April 2016 marked a huge milestone for the new gay beach festival called TropOut, which debuted on the island of Phuket is southern Thailand. The event was masterminded by founder Aaron Zoanetti after finding a lack of diverse travel experiences designed with LGBT people in mind.
CREDIT: Two Bad Tourists
Feeling comfortable in a new destination as an LGBT traveler is always an issue particularly for gay friends or couples traveling together. So with that goal in mind, Thailand was not surprisingly selected as the location for the first event. I attended the festival from April 3rd through 9th and was amazed by what came together.
This wasn’t my first trip to Thailand but it was certainty my favourite. Having not been in Asia for nearly four years I had almost forgotten the attention to service and detail that one experiences and Thailand is no exception. I flew from London Heathrow via Bangkok to Phuket and was lucky enough to get an upgrade to business class. Somehow beyond my comprehension Thai Airways’ A380, the largest passenger aircraft on the planet, manages to transport more than 500 people on a single plane to the Thai capital in just under 12 hours. The ride was incredibly comfortable in fantastic lie-flat seats making the journey one I almost didn’t want to end. Still, my destination was Phuket and I had one last quick flight to catch in Bangkok before arriving.
CREDIT: Thai Airways / Two Bad Tourists
Having traveled from London the day before, the hot and humid air hit my face suddenly. I wasn’t sure what was in store but I was pleasantly surprised to have already met four attendees at the airport and we shared a quick 20 minute transfer to the hotel. Some 30 minutes south of the bustling area of Patong sits the Laguna Phuket complex made up by several separate resorts. TropOut coordinated with two properties specifically to host guests depending on budget and the amenities they were looking for. The 4-star Cassia is brand new, trendy and hip and hosted most guests on the trip creating a hub where guests could meet and socialize throughout the week. Those wishing for a bit more luxury opted for the 5-star Angsana Resort just a five minute boat or bus ride away. I stayed all six nights at the Angansa Resort complete with numerous pools, bars and restaurants, indoor and outdoor activities and most importantly, a private beach and fabulous beach club just minutes away from my room.
I wondered why Zoanetti was so motivated having spent the last year organizing for this event , but within less than a day his vision unraveled before my eyes. TropOut is exactly what most large gay festivals are not. The fact of the matter is that gay circuit parties have for years (and even decades) been a motivation for people to travel to an exotic destination. The likes of XLSIOR Mykonos, Circuit Barcelona and The White Party in Palm Springs may be successful events, but for some they leave something to be desired. Sure, TropOut understands that people love a good party. After all, their simple yet effective slogan Chill, Party and Explore makes clear the goal of the event. In fact, everyday of the program included a social gathering including a pool party, white party, a night out in Patong’s gay Paradise Complex, not to mention the opening party headlined by famous DJ Robin Schulz at Angsana’s Xana Beach Club.
But even as the parties went on, TropOut did not lose sight of what they think is an important part of travel, which promotes experiencing the local scene, gastronomy, culture and natural landscapes of the destination. This is why more than half of the attendees booked an excursion like a Thai cooking class, Phuket city tour or one of two stunning boat tours to either Kho Phi Phi Islands or Phang Nga Bay. Not only were these excursions enjoyable for the guests but they provided an extra social atmosphere within the group beyond the daily parties and gatherings.
The agenda was meticulously created but not in such detail that guests lost freedom. There was plenty of time for people to chill and relax by the beach or even sleep in through the afternoon for those that stayed out partying late the night before. But perhaps the most memorable part of the experience were the friendships that were created. Just as Aaron explained to me some months ago, the vision of TropOut was to create a more sophisticated gay travel experience with like-minded people. And the truth is that within just a couple days I had already formed friendships with people that I’m excited to meet again on future trips or maybe even the next TropOut event.
And as luck has it, the TropOut team announced the dates and location for the next festival, which is already in the works. If you’ve ever dreamt of visiting the South Pacific this might be the perfect opportunity. From May 6 to 13 of 2017 the island of New Caledonia will host the next version of TropOut. Situated between Australia and Fiji and just a two hour’s flight from Brisbane, next year’s event in the beautiful French Overseas Territory is sure not to disappoint.
For more information on TropOut, you can visit their website here.
By Guest Writer Auston Matta – Two Bad Tourists @twobadtourists
Auston runs the blog Two Bad Tourists and is also a freelance writer. His work has been featured in many publications including The Gay UK, Attitude Magazine, Edge Media Network, The Houston Chronicle and ManAboutWorld Magazine.