UWERN JONG, www.OutThere.travel
GTBF: Give us a little introduction to yourself.
UJ: I am Editor-in-Chief of the world’s leading luxury and experiential travel journal for gay men of distinction, OutThere. I’m also the LGBT travel ambassador for Thailand for the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s New York office for many years and proud to sit on the board of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association or IGLTA.
GTBF: How did you get connected with TAT?
UJ: I worked with TAT on the award-winning “Amazing Thailand” issue, the first ever edition of OutThere magazine back in 2013. I had been a long term fan of Thailand having visited on numerous occasions throughout my life and had spent a lot of time there uncovering the destination for LGBTQ travelers and consulting with the country’s big hospitality brands on how to engage the valuable LGBTQ traveler. I saw a real opportunity in gay luxury travel to the country and together with the TAT we developed a whole, inspiring issue to engage gay travelers in visiting. The issue proved to be such a hit that we’ve been developing further inspiring content for TAT on Thailand ever since.
GTBF: What do you love about Thailand?
UJ: What’s there not to love? Thailand is an inherently cultural and experiential destination, a place that truly inspires and engages all your senses. I would go as far to say that it even awakens your sixth sense, through its spirituality and stories. It’s rich in history and provides a varied offering throughout the country and it has so much to offer; from its vibrant, hedonistic and every changing ‘city of angels’; Bangkok and just ‘out of town’ urban-escapes of Hua Hin and Kanchanaburi; to its far corners; the southern island resorts of Phuket and Samui; the south western hideaway beach paradises of Krabi and Trang; the artistic and rustic northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; and the road-less-traveled north eastern outpost of Isan. With a real understanding of luxury travel (you’ll find some of the world’s best hotels and resorts here), breathtaking natural beauty and mouth-watering flavors, Thailand ticks all the boxes for the discerning gay traveler. But if there is one thing that really sums up Thailand for me, it’s in its amazing and fabulous people – people who really understand the meaning of humanity, fellowship, friendliness, and community. It’s an often overused moniker “The Land of Smiles”, but just one visit and you’ll see for yourself why.
GTBF: What are your thoughts on the LGBT scene in Thailand?
UJ: What makes Thailand really special is its ever welcoming, indiscriminate spirit. Thailand is a case study of mutual respect at play, its doors unconditionally open to all visitors, irrespective of their sexuality. In Thailand, you will never be judged for your sexuality, no one really cares who you sleep with, but you will be accessed on your attitude – freedom comes with a responsibility to respect your fellow man, woman or person of indeterminate gender – in Thailand, respect is everything. And it has been like this for centuries, as a result, Bangkok is arguably the gay capital of Asia – people from all over the continent come here to experience open, free gay life. The ‘anything goes’ attitude extends to the nightlife, where you’ll find any scene to suit your tastes. I love that this freedom exists here and that the gay community embraces it and doesn’t take it for granted. This November, Bangkok Pride returns to Thailand for the first time in ten years – and it really means a lot to the gay community of Thailand. I love the gay vibe here, it’s refreshingly eclectic. This also extends, on a smaller level, to places outside Bangkok. I recently made a return to the gay scene in Patong, Phuket and had a blast.
GTBF: Which is your favorite province for LGBT in Thailand?
UJ: Tough question, as they’re all so different. I love the North for its heritage and culture. The South for its seaside playgrounds. The center for its distinctively Thai history. But for me and to really get in touch with gay Thailand, it really has to be Bangkok. The city of angels is the pulsing heart LGBTQ life in the country. There’s so much, from nightlife, to gay owned, entrepreneurial businesses, to world leading fashion design, art, food – everything a gay traveler could want and more, either with a Thai accent or an international one. But what makes Thailand extra special is that once you’ve experienced Bangkok, you can take a step back and do something entirely different, somewhere more rural perhaps – but even there, no one will ever judge you for being gay.
GTBF: What are your favorite spots in Thailand when you visit?
UJ: I love imbibing in the vibrancy of Bangkok for a few days, then I tend to take off and go off the beaten track to discover somewhere new. Khao Lak just North of Phuket has a special place in my heart (check out the drag queen snorkeling yacht trip to the Similian Islands run by the Moo Moo Caberet troupe). Outside of the usual tourist drag, I love the lesser known islands – with a particular affinity for the coral islands off Phuket – Koh Racha Yai and Koh Hey. But also Koh Yao Noi, Koh Lipe, Koh Kradan and the lesser visited Hat Chao Mai National Park. I love the UNESCO protected waterfalls of Tee Lor Su, and the colonial chic of Chantaburi. I love the history of Ayuthaya and Ubon Ratchathani. So my recommendation is to travel like I do – enjoy the madness of Bangkok and lap up all the gay life you need there, then head out the slices of paradise that Thailand is well known for.