The Day Dress Codes Nearly Ruined Our Day in Bangkok

It was a last-minute decision. That’s the best I can say. It was a last-minute decision to visit Bangkok’s Grand Palace, heralded as one of the most beautiful spaces in the world; a complex of majestic golden wats, shrines and palaces glistening despite a grey Thai sky.

It was a last-minute decision. That’s why we were all wearing shorts.

Any logical traveller—of which there are literally thousands daily, pouring into the Grand Palace like shoppers on Black Friday—would do their research in advance, read a guidebook, look online and understand that you must dress appropriately in the Grand Palace. Actually, you must dress appropriately at every holy site in Thailand; it’s just that most have sarongs at the gate that they offer for free or a small donation.

Of course, most holy sites don’t see thousands of people every day, so most can get away without charging $20 for a pair of pants. The Grand Palace is an exception.

grand palace dress code

This is about as far as I got into the Grand Palace. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

But, look, this was our fault. Mostly mine. As field producer for the Tan Your Mind 2 Thailand team, I didn’t do the research. But we only had an hour to kill—hardly worth dropping $80 on legwear. So instead of seeing the Grand Palace, we spent a total of 15 minutes shuffling through the main gates, getting pulled over by a guard, mulling over pricey pants, and shuffling right back out, consequently deciding to amble down the wide-laned streets of Old Bangkok in search of lunch. (Positive ending: we found a small, graciously air-conditioned tucked-away restaurant that offered us the best pad Thai of the entire trip.)

I didn’t realize that the Grand Palace would mark just the first, and far less worrisome, dress-code disaster of the day.

That evening, we went to Maggie Choo’s, a swanky bar in Silom fashioned after the sexy, smoky speakeasies of the 1920s. The room is exceptionally dark, dauntingly cavernous, pretty moody and undeniably cool.

maggie choos speakeasy bangkok

Maggie Choo’s puts so much effort into their aesthetic that they hire women to fan themselves on swings and say nothing. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

But we couldn’t see it at first, because when our team showed up, the doorman wouldn’t even let us through the front door. “I’m sorry,” he told us, “there’s a dress code, and it’s very strict.”

I explained that I’d been emailing the manager, and that we had set up tonight to film inside. I asked to see him. After a few minutes, the manager popped out—a beefy European in a black suit and blond ponytail. I was wearing shorts.

“Ohhh,” he said as soon as he looked at me, pained, as if witnessing a boxer get knocked out in the first round. “Shorts? Oh god.”

I said we’d be quick and professional. I’d stay out of the way. We came all the way from Canada, I explained; our co-host Jess was a rising Canadian talent, a singer and journalist who loved talking to other musicians, who’d jammed the previous night with another Thai band, and who planned on interviewing a Thai singer tonight at Maggie Choo’s—

“Look, I’m sorry,” the manager interrupted, pulling up a photo on his phone. “See this guy? He organized this whole event tonight. I had to turn him away a few hours ago. He was wearing shorts. He organized it!”

The manager apologized again and retreated inside to watch the Thai trip-hop singer who was auditioning for him as an opening act. Jess and Abra, despite wearing anti–dress code Chacos sandals, were allowed in because they were otherwise well enough attired. I called our camera guy, who, by luck, had taken a late dinner and was still at the hotel.

“Hey Ryan,” I said. “Can you dig through my Osprey pack and bring me my pants?”

And so it was, 20 minutes later, than our cameraman arrived with my pants, and the evening went as planned—better, even, since Jess’s interview with Pure went so well, and their onstage collaboration brought the house down. (The video will be amazing, just wait for it.)

maggie choos bangkok photos

In Maggie Choo’s, women just hang out above the bar. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

And by the end, I understood why they enforced the dress code so strictly. Women dressed in ’20s femme fatal style, with red silk and black bobs, sat on swings in the middle of the room, saying nothing and fanning themselves. Others lounged on cushions, suspended above the bar. We didn’t speak to the manager the rest of the night—he sat in one of the vault rooms, chatting and drinking with more impressively dressed guests. But when we left, we felt good, because we got what we came for—a story.

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