide to start whistling a new tune.
And that holds true back inside Chatuchak Market where Viva has been a gathering place for gays, might-be-gays, who cares if they are gay, and those oblivious to the gayness surrounding them since 1998. Viva does not advertise itself as a gay bar. It does not cater to a predominately gay clientele, even if on most nights that’s what you’ll find there. It’s a small, happening place that will make you rethink what the Weekend Market is really all about. And for a gay visitor it’s the closest thing you’ll find to a gay version of Cheers in Bangkok. Without all the white faces. Or money exchanging hands in hopes of exchanging body fluids later. Everyone there might not know your name, but regardless of your age or where you come from you’ll be warmly welcomed just the same.
A local bar-cum-furniture store, the chic interior decor shop turns into a jumping bar after dark while retaining it’s typical Chatuchak stall flavor. Not quite as happening during the day, Viva is still a great little spot to stop for a cold one during your shopping melee. And it still attracts a large gay clientele before the sun goes down too. Or I should say ‘they’ do. Viva has two locations inside of Chatuchak. The original, diminutive and laid-back Viva is in Section 26 (Stall 149, Soi 6) near the antique shops and small restaurants. The newer, larger branch in Section 8 on the main drag by Gate #2 is where after dark a DJ cranks up the tunes and the retail operation transforms into a funky bar offering live music and a friendly crowd. A stall opposite Viva is opened up every weekend night and becomes a stage where the band plays. And by 8pm it’s standing room only, with the crowds spilling over into the surrounding sois.
It is probably not the gay Bangkok you know and love. Viva is not a meat market. It’s a place to hang out with friends. Or make new friends. Because you enjoy their companionship. Not because you are hoping they’ll end up in your bed. Not that that is out of the question – face it, gay guys are equal opportunity employers when it comes to their penis, but if you do it’ll be because you were a fun guy to be around and not because you have a large wallet. Moneyboys have not made Viva one of their hangouts, and fortunately neither have those who make up their clientele.
What you will find at Viva is a fun crowd made up of locals and visitors, gays and straights, vendors from the market tipping a few before headed home, Or Tor Kor partiers tipping a few before the nearby clubs open, and, of course, some drag queens. There are single gay guys, gay couples, 30-something hipsters, straight backpackers of both genders . . . it’s truly a mixed crowd but with enough wearing the pink you’ll feel right at home. You can just as easily find yourself sharing a few shots with a wizened old local woman who spent the day selling fried insects at the market as a hot Thai guy looking to practice his English. Or looking to satisfy his curiosity with a friendly farang.
It’s a good place to allow fate to rule the day, to open yourself to friendship and possibility, and to be free of any agenda save having a good time. And isn’t that what travel is all about? Besides, with the party winding down around 10-ish, you still have plenty of time to head back to Silom to buy a happy ending if a fun night out on the town didn’t suffice.
(I thought I’d post a handful of phots from Viva’s Facebook page, just to give ya an idea of the bar and its clientele.)
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