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James Songkiat Namthaisong

The Four Seasons, Bangkok
by Lawrence Ferber

Thailand's nickname, "Land of Smiles," makes perfect sense when you meet such good-natured, amiable, hospitality professionals like Four Seasons, Bangkok www.fourseasons.com/bangkok) concierge Namthais­­­ong, who typically goes by his Western nickname, James.

The five-star, 354-room property recently underwent a sparkling, contemporary renovation. Now, it boasts numerous restaurants and lounges including acclaimed Italian venue Biscotti, a full-service state-of-the-art spa, and a prime location just minutes by foot from the biggest and best shopping centers, Lumpini Park and Erawan Shrine.

James is a four-year employee who previously worked at Bangkok's famed see-and-be-seen institution BED Supper Club and, for a six-month stint, with Disney's Cruise Line in Florida. He also holds a tour guide license, earned from Silpakorn University.

"I chose to work at Four Seasons, Bangkok because Four Seasons is a reputable chain and provides excellent benefits to employees," he shares. "Anti-gay discrimination never happens in our chain—all staff are employed for their attitude and ability, so gays can work openly and happily here, and once they themselves are happy, they can make guests happy, too. My favorite parts of my job are to fulfill people's happiness, and be an ambassador of my country to the world—and, of course, I know the Bangkok gay scene quite well."

Where are the coolest places in Bangkok to go for cocktails?
Distil Bar (The Dome at lebua, 1055 Silom Rd. Tel: +66-2-624-9555. www.lebua.com), located on the 64th floor of the lebua Hotel. A cocktail I highly recommend is "Cool as a Cucumber," made of gin, vodka, and cucumber juice with a cucumber pearl, served in a martini glass. Downtown's modern and chic Hyde & Seek (65/1 Athenee Residence, Soi Ruamrudee. Tel: +66-2-168-5152. www.hydeandseek.com) was voted best bar in Bangkok by BK Magazine. The signature cocktail they're proudest to present is the "St. Tropez Smash," made with two ounces of premium vodka, vanilla syrup, watermelon juice, passionfruit, and fresh lime juice. This light red cocktail is garnished with fresh mint leaves and a piece of passionfruit.

What are the best restaurants for a romantic dinner in the city?
One of the most famous new restaurants in town, which just opened last September, is Sra Bua (991/9 Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan. Tel: +66-2-162-9000. www.kempinskibangkok.com) at the Siam Kempinski Hotel. Renowned chef Henrik Yde-Andersen, whose Kiin Kiin restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, was awarded a Michelin star, re-conceives and deconstructs traditional Thai dishes and flavors in an innovative, modern style within a gorgeously designed, romantic space. Sirocco (1055 Silom Rd. Tel: +66-2-624-9555. www.lebua.com) is an outdoor Mediterranean restaurant on the lebua at State Tower's 63rd floor. The most romantic scene is from table number two for its panoramic city view, and the food's great.

Who serves the greatest weekend brunch?
I'm very confident to say it's the Sunday brunch at Four Seasons Hotel (155 Rajadamri Road. Tel: +66-2-126-8866. www.fourseasons.com/bangkok). We present all kinds of the best food, some imported and some local. We have the best fresh lobster station, and it's served both indoors in Madison and Spice Market restaurants and outdoors at the Aqua lounge. Moreover, it is inclusive of unlimited alcoholic drinks.

What are the hottest shows in Bangkok, and how do I get tickets?
There are a few places that are famous for "ladyboy" shows in Thailand, such as Tiffany and Alcaza in Pattaya. In Bangkok, I have to say Calypso Cabaret (Asia Hotel, 296 Phayathai Rd. Tel: +66-2-653-3960-2. www.calypsocabaret.com) is the best. They're really professional and well trained, and it's the greatest, most entertaining show in town. There are two shows per day, at 8:15 P.M. and 9:45 P.M. Tickets are 1,200 baht, about USD$40, per person. To make sure that you will get seats, have your concierge make a reservation in advance or book the tickets online.

Which guided tours do you recommend most often to your guests?
We recommend East Meets West Travel (Tel: +66-2-251-5230. www.eastmeetswesttravel.com). They provide quality and friendly services at a reasonable price. All of their tour guides are very experienced and licensed by Tourism Authority of Thailand, and a few gay tour guides work for this company.

Where can you go to get the best views of the city?
Go up to have a drink at Sky Bar (1055 Silom Rd. Tel: +66-2-624-9555. www.lebua.com), the open-air bar at lebua State Tower. It's the best place to see panoramic views of both the city and river sides of Bangkok. And the outdoor Moon Bar (21/100 South Sathon Road. Tel: +66-2-679-1200. www.banyantree.com) at Banyan Tree Hotel is located on the rooftop, connected with the al fresco Vertigo restaurant.

Where are the best places to work out?
For gay people, we go to Babylon Sauna (34 Soi Nandha, South Sathon Road, Soi 1. Tel: +66-2-679-7984. www.babylonbangkok.com), where they have great equipment—it's quite modern, with everything a general gym might have, plus a steamroom and sauna and nice-sized outdoor swimming pool. We can relax by the pool having some cocktails, chatting with others, and enjoying our community.

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If someone is looking for a full-service spa, where do you send them?
I highly recommend Oasis Spa (64 Soi Sawasdee Sukhumvit 31 Road. Tel: +66-2-262-2122. www.oasisspa.net). This spa is in a wooden house but very private, clean, and they have their own private garden in front of the house. The treatment package I recommend is Oasis Pampering, which lasts 2.5 hours. You'll relax while being scrubbed with Thai herbs, a hot aromatherapy massage, and facial treatment by Biodraga. The Oasis signature treatment is "King of Oasis," a mixture of massage styles: herbal compress, Thai, and aromatherapy. This package takes two hours. Four Seasons' MSpa (155 Rajadamri Rd. Tel: +66-2-126-8866. www.fourseasons.com/bangkok/spa) is another excellent choice as it's an elegant full-service spa right in downtown Bangkok.

Designer labels for less—do you have any suggestions for the smart shopper?
The Siam Square outdoor market is where the modern, famous designer shops are. You will find more than one hundred fashionable brands as well in the indoor malls called Siam Center (Tel: +66-2658-1000. www.siamcenter.co.th) and Siam Paragon (Tel: +66-2-690-1000. www.siamparagon.co.th). They're all located on Rama I Road, right in the heart of Bangkok. Some fashionable Thai labels popular with gay men include Amat underwear (www.amat-underwear.com) by Amat Nimitpark, available at Siam Paragon on the second floor, and Greyhound/Playhound (www.greyhound.co.th) by designers Jitsing Somboon and Bhanu Inkawat, also available on Siam Paragon's second floor.

Any suggestions for how to find out about the gay and lesbian community before arriving in Bangkok?
You can search and read information from websites such as Sticky Rice (www.stickyrice.ws), Gay Thailand (www.gaythailand. com), and magazines like Spice Magazine (www.thai-spice-magazine.com) And women can check Bangkok Lesbian (www.bangkoklesbian.com).

What are the best gay and lesbian bars in the city?
Telephone Bar (114/11 Silom Soi 4. Tel: +66-2-234-3279. www.telephonepub.com). On that street, Soi 4, you'll find many gay bars. Actually, everything on Soi 4 is gay, except for Tapas, a straight disco. The uniqueness of Telephone Bar was a real telephone provided on every table, which they recently replaced with Skype Video Phones. While you relax and enjoy your drinks, if you happen to be attracted to someone, you can make use of the phone and call their table. The most famous lesbian bar is E-Fun (21/135-136 RCA, off Rama 9. Tel: +66-2- 203-1043. www.efunbangkok.com), which is strictly "girls only."

What are the most popular gay dance clubs in Bangkok?
The most famous, long-lasting, and still popular one is DJ Station (Silom Soi 2. Tel: +66-2-266-4029. dj-station.com). There are three floors, the first is the dance floor and stage, and the smoking area is on the third floor. There are drag queen cabaret shows every night starting from 11:30 P.M. that you can watch from the higher floors. DJ Station is crowded every single night and really packed on weekends.

Where can someone go at 3 A.M. for a good meal?
Bangkok is a famous food city as well. Normally the last order for most restaurants in town is at 10:30 P.M., but there are a few places open 24 hours. 13 Coins, aka Sib Sam Rien (304 Suriwong Road, Sipraya Road. Tel. +66-2-631-7313), is a laid back and kitschy-style restaurant well known among Thai nightlife goers, and highly recommended. You will find Thai and international cuisine there. Secondly, Bug & Bee (18 Silom Road, Suriwong, Bangrak. Tel. +66-2-632-8883. www.bugandbee.com), a small fusion Thai-style coffee shop, is also a good choice for western snacks and drinks.

What is the most iconic tourist souvenir, and where will we find it?
Thai Boxing shorts for men and a silk scarf for ladies. You can find those items and more Thai products around Patpong, at the Chatuchak Weekend Market (www.chatuchak.org), in the MBK shopping center (444 Phayathai Rd. Tel: +66-2-620-9000. www.mbk-center.co.th), and the Jim Thompson (www.jimthompson .com) shops for silk.

What is the best way to get around Bangkok? Taxi? Bus? Subway/Metro? Is it expensive?
The Skytrain, aka BTS (www.bts.co.th) and the subway, aka MRT (www.bangkokmetro.co.th), are the best options. As Bangkok is famed for its heavy traffic, especially during Monday to Friday rush hours–7 to 9:30 A.M. and 4:30 to 7:30 P.M. The fare for BTS and MRT start from 15 baht, about 50 cents, to 40 baht, about $1.20, depending on distance. The price of a ticket is based on how many "zones" the destination station is away from your starting point. However, in some areas where these lines are not available, then taxis and buses will be the choice of necessity. Taxis in Bangkok charge based on a meter, with a minimum fare of 35 baht–about $1.10.

Please finish this sentence: Don't leave Bangkok without…
…getting a Thai massage because it is a unique method of relaxation. Please try it at Wat Pho (2 Sanamchai Road. Tel: +66-2-221-3686. www.watpomassage.com), the original Thai massage school located at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha...Tasting Thai cuisine, which is famous around the world for its unique taste...Visiting the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Na Phralan, Phra Nakorn Old City. Tel: +66-2-224-1833. palaces.thai.net). It's the best place to learn Thai history.

[Published: August, 2011]