Night was falling fast as I pulled into the once-bustling Santitham area to the north of the city. Pleasantly surprised, I found myself slipping into a parking spot right in front of my destination – Adam’s Apple.
The last time I was at Adam’s Apple was at a pre-pandemic Hen’s Night. A group of rowdy women descended onto the go go gay bar for a thrilling and titillating show, as we giggled and groaned at the risqué performances and skantily- if at all-clad young men, while trying to find somewhere safe to slip our 100 baht notes onto their near-nude svelte bodies. It was a guilty pleasure I had occasionally indulged in with my gay and girl friends over the years on special occasions. Living in our small city, I have also known the various owners of Adam’s Apple for decades, often interviewing them on topics from sex workers rights to migrant and LGBTQ issues , as well as having been grateful for their support of Citylife’s charity drives over the years, which has often been most generous.
This time, I was invited by owner Jens Kronberg, to visit the post-pandemic revamped club and to see for myself what he and his staff are up to in our post-pandemic sex-scape.
The club was empty, it being early evening, so I made my way up the stairs to Jen’s private quarters on the building’s top floor. Entering his apartment, which appeared to be more of a club house for the staff, I immediately blushed crimson at the sight of over a dozen young men, most wearing only their white y-fronts, feasting on a table laden with food. There were four expat men sitting by the balcony, Jens and three of his regular customers, digging into a plate of Camembert, sipping Singhas and flirting with a stream of young men who kept coming up to give them hugs and kisses.
Jens took over Adam’s Apple as a favour to his friend, the previous owner, who fell ill over a decade ago. His ‘few months’ has since turned into 11 years, as he says that he is unable to leave his ‘family’, which is how he now describes the community he has built up at Adam’s Apple.
“I retired early and am financially secure,” explained Jens who started, and eventually sold, one of the largest data centre companies in Chiang Mai a decade ago. “So I am not doing this as a business, but because these boys have become my family. The Lord gave me such a beautiful life that I want to give back. I ask myself why I have been given so much? And this is what I have to do to give it on. I genuinely like all of these boys, many of whom have no one to care for them and I want to treat them like human beings, like family. For me, it is important to get hugs! I am not a sexpat, that isn’t my thing,” he explains, glancing at the discreet wooden cross hanging on the wall leading to his bedroom. “These boys (when asked, I was told that they ranged in age between 21 and 33) come here by choice, they make their own decisions as to whether they want to serve or go further and become a sex worker.”
I spend the next couple of hours chatting to about half a dozen of these men, all of whom are from Myanmar’s Shan State and all of whom tell me, to my great surprise, that they are straight.
“Jens doesn’t just give us a job,” said one tattoo-coated Shan man, 25, who has been working at Adam’s Apple for a few years. “Many of us are married with children, our wives know about our job, though most of us don’t tell our families back in Myanmar as there would be shame attached to it. So as you can see (he points to a wall covered with dozens of Spider-Man and other toys) we bring our children here to play. Jens also organises regular trips for all of us and our families to go to the lakes, national parks and such. It’s really good fun.”
According to MPlus, an NGO working for the rights and safety of male sex workers and men who have sex with men across the country, the vast majority of male sex workers in Chiang Mai range between the ages of 18 and 25 and are from the Shan State of Myanmar. Most also have no visa or work permit, which increases their risk for arrest while decreasing their access to vital information and support in matters from sexually transmitted diseases to abuse.
“All 32 of our boys have work permits and are fully legal,” explained Jens. “This means that they are safe from police harassment. Most of them also have day jobs and can choose to work here at their convenience. We also invite MPlus to come to visit once every two months to talk about sexual health and to conduct STD tests, also giving our boys gifts such as powerbanks and other necessities from condoms to gels. Our boys have medical insurance and myself and some of my patrons support their children’s education and often even extended families. In fact, some of our boys have children at international schools, thanks to our customers.”
“My mother smuggled me into Thailand when I was 20 years old,” said Bee, 28, who is also Shan. I first worked in a restaurant in Chiang Rai but moved here when a friend told me it was really nice to work and that it was a good place. I don’t want to do this forever, I am not gay, and I really want to make furniture in the future. But for now, my family supports me, I can make decent money here and everyone is so fun and kind.”
“I worked in a host bar before,” added another mid-twenties man. “It wasn’t nice there at all because they made you get drunk to make money from customers who pay tips per shot and I got in trouble if I didn’t want to go home with a customer. I don’t drink and here Jens doesn’t make us do anything we don’t want to. I only go with customers I like and I never have to drink. Jens pays attention and takes good care of us.”
“We don’t worry about danger here,” added Bee. “We know we are safe. We can be ourselves here and we support each other.”
Once the food vanished from the table and appeared in petite bulges on a few taunt stomachs, the dishes were rapidly cleared and the men slowly headed downstairs to prepare for their nightly 10pm show. There is an air-conditioned dressing room, a brand new balcony and a shower area for everyone; all improvements Jens invested in over the past two years.
As the men left, I continued to chat to the three expat clients, one of whom, let’s call him B, says he has been coming to Adam’s Apple since 2000.
“I was so shy when I first came. But it didn’t take long for me to feel very comfortable and welcomed. This is THE bar I go to, simply because of the culture Jens has fostered,” said B. “It’s not easy creating a culture, but he has done it here. I come around once a month and bring food to share, we play games, and I help them make some money. There is one boy who has been here since my first visit 23 years ago. He now has two children and a girlfriend and I love him more than ever. The sexual side is irrelevant if that is not what they want. The good thing is that they don’t have the hang ups that many do about their sexuality. It is a matter of pragmatism.” B went on to add, “I haven’t heard of anything being stolen here in 23 years. The boys are family, so they self-police and we have no problems here.”
The pandemic was, understandably, a tough time for sex workers, and Adam’s Apples’ staff could have suffered through some very rough years if it weren’t for the generosity of Jens and his supporters.
“I go to the market every morning and buy fresh fruits for the evening for everyone,” explained Jens. “We also kept paying salary over the many years of shutdown, which thankfully I could afford to do. I try to encourage regulars to pay attention and help out when they can, and many did, bringing vast amounts of food for regular weekly barbecues for years on end. We try to thank them for their generosity by organising monthly trips for staff, family and regular clients.”
I can see B and his friends getting a bit tired of my endless questions as the clock ticked and tocked towards showtime, so we all eagerly followed the men and headed downstairs.
The show space hadn’t changed much over the decades I have visited; there is a stage, comfy and cushioned pleather lounge seats interspersed with jaunty poles to dance on and gyrate around, a bar selling slightly overpriced drinks (but considering you aren’t paying for the show I feel that 260 baht for a beer or glass of wine is not at all unreasonable), and intriguing ceiling bars which I would soon learn had multiple functions.
The music crescendoed as the first act stepped onto the stage…a tightly muscled young man kitted out in full fireman’s gear was doing his sexy thang, much to the appreciation of the customers who were beginning to arrive. I joined the table of the three expats I had been chatting to as we were snuggled in with about ten y-fronted men clinking glasses (no fees) and playing drinking games. There was a table of what looked like older Singaporean gay men behind me, a corner with some Thai women gazing up at the stage and a few couples, gay and straight, dotted about.
“We come up with routines by watching TikTok and YouTube,” said one performer to me later back on my sofa, before he pulled out his penis and wagged it around in anticipation of a tip, putting me in a right fluster. I had fortunately changed some bahts, so was able to hand him a red note…though struggled to find a place to pin it as he was at this point completely nude.
“I know this isn’t’ a dream job,” whispered Jens to me much later. “But if you don’t see anything dirty or brutal in it. If you allow people the choice, you are responsible and take good care of both your staff and clients, then anything that goes on here is a matter between two consenting adults.”
“We make about 10% of our money by going home with customers,” explained a particularly friendly young man who was getting a bit cozy with me. “Adam’s Apple charges clients a 400 baht ‘bar fine’ to take us home and we can choose ourselves whether or not we will go. But we make enough money here, mostly from tips,” he winks and points to a massive pile of fresh red notes B and his friends had stacked in front of them. All of which was gone (down y-fronts) by the time I left.
“Just lose your hang ups,” insisted B. “With so many people hooking up on social media, I think it is so lovely to have a community you can still come to and really feel at home.”
Jens says that while he managed to keep Adam’s Apple going through the pandemic with his own money, he wishes to reach out to the community in hopes he can bring some business back so support his family. While there used to be around a couple of dozen clients per night, there are now only around a dozen, with the majority expatriate clientele flipping into majority Thai.
“This means that our boys, who used to earn 2,000-3,000 baht per night are now only earning around 1,000 baht. It isn’t bad, but it could be better. I want to put on more shows, more events, more activities and do more.”
The nightly show runs for two hours and there are many performances which are definitely Not Safe for Work! There are one man shows where Spider-Man whizzes above, penis erect, sliding along ceiling rails above your head. There are odd little hoola hoop shows where men in tightly whiteys gyrate with a hoola hoop for about ten minutes. There are funny and cheeky acts and there are also excellent ladyboy performances with the full glory of a fabulous lip sync. The men will come and sit with you at the table, though you can decline if this isn’t your thing. There is no hidden fee, no secret charge and everything is completely above board, as far as I managed to find out.
Adam’s Apple’s lights come on as night falls, and you can pop in for some drinks and a flirt or a chat with the men, lounge back and chill while waiting for the show, or get to know Jens, who always appears to be on hand for a good chat. The show begins at 10pm Mondays to Saturdays and ends just before midnight. There is no cover charge and no hidden fees, so you basically only pay for what you drinks…and whatever tips you can find a spot to tuck it in!
It was raucous, it was naughty, it was risqué, it was good fun.