One of the greatest things about travel is that it enables you to step outside of your normal patterns of behaviour and do things that you wouldn’t normally do. When everything is so different around you, when unfamiliarity rules the day, you have no choice but to act a little differently yourself. For some people, this might mean trying different foods that they wouldn’t normally eat, engaging in adventure activities like hang-gliding, or having conversations with people that they would never normally meet in their day to day lives. For me, it means going to a gay sauna.
My hometown of London has its share of gay saunas, but I’d never chosen to visit one before. I’m not so into the idea of anonymous sex that I really feel the need to pay to enter a dingy sauna to get my jollies, and there is the added complication of knowing so many gays in my local area that I’d end up bumping into friends and acquaintances with a miniature towel wrapped around my waist. So why bother to seek out a gay sauna in Bangkok? It’s hard to say, but being in an unfamiliar city where everything is new, doing something like visiting a gay sauna didn’t seem quite so scary to me. And although I basically knew what a gay sauna was, and what happened inside, it was difficult for me to put all the pieces together and really understand the gay sauna experience without actually visiting one myself.
So at the beginning of January, fresh to Bangkok and Thailand, off I toddled to a nearby sauna called Babylon. I did my online research beforehand and this seemed like a place with a great reputation, and with an extremely modest entry fee of 230 baht, I figured that I had nothing to lose (well, except 230 baht). Still, I arrived feeling just a little apprehensive. I’m a terrible actor, and I was sure that when I reached the reception that the guy working behind the desk could immediately detect that this was my first visit to one of these places. There is actually little reason to be nervous upon visiting a gay sauna, and as well as a place to get steamy, Babylon is also a pretty plush gay hotel, so it didn’t seem seedy or scary in the slightest. As I mentioned, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of a gay sauna, but I did have one expectation, and that was that the place would smell like lube. It didn’t, and so I felt pretty comfortable. So far, it was just like going to an ordinary sauna.
I was given my locker key, and inside the locker was a towel, a condom, and a sachet of lube. I briskly changed into my, err, towel, and headed toward the direction of the sauna and steam room. Aside from the changing rooms, the sauna was the one part of Babylon that was brightly lit, and so I dipped my gay toe in by spending a little time in the sauna where nothing untoward was happening. But I couldn’t put it off for much longer – it was time to head into the steam room. The steam room was indeed very steamy. It was also pitch black. I mean, as dark as dark can be and my eyes just couldn’t adjust. I have no idea how anyone can navigate their way around that space – I was carefully feeling my way along the wall and accidentally feeling people up on the way, which I suppose is the point. A couple of hands in the dark reached for various parts of my body, but I quickly discovered that the idea of an anonymous face in the dark tugging at my penis was not a turn on for me.
Another popular space in the Babylon sauna complex is the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’. The name is entirely misleading – it’s not a garden at all. This is basically an indoor maze of alleys with rooms to get jiggy in with your new found Thai love interest. So essentially, you drape yourself over a doorway in this maze, or you walk around slowly, making eye contact with the people that you wish to have sex with. And then you have sex with them. It sounds straightforward, but the idea of throwing a coy eye at someone I fancy with a towel around my waist gives me the lolz, so this definitely wasn’t for me. I think I was probably the only person in Babylon who didn’t get lucky that day, but I wasn’t too concerned about that – it was enough that I had popped my gay sauna cherry. Plus, I just totally wasn’t into the guys – way too many chubby, old farangs for me to get on board with.
After leaving Bangkok and spending time on Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, I had real pangs to get back into the stride of Bangkok life. So I returned to the big city, and this time I decided that I was going to visit a different kind of gay sauna to see if it would be more to my taste. I rocked up to Chakran sauna on a Friday evening, in spite of reading that it wasn’t the most farang-friendly of places. Well actually, this is why I wanted to go. I wanted to see where the actual gays of Bangkok visit and avoid those fifty-somethings giving me the eye. Chakran Sauna was similarly plush, and without even touching willies in the dark, it would be a lovely place to just relax and spend some time by the pool bar. But what gave this place the edge for me was the clientele – my goodness, the boys at Chakran are really handsome. In Babylon I was gaining a superiority complex about my body and looks, and in Chakran quite the opposite was happening.
Chakran has all the same stuff that Babylon has. A pool, a nice bar, a sauna, steam room etc… and all in terrifying darkness. But as it turned out, there was one big difference with Chakran on the particular evening that I chose to visit – it was naked night. When it got to seven o’clock, the rule was that if you wanted to be in the main area of the sauna complex, then that towel of yours had to come off. I’m not particularly body shy, nor am I an avoidant kind of person, so I whipped my towel off and got into the jacuzzi. Who knows what was floating amongst those bubbles. I wandered around the pitch-black steam room naked, I sat in the sauna naked, and I did plenty of looking naked guys up and down. Once again, I decided that this wasn’t really the place for me to get my thrills, but nevertheless, I am really glad that I had the gay sauna experience in Bangkok, not just once but twice.
Have you ever been to a gay sauna? What was your experience like?
Babylon: 34 Soi Nandha, South Sathon Road Soi 1. (The nearest station is MRT Lumphini).
Chakran: 32 Chakran Building, Soi Ari 4, Soi Paholyothin 7, Phaholyothin Road, Phayathai, 10400. (The nearest BTS is Ari).