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20 Jul 2005

first sauna for lesbians launched in bangkok

It's probably for the first time that lesbians in Thailand could do as almost anything as gay men have enjoyed for the longest time: meeting others and truly relax in privacy.

She Relax Corner was launched on Tuesday as the first sauna for lesbians in Thailand, or even Asia. Heterosexual women are also welcome. But gay men of types, transsexuals of all looks, and men of all interests are all prohibited.

She Relax Corner opens to the public for lunch and reopens for lesbians and heterosexual women only from 7pm until midnight.
"We want to make it really private for women who love women. But if you are women who are into men, you could come and take refuge from the male-dominated world and get the feeling. Really." Said owner Choosak Piyatatsee who is in late 30s.

He himself would also not be seen at the sauna. All staffers are female, said Choosak, who experienced in running one of Thailand's best gay saunas Chakran as manager for five years.

"Women are much, much different in terms of privacy. They need more of their own space and we have to be very sensitive about it," he said.

The soft launch on Tuesday drew a fair number of lesbians to make their first tour with enthusiasm.

"I have longed been waiting for a facility like this so my girlfriend and I could come see other people and have private time with my friends without men's eyes prying on us," said 23-year old hairstylist Supaporn Notra, who identifies herself as dee, or locally referred to a femme lesbian as opposed to tom or butch lesbian).

She Relax Corner seems to offer almost everything she did not imagine before, said Supaporn.

With an initial of five million baht investment (US$119,000), She Relax Corner was built on a two-storey house, formerly a spacious 1-rai restaurant with a garden on the front. Painted in light velvet on the outside, the sauna's interior is vividly furnished in chic style. There are 126 lockers available.

The venue offers a restaurant, gym, Jacuzzi, steam, sauna, massage, karaoke, rooftop relax corner, and even dark and private rooms. Recreational and education activities such as yoga, group support counseling, and even meditation are also planned to roll out.

There is no strict dress code in the sauna. Butch lesbians could wear a tank top and shorts, or anything they feel comfortable in, said Choosak.

During the daytime, the restaurant area is open for the general public, who are mostly office workers around the area, for a lunch buffet. It closes round 2pm and reopens for lesbians and heterosexual women only from 7pm until midnight.

The new establishment, located on the northern area of Bangkok, is however not shy from publicity, unlike most gay saunas. The first day of its "soft opening," it allowed all press to make a tour, take pictures of every room. Many gay men showed up to make their first experience in women's private space on the launch date.

Ara Wilson, associate professor on women's studies at Ohio State University, said lesbian community in Thailand is emerging and the landscape is changing as well.

"Thai lesbians mostly meet in restaurants and some bars whose owners are obviously lesbian. But so far they do not have their own space. I think lesbians in Bangkok especially toms and dees are getting more confident in public," said Ara who spent two years in Thailand before moving back to USA.

She Relax Corner is located on Paholyothin Soi 12. Telephone number: 66-2- 02-2785685. Entrance fee: 200 baht (approx US$5). Open daily. Directions: Take skytrain to Ari station, walk straight ahead for some 15 minutes to Paholyothin Soi 12 and down the 'soi' (lane) for 15 metres. (Website is under construction.)

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