From the outside, Barefeet Naturist Resort appears just like any other Thai home in the residential area of Lad Phrao — large traditional wooden doors, white paint and tree ferns — but the obvious difference is that there are no windows, seemingly to ensure the privacy of the guests.
Located in the back of an alley on Prasert Manukit amidst local houses and home offices, Barefeet is a meetup spot for Bangkok’s nudists and visitors who prefer to maintain their naturist lifestyle while on holiday.
Charged THB80 per hour for non-residential visitors or a nightly rate from THB1,600, those who enter are expected to be nude, but a towel is permitted in case you are not yet comfortable baring it all. On a recent Thursday afternoon, there were a few Thai men lounging naked in a swimming pool while another one casually did some work on his laptop while sitting nude on a towel.
On a busier day, however, there are crowd-pleasing activities to participate in that might include a barbeque, yoga or outdoor movie night, that people pay to do together while naked.
“You know the style of our resort, correct?” said a male worker at Barefeet, who opened the door to greet me wearing only a pair of jeans. I was handed a piece of paper that contained a list of their rules.
Besides the obvious rule that taking photos and video are not permitted, other rules of note include: “No sexual activity is allowed anywhere in Barefeet, except in your room. This includes intimate touching that you would normally not do in a public place.”
“Sit on something. Please carry a towel with you at all times and always use it to sit on,” read a rule that seems to make sense, hygienically.
The resort is also home of the owners and leaders of Thailand Naturist Association, Danish journalist Gregers Moller and his Thai wife Disraporn Yatprom, who works as a graphic designer at his publishing company, Scand-Media.
Moller and Disraporn arrived at the interview in their regular work attire — a simple Polo shirt and slacks for Moller and a knee-length dress for Disraporn — but the couple quickly stripped down as soon as they entered Barefeet.
Moller, 63, who came to Thailand as a foreign correspondent in 1988, established Naturist Association of Thailand as a limited company with a few members in 2007. The members meet up for a monthly trip outside of Bangkok and enjoy clothing-optional vacations in the hidden coves of Thai beaches.
There are currently 300 members who pay an annual fee to join the association’s events. Moller said he was surprised that one-third of the members are Thai.
“So we thought there would be all foreigners and no Thai, but the real life was a lot of Thais came out of the closet and enjoyed the lifestyle. Some of them came from the underground network of swingers. They came from that side and enjoyed the non-sexual aspect of this [nudity],” Moller said.
“It was predicted by a lot of people that we’re a farang group. We have more male members, but this is not about sex, so we don’t really mind. A person is a person.”
The group strictly screens their members and dismisses people who want to join for sex. Moller said many people have been blunt about what they wanted, and they were turned down.
“We’re very strict on this. The other night, we had a guest sitting here, touching his wife’s genitals, and it wasn’t okay. [I told them] ‘Stop it!’ And of course, we explained to them. You have to understand the concept. I don’t mind that people are swingers. They can be swingers anywhere they like in the world, but not here.”
Bare it all
ABOVE: Gregers Moller
According to Moller, who grew up in a nudist family, naturism is about oneself feeling comfortable being nude — it’s a personal preference, and what matters is how being nude makes them feel, not how other people see them. He also explained that he can relate to people in a unique way while fully naked.
“When we’re naked, we look at each other’s faces. We talk to the person,” he said. “You breathe more freely. You think better, and I can relate to people in a different way,” Moller said.
“One thing that’s important is [that] I’m not nude because I like people to watch me. I’m not nude because I want to watch other people. I’m simply nude because I like it, and that’s why I’m nude at all.”
Nudity and sex are habitually associated in Thai culture and are used to draw attention to products and businesses, from brand new cars to cosmetics. However, naturism lies at the other end of the spectrum from materialism and the media’s manipulation of what a person is supposed to be.
“Imagine the commercial pressure that we’re up against. The commercial pressure is tremendous for me to buy fashion. The whole industry lives on me not being happy with myself,” Moller said.
“I’m not happy with myself until I buy those shoes or that watch. And I want people to be happy with themselves without all that.”
ABOVE: Disraporn Yatprom
For Disraporn, 46, who adopted the lifestyle after meeting her husband, naturism is about meeting true friends in life. Since the couple opened the resort in January 2015, Disraporn said she has received much kindness from people who stayed with them.
“We meet good friends, also. Customers who stay with us, talk to us without any barrier. In a way, we can trust each other,” she said.
Disraporn, who grew up in the Northeastern province of Chaityabhumi, did not know about the concept of naturism until the couple went on a vacation to a naturist camp in Funen, Denmark — one year before they started the association together.
“I became a naturist in 2006 when Greg took me to Denmark and to a naturist camp for the first time,” Disraporn said.
Coming from a Thai family, Disraporn said she was unavoidably shy at first but ended up taking the plunge into nudity and enjoying the experience.
“I saw couples… families who camped there. Greg took his clothes off in 18 degree Celsius temperature. I wore a long-sleeved shirt and sneakers. I wasn’t that cold, but it was my first time and I didn’t dare [to get naked]. I was shy.”
“In the evening, I tried taking my clothes off. Another thing is, I was in Denmark and didn’t know anyone. I took off my clothes and went to the outdoor shower. Nobody looked at me at all.”
“After that, I understood the concept of naturism. I wasn’t fully committed at first, but then it started to grow on me. Being nude is comfortable. After we opened this resort, many Thais came to us. I asked them where they had been doing it. They said they got naked at a farm in the upcountry [where nobody saw], then we all started to get to know each other and go on trips.”
While a nudist community is common in Europe, it came as a surprise to many people when the association recently received attention for their attempt to organize Thailand’s first naked run. As a Thai, Disraporn thinks that the preference of being nude has nothing to do with one’s culture.
“The adults teach us, saying that Thai women must be modest. Even when you go to sleep, you have to wear a bra, and I always did that. Do I believe in Thai culture? Yes. When I go out in public, I always dress appropriately.”
“This is only a personal preference. I don’t think it is against Thai culture. This is human rights. I only get naked on my personal premises.”
Moller pointed out that it seems to be a concern for a Thai person, especially for women, that they don’t want another Thai person to see them nude, which he found odd.
“They spend thousands of thousands [of baht] cutting themselves, inserting [silicone into their] breasts instead of spending a little bit of mindfulness to love themselves,” he said.
A running controversy
The naturist community recently faced a backlash after local media reported on their “Jungle Run,” a 2.5 kilometer run which was supposed to take place on private land in Nakhon Ratchasima next month. Following the media coverage, the run has been canceled to curb the controversy.
“Somehow they got that wrong. It’s not a public event. Somebody imagined that we would run in public or that anybody could join, which is not the case. You have to be our ordinary member to join,” Moller explained
“We’re not in the business of provoking. We don’t want to walk down Sukhumvit naked and make everybody naked. That’s not our style.”
He said the decision to cancel the June Run was simple, although it means the association had to compensate the members who had booked their flights to participate in the run.
“It’s sad for people who bought their tickets. We had people coming from India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, China.”
“It would have been a small event — 30 people running on private land. It’s sad, but we’re not activists. It’s not like we would jump on a bicycle and race naked to Silom.”
“It was the sensitivity towards Thai culture that we don’t want to make anybody feel comfortable.”
The naked business
Currently, there are seven naturist resorts across the country: in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Prachuabkirikhan (Cha-am beach), and Rayong. They correspond with the Naturist Association of Thailand’s rules to maintain the concept of naturism.
“When they [the resort owners] have shown interest in this niche market, they have to keep our rules. They’re the guardians of our collective image. So it’s very important, and we monitor what people say about the place and what they write on TripAdvisor and things like that. The resorts have to stick to the rules for their own interest and the interest of the [naturist] movement.”
Moller also explained that naturists are usually quality travelers, middle-income to affluent members of society, and they don’t mind paying more to stay in a place where they can enjoy their lifestyle.
Due to the year-round warm weather, he described Thailand as a “paradise for naturists,” and noted that the concept has become increasingly popular in Asia.
“Australians and New Zealanders love to come here,” he said. “From India, we have a lot of interest. In the latest NATCON (Naturist Association of Thailand Conference) we had 15 Indians here, and they were talking about establishing an association in India.”
He said Thailand should take an advantage of the climate, but first, the locals should be educated that naturism is not a sexual activity — nudity and sex are two different things.
“Thailand has a golden opportunity to harness this increasing interest in naturism,” he said.
All photos: Courtesy of Naturist Association of Thailand