On the gay beach at Jomthien two miles south of Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand under sunny skies with 83 degrees in November and gently swaying palms. It’s a bit like a UN gathering of gay old men here: on my right is a Brit; in front of him is a Norwegian; on my left a Russian; scattered around are Americans, Dutch and Germans. Among them all are younger male Thais: the beach crew renting out chaises, the fresh fruit vendor, a pirated DVD seller with current Hollywood blockbusters and B-grade porno, a masseur, waiters from the juice bar serving ice drinks, others selling trinkets and handicrafts.
Bobbing in the water are heads of different races and body sizes. Commonly, here at the gay beach called Dongtan Beach, in Jomthien, couples consist of one big-boy-gray-headed Anglo cuddling with or groping under water one-lean-dark-Thai escort half or a third his age. The international set, local and foreign, gather here on this beach daily for the camaraderie of like-minded other men looking for social and sensual comfort not available at home in Europe or America.
The gay scene is different here. Young Thai guys are willing to talk (with varying degrees of English), walk, massage, sleep, shop or kiss with gray overweight foreigners for a night, a week, a month or longer–sometimes for years, intermittently, if daddy comes for a month or two or three to avoid the cold north of Stockholm, New York, Ottawa, Moscow, Berlin or London.
A unique feature of gay southeast Asia is the accepting attitudes that many young guys express toward senior men. In the West aging is the curse of homosexual men; they become detritus at home in the West after fifty-plus years where sagging breasts and widening hips are not in fashion, not ogled, not photographed for fashion magazines. So retirees (gay and straight) end their professions and come to Thailand to renew carnal –and often emotional–lives in the arms of younger companions.
(Unlike the straight world where young women are lured or captured into the sex trade, gay guys are free agents ‘unowned’ by any pimp or mafia or agency. The only coercion is the need for money.)
The beach is a social leveler as guys strip down to baggy shorts or slinky Speedos. Fancy identifiers of affluence such as designer clothing, Seiko watches, expensive bling and 5-star hotel room keys are shed; nearly naked bodies and shapes become the lingua franca. Most of the western bodies are not shapely. They reveal the results of years of high caloric processed foods, smoking and drinking. The lean and toned western guys with fine curvature are a small minority here. Heads turn and eyes follow these specimens as they walk along the water’s edge and fade into the distance.
More common head-turners are the Thai ‘boys’ who are structurally lean, brown-hued with thick shocks of dark hair and silky smooth skin. Some on this beach are here with their older ‘johns’ who outweigh them by 30-70 pounds or more. Yet not all Thais are glam, of course. Most are ‘normal’ with a common appeal, which does not disqualify them from the market. Varying tastes apply to varying guys. I have seen fragile wrinkled men hobbling along with a plain-looking Thai youth on his arm. Usually the white guys are in their late forties to seventies while their trophies are invariable in their twenties, early thirties at most.
Watching the Scene
One afternoon, two chaises away from me such a youth with a typical lean shape in a yellow Speedo stood up and skipped down the sand to the water to bob up and down, not swimming, for a few minutes then ballet-like pranced back to his chaise to await, I imagined, the arrival of someone older, someone foreign.
Sure enough, after a short while, daddy arrived, portly in his fifties, accompanied by what appeared to be his long-term husband–also quite hefty. But this time they didn’t come to lounge and chat and sip coconut milk with Mr Pretty. A few minutes later I overheard him tell the youth to meet here tomorrow at two under the panoply of beach umbrellas that shade the beach. The little one nodded checking the time on his ‘Gucci’ wristwatch.
In a quick exchange of conversation with me on his way out, daddy Brit said he was originally from Wales then worked in Liverpool and now lives here. His actions suggested to me that he and hubby don’t want cutie around full time, just enough for brief chats, a lunch and perhaps a fuck, which is not unusual in Jomthien given the language barrier and huge difference in lifestyles. A common sight at cafes and restaurants is a brown and white couple sitting at a table with nothing to say to each other after the urge has calmed in private. Daddy reads the Times and boy checks his cell phone as they wait for their food to arrive. The enthusiasm of sex doesn’t translate well to restaurant conversation.
Meanwhile, as an aside, also bobbing in the water that day a few straight Russian visitors who seem oblivious to having parked their towels on a gay beach. None of them swim. They stand in the water, talk to each other in twos and threes jabbering away in Cyrillic syllables.
As part of the gay mating ritual there is a penchant for certain accoutrements, gifts from daddy, toted by young Thai partners such as expensive-looking leather handbags, sparkly faux-designer watches, glittery bangles and bracelets (bling), fashion sunglasses, fine clothing, sandals or gold necklace pendants. If the mating continues well for months daddy may offer boy a motor scooter, possibly but rarely a car. These tell-tale signs of being kept or at least temporarily maintained are readily visible on wrists and necks, displayed like pet license tags.
A moment after daddy Brit, above, went off with hubby Mr Cutie spoiled the moment by puckering his lips around a cigarette and lighting up with his silver lighter, which ended my admiring. How beauty has a way of sabotaging itself; smoking is an enormous addiction here, especially among Russians and Europeans. Thais much less.
It’s easy to observe that these youthful Thais couple up for the money that western wallets bring into their lives–an obvious truth, especially given the frequency and appearance of the escort-rent-money-boy industry, but there’s more to it; there is complexity.
A recent article, referenced below, offered some insider ‘rules’ for farangs (foreigners) to consider when dating guys outside their native culture whether in Thailand or other SE Asian countries. These rules, said the writer, have been collected from men experienced in these matters, for better or worse; I’ve just expanded and edited them here.
In my travels, I have encountered long and short term relationships in southeast Asia, ranging from disastrous affairs that cost the farang thousands of dollars to deeply attached loving partnerships of tens of years.
The first of these ‘rules’ was offered by a long-term retired farang from the UK who warns newcomers in Thailand, “you can never ‘own’ a Thai, they are free spirits.” As much attention as a new Thai guy lover gives to a new boyfriend, he is not ‘attached at the hip’, as the expression goes. A Thai son’s life is rarely detached from his family; one of his core roles in life is to take care of them. “Never forget they are essentially more interested in the welfare their family than a foreign lover,” he cautioned.
In light of this, I met a charming young bar boy named Jet (all Thai guys seem to have a single-syllable western nicknames) at Two Faces bar in the commercial Jomthien Complex one evening. After ordering the requisite drink we talked about him and of course his family. He had had a previous relationship with a rich Dubai lover who, in a phase of enthrallment, bought Jet gifts including gold jewelry and a condo in Phuket (an extremely unusual gift even in a culture of gift giving and taking). There he was well kept in high style, but following a common pattern, they broke up after two years of periodic visits by Mr. Dubai.
Surprisingly he had purchased the condo in Jet’s name and as they parted ways he let Jet keep the condo. Then, not surprisingly, Jet turned around and sold it which netted him many thousands of dollars in his pocket. But, instead of going on a shopping spree he used much of it to pay for his mother’s medical bills, which after a year of treatment for cancer in and out of hospital, had mounted substantially. In Jet’s telling this tale, which I tended to believe, he did not express any regret toward using his bounty for his mother’s care.
As another observer has remarked about Thai guys, “his family demands will always have priority. These can be staggering, grossly unfair and a tremendous worry for the boy. Some family needs are more like a torrent than a dripping tap. They never let up and expect some tens of thousands of baht money every month.” Personally, I met a farang in Laos who lost his bank accounts and his restaurant ownership swindled by his Lao boyfriend and his controlling mother. But that was an extreme case; most bi-cultural couples just stop being together and go their separate ways, disappointed but not broken.
These are a few among many stories of available young men, whether they work days in a bank, in a restaurant, as a bell-hop in a hotel or clerking at McDonald’s. Certain guys are available after hours for play and for the (unspoken) sake of family. Even after parents die if there are any unmarried siblings the oldest boy watches over the them and supports them until they marry.
A second rule, if you the farang become seriously involved with your Thai guy be prepared that he may continue with one or more other men, at least until he measures the strength of your commitment. The support (money and gifts) from you may not be his only income when you meet since many farangs are notorious for promising undying love in the thrill of passion and then sudden dump little guy for a newer model. Many Thai gay guys have been deceived more than once and they get smarter and tougher as they age.
On the other hand, most western men are reluctant to provide a monthly income to a new someone they hardly know or trust, cute and sexy as he may be. So Mr. Thai is likely to keep other income streams open for the time being. Trust must be built both ways; it clearly can be. I have encountered numerous farang-Thai couples together for five, ten and more years.
Third, until that trust is built do not forget you are his ‘customer’ (simultaneously or serially) and he is giving you a good time, a renewed erotic romance at this seasoned time in your life. Until considerable time passes he is not your ‘boyfriend’ and you are not his primary ‘other’. At the beginning he is going out with you and spending time with you and enjoying your gifts and money and you are liking his touch. Not for love at first and not to get away from the bar, where many of them can be found. (Many of them like the bar scene and the social camaraderie it offers, much like a second family.)
This is his work, so a visitor should reward him for the time he spends with him at the bar, eating, beach-balling or in the bedroom. An electrician or lawyer gets paid for his time and so must he. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly innocent phrase ‘up to you’ when you discuss money. Agree ahead of time or you will wind up paying more than you want–and less than what he wants, which does not help build trust.
And don’t be fooled by a simple lie. More than once I have asked Mr Cutie if he is a money boy to which he replied ‘no’. Turns out that money was very much expected. Unlike the West there is rarely a free hook-up for sex in Thailand–or in all of southeast Asia between a farang and a native. A western guy is a wallet until the sex becomes something deeper. Discuss everything about money first, even though this may feel odd. You must talk about how long will he stay the night (or tomorrow), what you like to do in the bedroom, what he doesn’t do or like to do when naked, and importantly how much extra is a ‘happy ending’. Don’t ignore this or you are likely to see Mr Pretty Smiles become quite unhappy and sullen, although never violent.
A visitor should also understand the concept of giving gifts of money in Thailand; it is considered a ‘good feeling’ gesture and signifies you have a ‘good heart’. Whether it is a few extra baht for a motorcycle ride or 20,000 baht for the replacement of the buffalo you accidentally hit while driving or an afternoon of pleasure, always give money. Far better to be generous than pecuniary so he can do what is best for you and his family–and increasing the chances of seeing him again. Let him make the choice, not you, but you can also bargain. One of the most common sites in Buddhist temples are baht notes at the feet of revered statues (‘making merit’) in exchange for perceiving a blessing. Giving money is good.
Fourth, another piece of advice from one UK retiree is, do not appear to be single, too eager or readily available. You can always fall in love later but not being too eager is a way to see and test his sincerely. Tell him you have a boyfriend or wife whom you love and live with long term but on this holiday you are going to have some ‘happy hour’. This will give Mr Thai the freedom to continue his career without worrying about how you feel; you are free to look around at other Thai boys. Some Thai guys appear to like devoted ‘married’ men, gay or straight. They think they are less trouble, less demanding, less likely to carry disease and more likely provide more consistent support.
However, it’s possible to go too far with this laissez-faire attitude: if he asks why you are a ‘butterfly’ an appropriate answer might be that you like to go to the same restaurant every day, but you don’t eat chicken every day. You are on holiday.
Fifth, as for poking into a young friend’s business, don’t ask him about his other farang boyfriends. You don’t need to know and you will only get a less than accurate answer. Same goes about his Thai boy/girl friend. If you ask he will tell you that ‘Thai lady no good’ and ‘finish her long time’. This may be partially true, but in many cases he has a Thai boyfriend or girlfriend –or ‘ladyboy’–who helps him spend his earnings.
The reality of a ladyboy may be new to many foreigners. They are transgender people–with or without surgery. You need to understand that he may also get paid by a Thai ladyboy whom he screws in his time off, which partly explains why boys are abundant in karoke bars–Thai ladyboys go there. Consider that a money-boy has been at work trying to please some farang whom he doesn’t really care much for or doesn’t understand. After work, he can go and get a lady boy, have a laugh in his own language and manners, enjoy a few drinks and maybe a quick lay with no commitment or problem and get paid for it.
Finally, Thai boys can be endearing partners. But you the foreign visitor might be the problem, not them, in ‘making love’ in Thailand. Gay life in Thailand is not and will never be the same as back home. You are not in England, Australia or USA. You are a guest in a foreign land. If you cannot adapt to the issues about money, fidelity, family, sex and intimacy then don’t get involved. Ultimately, a Thai guy does not care if you stay or leave. He is tied into a personal world of family and friends, Buddhist rituals, making a wage and a having safe place to sleep. As far as he is concerned, life can be fun and profitable and pleasurable with you, but his life will not essentially change if you leave–and it may change for both of you if you stay.
Accept him as a ‘different’ person, not someone you think should change for the ‘better’. Accept all this or go back to the picket-fence in the suburbs or the condo in Chicago or the village in Australia–or just live a quiet bachelor life with your sweet memories of a pretty Thai stranger.
Ricky and Colin and Punya–as good as it gets.
For all the uncertain and slippery relationships that form and dissolve, there are many others in sunny Thailand that are ‘success’ stories.
Ricky and Colin sold their fashionable London restaurant after 30 years and retired to this warm country to live out their remaining years in comfort and calm, not expecting anything challenging. But what they found was quite different. A renewed life awaited them when they accidentally met a native Thai businessman twenty years their junior. It was love at first sight when they met Punya in Jomthien Beach, south of Pattaya. The three of them became a devoted ‘item’ as they formed a new family and engaged in assisting Punya in building a gay hotel and sauna called Sansuk in Jomthien. Punya was well-off and did not need their money but he was much appreciative of their wisdom and of their advice as service industry professionals and of their love.
As the new boutique hotel and sauna rose from the ground it became a beautiful gay venue with stylish rooms, a pool, restaurant and one of southern Thailand’s best gay bathhouses. It was a success for all three. Ricky once told me that he and Colin had no idea their retirement could be so wonderful, adventurous and loving. It was the beginning of fifteen years of compassionate partnership for each of them. It was very different from the typical farang-Thai fantasy-filled hookup. They were among many other successful long term relationships in Thailand that deepened over years and decades. It was privileged to know these three men and see how they took care of one another until the end; in 2015 when Colin passed away and Ricky died quietly in his sleep in 2017. From my view, Thailand and for these men this was indeed the perfect place for gay old men.
Aging happens to us all as skin loosens and muscles sag–but usually not libido. It continues into our eighties and beyond if we have the energy. The attraction of youth, puer eternis, is both universal and personal. The ‘force’ courses in our minds long after erections droop, cum delays and romping diminishes.
Aging is a lifestyle of enforced choice imposed by time but it is not sudden and not persistent. Sex interrupts that aging. It is not unlike going to a gym, getting a facial, having cosmetic surgery, taking Viagra, vitamins and heart medications. It reinvigorates; it extends energy; it prolongs hope. It tickles imagination. It stimulates blood flow. Sexual sensation arouses more than organs; it enlivens a deeper and wider feeling of wellness as we add on years. (A recent 80-year old friend was given a ‘gift’ for his birthday–an afternoon romp with a handsome hired hand!)
Few if any of us want to face a diminished self. Witness the billions of dollars spend on anti-aging products. But in the end, at the end, our cells lose function and fluids. Few if any are willing to embrace the coming of dusk to settle into an existential discomfort zone of loss and letting go. Despite the promises of religions it’s not common in human culture to readily embrace death as a ‘next step’. Despite the myths of church and temple, many fear death as a dark end-stop with nothing beyond, although much of humanity indulges in the fantasy of some form of afterlife (with handsome angels!?), which gives slight solace as we close down into deep silence.
A reasonable number of Thai Buddhists are easier about this reality; they believe that all that we have, are, want and desire are temporary, illusory imaginings of the cognitive mind. Thought is another system of trying to make sense of sentient life that’s surrounded at both ends with non-being. For Buddhists being gay is not a disease, not a sin, not illegal here in this ‘land of smiles’. Many LGBT people come here to shelter from the homophobia of the world and live comfortable, free and easy lives without the irrational persecutions in repressed countries. They come here to have fun getting old.
And so it is that the erotic life happily informs the graying gay life in Jomthien, Pattaya, Bangkok, Phuket and a thousand places beyond as they drink wine, beer or milk and watch and embrace the youth who come their way. Thai youth re-evoke effervescent carnal energy in seniors; it’s another anti-aging product, another existential balm for the mind and for the flesh… whatever comforts us passing through this life, however long or short that may be.
(This story incorporates another earlier gay story of unknown origin, published perhaps in Thai Puan magazine, perhaps in 2011 in Bangkok. The author is unknown. If readers recognize any identifying information please contact GlobalGayz at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Richard Ammon