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8 Mar 2001

the 'hang-out' gardens of babylon

Bangkok's most famous sauna reopens to well-deserved acclaim.

Babylon. The very name conjures up images of lush gardens, steamy climes and clandestine encounters. A fabled crossroads where people from all nations come together to connect and commingle.

No silly, we're not talking about the ancient Sumerian city, we're talking about Bangkok's most famous sauna! Although still settling in to its new home, which is further down the road from its former premises, the newly re-christened Babylon Bangkok 2000 still attracts hordes of loyal patrons.

"Some people like the new set-up, some don't", we were told by a senior staffmember. "But on the whole, we've gotten favourable feedback from our regulars."

Well, to our tired eyes, the new Babylon Bangkok 2000 definitely offers a refreshing, pleasant new atmosphere. Certainly much thought went into the outstanding new dcor, and if nothing else, there is a lot more space. "We have 3 separate areas with private cubicles for our guests, which we intend to start opening up much earlier, depending on the crowd. We've also added a few more facilities to give the guests more choices." Such as 3 separate dining areas, two of them with gorgeous views of the pool and the gorgeous bodies surrounding it. "Now we also have the space to do something we've always wanted - the Barracks."

The Babylon Barracks
Now, before your eyes glaze over imaging troops of naked military men, the "Barracks" is the name of Babylon's novel new guest facilities. The rooms reinforce the barracks concept. Airy, comfy, but somewhat bare. No piped in music or bottomless minibar here, ladies. Showers are communal (which is probably a plus point for some), and you're within towel-slapping distance of the sauna and its more exotic facilities.

The suites, however, are a marvel. We only got a quick peek as all the suites were fully booked, but that glance sure left a lasting impression. Luxurious queen-sized beds look out onto great views of the city and the gardens, with airy windows bracketing all the walls. The tasteful ethnic dcor creates the air of a tropical cabana, with all the modern amenities. And yes, you do get your own bathroom.

We asked our guide about security on the premises, given the very public nature of Babylon. "Oh guests have nothing to worry about. Our security system is very much like any 5-star hotel, and all guests are provided with keycards." And if a guest wishes to bring back a companion for the evening? "Oh that's no problem at all! As in any hotel, we only ask that the guests register their visitors."

So how popular are the rooms, we asked. "Well, occupancy in the barracks is rising - our regulars are getting used to the convenience of staying right here. Suites are usually fully booked, especially on weekends."
The Sauna
Over the last few years, Babylon's shadowy sauna had become one of Bangkok's main gay attractions. The new sauna, while retaining much of the flavour and mystique of the old, promises to be even better.

"We've put in a small dance floor in the maze, so guests can have the option of doing a bit of partying, too," we were told by our guide. We're sure some of them also appreciate having a teeny bit of light to navigate - or identify - by. The floor itself has a fairly good sound and laser light system, with a small bar attached to help slake the guests' more mundane thirsts.

Wandering a bit further in, we were startled to see a bed surrounded by metal bars within the maze's shadowy confines. "This is something new we've put in. It's quite popular," our guide told us. "Thai boys are usually very shy about doing it in the open, but if a Western couple are at it, they love to stand and watch." We can imagine. Throw in a popcorn stand and they can make a killing.

The other facilities seemed fairly standard. Steam rooms, pitch-black Jacuzzi, gym and private rooms. Everything you need to explore the heights of hedonism. And more.

We finally came back out to the poolside caf, somewhat bemused at having seen parts of the infamous Babylon usually shrouded in the glamour of darkness. As we bid farewell to our kind guide, we watched the early birds saunter in with forced nonchalance, eyes eagerly scanning the sparse early afternoon crowd. Giving each other a knowing shrug, my colleague and I left, wondering which of us would be back later to enjoy the many wonders to be had in the flesh gardens of Babylon.


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