(CNN) — For anyone in search of a more exclusive leisure experience, a cluster of Bangkok private member clubs provide an alternative to the usual embassy groups, expat organizations and chambers of commerce.
At the front of the pack are these four private clubs. They keep a tight lid on who they let through their doors but if the conditions are right, you just may qualify.
The ChindAsia Club
Entrepreneur Hillman Lentz has been a fan of cigars all his adult life, and only smoked the much-heralded Cubans. Then, one day he stepped outside his comfort zone and lit up a Nicaraguan Perdomo.
"It was much better constructed, better tobacco, longer draw --- it was an entirely different experience," he says.
In fact, he was so impressed with the then little-known brand that he negotiated the rights to their sale in Asia, the Middle East and Australia, then opened a club that would let him indulge his passion.
Walking into ChindAsia, one is reminded of an American hunting lodge. Dim lighting, brown leather furniture (handmade in Thailand) and the distinct, musty aroma of latent cigar smoke.
"No phones in here," says Lentz. "If your phone rings, the rule is that you have to buy everyone a round. If it's crowded, it can be quite expensive, but since 50% of the proceeds go to charity, no one complains."
The club is designed so that members can relax with a fine cigar, enjoy a single malt whiskey and find good conversation with other members. A fully stocked bar downstairs sits next to a room that holds each members' smoking jacket, a must if you take the hobby seriously.
The cellar is one large humidor where private stashes of expensive liquor and rare cigars are stored, while the upstairs levels contain the lounge and private meeting rooms.
"Thailand has the second-fastest growing cigar culture in Asia after India, and Perdomo is seeing a corresponding rise in membership," says Lentz. "Members get a number of boxes of cigars, discounted drinks and full access to this club. We plan to open 10 more in the near future.
"Private wine and bourbon tastings and other events are held regularly, but most of all, it's just a great place to sit back and relax with a good drink and a good cigar."
The British Club
One of Bangkok's earliest clubs, the British Club was founded in 1903 to provide a social scene in the style enjoyed by the members' peers in British colonies throughout Asia.
The club still stands on its original plot of land, although the current structure dates to 1915. Originally, members had to be from the Commonwealth countries of Britain, Canada, New Zealand or Australia. No women were allowed until the 1980s.
Today, all nationalities are welcomed, but there is a quota system in place.
The club offers all the best bits of being British --- pub food, good beer, billiards, darts and footie on the telly inside, while outside you can play tennis, squash, football, field-hockey or exercise in the swimming pool or fitness center.
Several comfortable lounge areas, function rooms, a business center and plenty of space in and outside to mingle and relax makes it one of the more popular sites in town for events ranging from mahjong matches to Canada Day celebrations. There are also dozens of reciprocal clubs around the world.
Membership fees vary quite a bit depending on your age, marital status, whether you have kids and whether you want to have the right to vote.
The Pacific City Club
When a group of businessmen couldn't find a suitable venue in Bangkok to replicate their private club experience in Hong Kong, they decided to set up their own.
Founded in 1996, the Pacific City Club occupies 2,700 square meters on the upper floors of a downtown high-rise. There is a well-stocked library and bar, custom art on the softly-lit walls, dark brown leather sofas and aged blond hardwood that creaks softly underfoot (at least when you're not walking on thick rugs).
There are two restaurants, Chinese and French, and members are able to keep their own private collections of wine and spirits on the premises.
There is a fully kitted-out gym and a well-appointed spa. The club's private elevator, general manager Alexander Scheible says, is for "VIP guests who prefer anonymity, such as top-level government officials or celebrities."
There are also a handful of fully-wired meeting rooms that can be modified to handle groups large and small, and plenty of nooks and crannies where you can huddle around a bottle of wine and talk in private.
"We take service seriously and have a high staff-to-member ratio. For instance, when we get a call saying 'I need a meeting room for 50 in 20 minutes,' we know what type of water and snacks they prefer and how to prepare the room to their exact specifications," Scheible says.
The Royal Bangkok Sports Club
With its vast horse track, golf course and other sports fields in the center of the capital, it's easily the most exclusive of all of Bangkok's private clubs. Some of Thailand's most rich and powerful have yet to be admitted due to the long waiting list -- it can take as many as 10 years to snag a spot.
But once you're in, your children are in, and their children, and so on.
Details are a bit hard to come by. Attempts to contact the club for specifics went unanswered and there isn't a lot of information on the club's website, but we managed to find a current member to give us the lowdown.
To become a full member, you have to pony up 2 million baht, but you can also become an "associate member" if you marry into the club, which only costs a measly couple of hundred thousand baht.
Only full members have voting rights, though, and, in a move reminiscent of the less charming aspects of years gone by, women may not vote.
After that, there is a relatively low monthly maintenance fee of a few thousand baht. There are also a number of reciprocal clubs around the world.
Our anonymous member remarked that "the facilities are very good -- gym, tennis, swimming, squash, lawn bowling, golf, boxing, rugby, football, and many others -- and the food is delicious and extraordinarily cheap."
The club has a bit of a reputation as a hoity-toity meeting place for hi-sos, but our insider says that while that is certainly true of some members, "there are also a lot of down-to-earth folks that drive Toyotas and shop at MBK."
Greg hails from Canada and moved to Bangkok in 2001.
Editor's note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.