Oh, Asia. A vibrant, diverse, and energetic place to travel. But is Asia a gay-friendly travel destination? It’s one of the most commonly asked questions we receive, and one we are super happy to finally be addressing. In this Gay Asia Travel Guide, we will delve into the LGBT+ rights in Asia, how to prepare as an LGBT+ traveller as well as some of our favourite gay-friendly destinations in Asia.
After spending 18 months backpacking on this colourful continent, we can tell you that it hasn’t always been fun and rainbows. Coming from the UK where, for the most part, we can be completely open about our sexuality; it was peculiar to suddenly visit countries where homosexuality was a taboo; or worse, against the law.
Many ask us how we deal with this. Why would we want to travel to these countries if we can’t be ourselves? We look at it this way. ALL cultures have beliefs and traditions. Do we agree with all of them? Of course not. That doesn’t mean that we boycott those countries completely. At the end of the day, we travel to open our minds, and appreciating that there are other ways of life is the first step.
With this in mind, we have now spent almost two consecutive years in Asia. In that time, we have visited gay-friendly cities; travelled off the beaten path; and spent time in countries where homosexuality is criminalised. Guess what? We had a great time in all of them.
A Guide to Gay Travel in Asia
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Tips & Advice for Planning Gay Travel in Asia
First and foremost, when planning your trip as an LGBT traveller, it pays to do your research in advance. For example, you will want to have an understanding of LGBT+ rights in that country as well as social opinions and social etiquette. With this in mind, here are some tips for you to keep in mind should you be considering Gay Travel in Asia.
Research LGBT Rights
The most important thing to understand when considering Gay Travel in Asia is that the laws differ from country to country. It is one thing to be made to feel uncomfortable because of your sexuality. It becomes a bit more serious when it is actually against the law.
Sadly, 73 countries across the world still criminalise homosexuality. While the majority of these countries fall under the African continent, there are still 11 countries in Asia where laws apply to the LGBT community.
Our advice when travelling to these countries is just to be conscious of your behaviour when in public. Often, the laws are only enforced if you are a local citizen. It’s not like you are going to be (*queue stereotype) strutting around, holding a rainbow umbrella and singing Judy Garland. Just relax and enjoy what these countries have to offer.
Respect the Local Culture
It is important to consider, that even if homosexuality isn’t necessarily illegal in a country, it could still be treated as a taboo among the local community. Now, we aren’t going to tell you that you can’t be out and proud in public. Although for us personally, we feel way more comfortable keeping that side of our relationship to behind closed doors. There are some exceptions to the rule, for example, Bangkok – one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. But as a rule, we keep our relationship private.
Why? Because we are in another country a long way from home. In many countries in Asia, it is frowned upon for anybody to show affection in public. Even straight couples. So we want to respect the local culture and also avoid making an awkward situation for ourselves. On occasion, after getting to know some locals, we have felt comfortable enough to reveal our relationship. But the majority of the time, we are happy for them to believe that we are sisters or friends.
Prepare to Adapt
It is a culture shock travelling in Asia, and LGBT or not, every place you visit will require adaptation on some part. Whether it be the way you dress, how you behave, what you eat etc. That being said, not everybody wants to hide who they are; or support countries where LGBT is illegal; and that’s perfectly ok. There are a number of gay-friendly travel destinations where you can be free to be who you are without worry.
For us, adapting was easy. We have never been extremely affectionate in public anyway. But holding hands always came so naturally to us. Anyhow, after a time of conscious effort, we got used to not holding hands. Only it was at this point, that we noticed same-sex ‘couples’ holding hands ALL the time. It later turned out they were not always couples. In India for example, it is normal for friends, sisters or brothers to walk hand in hand. You’ve just got keep in mind that every country is different. And it’s up to you to keep safe and judge what you feel comfortable with.
Another issue we face is when booking hotel rooms. I’ve lost count of the times we have booked a double room but been given a twin room instead. The awkward moment of asking to switch was too much to deal with at the beginning so we wouldn’t bother. But now, we usually feel confident enough to ask to move. Other than these minor details, our experience has been exactly what it should be for any two people travelling the world together. Two best friends, supporting each other and having fun.
Keep an Open Mind
Keeping an open mind when travelling is imperative for a rich, cultural, and educational experience. It is impossible to explore the world without enriching your life. You will encounter people from all walks of life, you will hear of the most bizarre traditions, and encounter wonders in the world that will leave you mesmerised. Learn. Listen. And keep your eyes and mind open.
Research the Local Gay Scene
It is rare to visit a country where there isn’t some element of an active gay scene. Even in Malaysia, where homosexuality is illegal, we discovered one of the best drag shows we’ve ever seen. It is always a relief to find a safe space among the community, and a quick google search will tell you where it’s at. This website is awesome for finding LGBT friendly spots in any city.
Be Patient with Each Other
This applies to anybody travelling the world with another person, but being patient with one another is key to surviving this ultimate test. Suddenly spending 24/7 with somebody can put a strain on the healthiest of relationships. It’s intense. You will discover things about that person that you never knew before. They will aggravate you. There will be times when you are hungry, tired, dirty, frustrated, and you will take it out on that person.
Despite all of this, experiencing the highs and lows of travelling together is a magical thing. You learn about each other, yourselves, and ultimately LIFE. These invaluable lessons will leave you feeling invincible. Check out some of our favourite travel quotes to help fuel your wanderlust.
Gay Travel in Asia – Where to Go?
Gay Travel in Asia needn’t be feared! In fact, Gay Travel in Asia can be one hell of a ride. From the tropical beaches of Bali and the steaming jungles of Thailand; to the depths of the slums of India and the tremendous snow-capped mountains of Nepal; we’ve experienced every extremity. Not only that, but we’ve visited gay-friendly destinations, attended illegal drag shows, stayed with local families, and on the (extremely) rare occasion, been the victims of discrimination. Do we regret any leg of our travels? Absolutely not. However, we do have our highlights. And with this in mind, here are our favourite Gay Travel destinations in Asia.
When it comes to gay-friendly destinations in Asia, Bangkok often tops the list every time. Not only famed for its vibrant and uninhibited gay scene, but for its liberal and accepting attitude towards the LGBT+ community.
When travelling in South East Asia, it is inevitable that you’ll find yourself in Bangkok at some point. It’s one of the biggest international hubs in the region, which is a great excuse to stop off and see what gay Bangkok has to offer.
While you will find sprinkles of the gay scene all over the city, the main gay district is in Silom. The road “Silom Soi 4″ is where you can find an abundance of gay bars, and a few blocks away on Silom Soi 2 there are various gay clubs such as DJ Station. The city also has its fair share of go-go bars, if that’s what you’re in to!
You will find the gay scene to be busy, regardless of what day of the week it is. Gay Bangkok never sleeps! When YOU need to sleep, however, gay-friendly hotels in Bangkok include W Bangkok, So Sofitel Bangkok, and I-Residence Silom.
Other than that, things you should check out while in Bangkok include The Grand Palace, The Aeroplane Graveyard, Koh San Road, and Chatuchak Market.
The Koh Samui Archipelago, Thailand
The Koh Samui Archipelago, located in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country. Not only that, the trio, which includes Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan, is incredibly gay-friendly.
Koh Samui is the largest island of the three, and arguably the most touristic. Unlike its neighbours, it’s especially popular amongst honeymooners and families on a higher budget, as well as your South East Asian backpacking crowd. You’re never short for things to do on Koh Samui, which is why it attracts such a diverse crowd.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a slightly alternative vibe, Koh Phangan is where it’s at. Many know the island for the debaucherous Full Moon party; however, there’s a lot more to the island than neon paint and vodka buckets. In actual fact, there is an insanely cool underground party scene here at the likes of Eden Garden Party. And on the flip side, you have spirituality, yoga, art, and excessive hash to be found in the ‘hippie area’ North West of the Island.
Finally, you have Koh Tao, famed for it’s cheap all year round diving opportunities. Koh Tao has that laidback surfer vibe going on (without the surf), and perhaps the best beaches of the 3. We completed our open water diving license here and can confirm it’s one of the best and cheapest places in South East Asia to do so.
Out of the 3 islands, Koh Samui is our least favourite. Although, if you only plan to visit Thailand once in your life, it’s worth paying a visit to them all. The islands are well connected, with regular ferry services running throughout the day.
Despite the somewhat unsavoury political situation surrounding the LGBT+ community in Indonesia, Bali is one of the most gay-friendly destinations in Asia. What with the surge in tourism in recent years, and the predominant religion being Hindu, there is a far more liberal attitude relative to other parts of the country.
We’ve spent a lot of time in Bali, and we can surely confirm that this popular travel destination is worth all the hype. From magnificent mountains to rugged coastlines, and majestic waterfalls to smouldering volcanoes, the abundant Balinese nature is unlike anywhere else we’ve been. Combine this with the rich and vibrant Balinese culture, and you have everything you need to have a truly fantastic time.
We were also surprised to learn that Bali has an almost thriving gay scene. In the swanky area of Seminyak, you’ll find gay bars and drag shows, as well as a gay beach. Not to mention acclaimed gay-friendly hotels all over the island. Check out our Gay in Bali travel guide, for all that Bali has to offer LGBT+ travellers.
If there’s anywhere in India where you can feel comfortable as an LGBT+ traveller, it’s in unconventional Goa. Being gay in Goa is as widely accepted as being a hippie or being a vegan or being a stoner. Because in Goa – well, pretty much anything goes!
After travelling across India for 2 months, Goa was a breath of fresh air. Travelling India can be intense. Particularly in big cities such as Mumbai, Varanasi, and Jaipur. While we never felt threatened purely due to our sexuality in India, we were continually pushed outside of our comfort zone. Which is why Goa feels like a retreat from the ‘real’ India.
What many don’t realise, is that Goa is larger than some countries. Over 60 beaches adorn the 100km coastline, and that is just a fraction of what the state has to offer. With stunning historical sites and sweeping national parks, to bustling markets and wild nightlife, you’ll want to have a good idea of what you want from your trip when planning where to stay.
There isn’t a gay scene as such in Goa; however, it’s very common to see same-sex couples in the popular tourist areas. We spent time in Pernem, Bardez, and Canacona, and we felt complete freedom the entire time. For more information, check out our Gay in Goa travel guide to help plan your trip.
Mumbai is an exciting city, bursting with energy, history, art, and awe-inspiring architecture. Previously known as Bombay, the city is the birthplace of Bollywood and home to India’s financial district. It is also famed for having a relaxed cosmopolitan vibe.
So what is it like to be Gay in Mumbai? We travelled to Mumbai to find out. We learnt that following the historic 2018 decision to decriminalise homosexuality in India, the gay scene in Mumbai is up and coming. While the ‘scene’ is a far cry from the likes of London or Bangkok, there are a number of weekly events centred towards the LGBT+ community.
Truth be told; this was a surprise. In our experience, India was still very socially conservative. We certainly hadn’t heard of any hint of a gay scene in the likes of Jaipur, Varanasi, or even Goa! But with various LGBT activists continuously fighting for visibility and acceptance, times ARE changing.
At the same time, Mumbai is a city full of adventure. Asides from the gay scene, there is a lot to be discovered. From art galleries and museums, to national parks and historical sites, you are sure to find something you love about the city. Check out our Gay in Mumbai travel guide to help plan your trip.
The sleepy town of Pokhara in Nepal. Overall, one of our favourite travel destinations of all time, and that’s quite a statement. Often used as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit Trails, Pokhara has all the feels of a laidback hippie town. Which is pretty damn perfect, considering you’ll want somewhere to relax following your mountain adventures.
The centre point and highlight of Pokhara is the majestic Phewa Lake. Encompassed by the tremendous snow-capped peaks of Annapurna, a walk along the lakeside is calm and invigorating. We ended up staying for 2-weeks following our Annapurna Base Camp Trek. After enduring the trek and 2-months in India, Pokhara provided the tranquillity we oh-so-craved.
There isn’t much of a gay scene in Pokhara. In fact, there isn’t much of any scene in Pokhara. However, the carefree vibe certainly warrants it to be a positively gay-friendly travel destination. In all honesty, we spent our time in Pokhara doing nothing other than smoking hash and eating our way around the quirky cafes. But there’s a lot of adventurous things to do in Pokhara including more hiking, white water rafting, and paragliding.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
No, this is not a typo. Despite the current legal situation surrounding the LGBT+ community in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is still one of our favourite cities in Asia. Don’t get me wrong. The situation regarding LGBT+ rights in Malaysia is appalling. We can completely understand why many gay travellers would choose to avoid countries where same-sex relations are criminalised. However, personally, we choose not to boycott a country for the sake of a few old fashioned laws.
Naturally, travelling in countries such as Malaysia does require an element of discretion and adaptation. But being fearful of the law isn’t something that should be at the forefront of your mind. The sad fact is, there will always be a higher level of acceptance for tourists than there is for locals. So long as you act appropriate to local customs, you should have no trouble enjoying what Malaysia has to offer.
The truth is, Kuala Lumpur is an awesome city. A major international hub in South East Asia, boasting incredible architecture, rich culture, stunning religious sites, and delectable food. The same goes for the rest of Malaysia. We encourage you to see it all, regardless of the law. You only have to glance at our 2 Week Malaysia Itinerary, to see it’s a fascinating and diverse country.
Much to our surprise, while there isn’t much of a gay scene in Kuala Lumpur, we did find one solitary gay bar. Blue Boys Club host a fabulous drag show on Friday & Saturday nights. It may be tame compared to European standards, but you’re guaranteed a good night all the same.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Next up, we have the lively city of Siem Reap. An essential stop on the banana pancake trail thanks to the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor Wat. Oh, and Pub Street. Let’s not forget about Pub Street.
Similar to its Thai neighbours, Cambodia as a whole is a liberal and developed country. And despite there being a little way to go on the road to LGBT+ rights, we would happily say Cambodia is extremely gay-friendly.
We spent 3 weeks in Cambodia, and we never felt unsafe or discriminated against because of our sexuality. Most of Cambodia is incredibly touristic, therefore, they are used to foreigners of all shapes, sizes, and colours of the rainbow. In fact, the Khmer people are incredibly kind and welcoming.
We were thrilled to find a happening gay scene in Siem Reap. We danced the night away on Pub Street, hopping from gay bars to cocktail bars, and pop up bars to nightclubs. There are even a select few gay hotels and saunas.
Hanoi is the chaotic capital of Vietnam, and while on paper it is everything we dislike about cities, it actually became one of our favourite spots in South East Asia.
There isn’t really a lot going on in the city, which I think is half its charm. Days are spent meandering around the lake, stopping by a temple or 2, and drinking a hell of a lot of coffee in the endless sea of quirky cafes.
Again, we ended up spending far longer in Hanoi than we originally planned. It is the perfect hub for digital nomads on a budget – or anybody on a budget for that matter.
Not only that, but Hanoi is one of the most progressive and gay-friendly cities in Vietnam. With that, we learnt that Gay Hanoi is up and coming, with plenty to offer LGBT+ travellers.
But don’t stop at Hanoi. Vietnam is a diverse and exciting country, and LGBT+ travellers needn’t avoid any part of the country. Some of our other favourite spots include Ha Giang, Hoi An, and Hue.
Palawan, The Philippines
Finally, we have Palawan, the paradise province of the Philippines. Again, the road to LGBT+ rights in the Philippines is still a turbulent one; however, despite that, we still consider it to be one of the most gay-friendly destinations in Asia.
We spent almost 2-months in Palawan in 2018, and during that time we fell in love with the Filipino culture. The locals are some of the kindest, and most giving people we’ve ever met. We never felt like we needed to hide our relationship, as we were always made to feel welcomed and accepted for who we are.
At the same time, Palawan is one of the most incredible locations we visited during our travels. We highly recommend visiting Coron & El Nido, where the highlight is island hopping from tropical beach to majestic lagoons, and snorkelling amongst tropical marine life. It is the true definition of paradise on earth, and we for one can’t wait to go back.
Meeting Other Gay Travellers in Asia
Being an LGBT+ traveller or solo female traveller in Asia can be a daunting prospect, so we find it helps to socialise with other LGBT people in the area. This way, you can share experiences, and perhaps they can answer any questions or concerns you might have. Of course, the gay-bars are a great place to start; however, not everybody is confident enough to walk into a bar and make friends.
We suggest using social media to locate other gay travellers or locals in Asia. You can use Facebook, for example, to find LGBT groups in your area. Similarly, navigating specific hashtags on Instagram, such as #gaybangkok or #LGBTbali, can help you to locate all things LGBT+ near you.
Similarly, dating apps can be a great way of connecting with like-minded people – and not necessarily for a hook-up. If you’re lucky, you could find yourself connecting with a local who can give you a full insider low down of the local area. If you attempt to use gay dating apps they may be blocked unless you use a secure VPN. We can recommend Ivacy, the worlds fastest VPN service, click here to sign up!
As travellers, it should always be a top priority to travel responsibly. We already leave a substantial carbon footprint just by flying to our travel destinations, so that’s even more reason to make a positive impact when we get there.
There are many small steps you can take to becoming a responsible traveller, here are some things you can do to minimise your footprint:
1. Do not leave any rubbish on the ground: You would think this would go without saying; however, there are some questionable humans who think it’s ok to throw trash on the ground.
2. Carry a Steripen or iodine tablets to sterilise water: This not only limits your usage of single-use plastic but also saves you money too!
3. Respect the local culture: Be courteous of the local culture and act in such a way that leaves a good impression. Learn a little of the local language (hello and thank you is the minimum, you can use Google Translate), greet the locals in a polite manner, and respect dress codes & traditions.
Well, that concludes A Guide to Gay Travel in Asia. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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Thanks guys for this great post. Agung and I have linked to it from our Is Sumatra Safe article. Although we’ve seen the situation from our perspective, it’s great to get insight from LGBT couples who have actually travelled in Sumatra (and similar areas). Some awesome advice here.
We are glad you liked the article and appreciate you linking to it from your site.
We love Sumatra and can’t wait to return.
Thanks again. C & N x