Malaysia may have some of the strictest anti-LGBT policies in all of South East Asia, but that doesn’t mean LGBT+ travellers shouldn’t visit. We’ve spent quite a lot of time in Malaysia in the past few years, and there’s a lot to love about this wildly diverse country. In the larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur & Penang, there’s even a subtle gay scene, boasting a select few gay & lesbian bars, clubs and events. Throw in the endless opportunities for adventure and discovery, gay and lesbian Malaysia has a lot to offer.
The current LGBT+ situation aside, Malaysia is a fascinating and cosmopolitan country. On the one hand, you have happening cities, sweeping jungles, and pristine islands. On the other, an amalgamation of cultures, cuisines, and awe-inspiring religious landmarks. Malaysia may not form a part of your typical backpacker trail across South East Asia, but in my opinion, that’s even more reason to go.
Nevertheless, gay travel in Malaysia does come with its complications. So this guide aims to provide you with all the information you need to prepare for a trip there. I’ll be sharing our safety tips & advice for LGBT+ travellers, where you can find the best gay bars and clubs, what you need to know regarding the law & social opinions, as well as all of the best places to visit.
So let’s get to it. Here’s our LGBT Travel Guide to Gay & Lesbian Malaysia.
Gay In: Malaysia – LGBT Travel Guide to Gay & Lesbian Malaysia
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LGBT+ Rights in Malaysia
Same-Sex Sexual Activity: Illegal.
Same-Sex Marriage: Not Recognised.
Rights to Change Legal Gender: Illegal.
Same-Sex Adoption: Not Allowed.
LGBT Discrimination: No Protection.
If you are keen to learn more, Equaldex elaborates further on LGBT+ Rights in Malaysia.
As you can see, the current status of LGBT+ rights in Malaysia is quite unsavoury. With Islam being the dominant religion, there are a lot of traditional and old-fashioned beliefs.
That said, it is actually a British Colonial-Era Law, that forbids sodomy and oral sex between both same-sex and heterosexual couples. The penalty of which is up to 20-years imprisonment and whipping.
An additional subsection to this law criminalises acts of “gross indecency” with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment. This provision applies equally to both men and women.
Furthermore, select states in Malaysia have instated Sharia laws, where same-sex relations are punishable by imprisonment and public whippings. Sharia law also prohibits “a male person posing as a woman“.
Despite numerous appeals to rethink these old fashioned laws, there is very little support from the Malaysian government. Politicians speak very openly regarding their views against the LGBT+ community, and there is no sign of the situation improving any time soon.
Social Opinions of LGBT+ in Malaysia
Unsurprisingly, there is little tolerance towards the LGBT+ community amongst society. In fact, a survey conducted in 2013 revealed that 86% of the Malaysian population agreed that same-sex relations should be illegal.
There is constant political propaganda fed through the media, and any LGBT representation in film or music is banned. Politicians argue that the LGBT community have a ‘disorder‘ or ‘illness‘ and claim that intervention can ‘cure‘ the ‘disease‘.
“LGBT people, I am sorry but even though you argue that it is your human right to lead your [life], but it will not be allowed here because it is not allowed in Islam.” Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz – Former Tourism Minister.
These strong beliefs make life for an LGBT national immensely difficult. Gay, lesbian, and transgender people often face a high level of discrimination and violence. Not only amongst society but by their own families. The fear of rejection and persecution means that most members of the community live closeted lives.
Is Malaysia Safe for LGBT+ Travellers?
Malaysia is an exciting, cultural, and adventurous travel destination. And despite the negative stigma, LGBT+ travellers shouldn’t be put off from visiting. While the law sounds scary and off-putting, there will always be a higher tolerance for tourists than there is for locals. That might not seem fair, but it’s just the way it is.
Off course, it doesn’t mean you can act as you please. Even if you might not agree with the policies in place, as visitors, we must still respect them. We advise that you are mindful of your behaviour in public, and keep in mind that any form of PDA is deemed disrespectful – even for straight couples.
After travelling throughout Malaysia as a lesbian couple, we can assure you that in no way did the legal or social situation negatively impact our travel experience. Of course, we were cautious about how we carried ourselves in public, but that was quite normal throughout Asia.
On the other hand, I can understand why some people don’t want to hide who they are when they travel. And that’s perfectly ok. There are several gay-friendly destinations in Asia where you can be more relaxed about your sexuality.
For more info, we suggest reading over our safety tips for LGBT+ travellers.
Best Places to Visit – Gay & Lesbian Malaysia
There are so many wonderful places to visit in Malaysia. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a cultural, adventurous, or relaxing experience, there’s a little something for everybody. In my humble opinion, the best Malaysia itinerary combines a little bit of all of those things and results in a fulfilling and memorable trip.
With this in mind, I’ve put together this list of unmissable destinations for gay and lesbian travellers in Malaysia. We want to take you to the modern metropolis of Kuala Lumpur to the pristine beaches in Langkawi, and if you’re feeling adventurous, into the ancient rainforests of Borneo. You’re about to find out just how diverse and extraordinary Malaysia really is.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a small gay scene in some parts of Malaysia. If there are any gay/lesbian bars or venues, I will detail it all below, so you come fully prepared.
Your gay or lesbian Malaysia adventure will inevitably begin in Kuala Lumpur. The nation’s capital is a cosmopolitan city, boasting a mosaic of cultures, religious landmarks, and cuisines.
Things move at a breakneck pace in Kuala Lumpur. If you are a nature lover or adventure enthusiast, it could be tempting to skip the chaos of it altogether. But hold your horses, as you might find there is more to KL than meets the eye.
We’ve spent quite some time in KL over the years, and there is a ton of cool and unique things to do. Whether you are into culture, shopping, architecture, nature, or food, there’s a little something for everybody.
Furthermore, Kuala Lumpur is the epicentre of gay and lesbian culture in Malaysia. So, if there’s anywhere where you can connect with like-minded individuals, it’s here.
Below is a brief overview of what to look out for in Kuala Lumpur, but check out this comprehensive guide to Gay Kuala Lumpur for more.
You should also check this out: The Best 2 Day Kuala Lumpur Itinerary.
Kuala Lumpur Gay Scene
In comparison to the likes of Bangkok or London, Kuala Lumpur’s gay scene is exceptionally modest. However, when you consider the legal and social position in Malaysia, it’s encouraging to find that there’s any gay scene at all.
We wouldn’t have thought twice to look for a gay or lesbian bar in Kuala Lumpur. But as luck would have it, we met an English guy named Ben in Sumatra, who was living in KL. He promised us that the next time we were in KL, he would take us to a gay bar, and he never broke that promise.
After a few pre-drinks in Bukit Bintang, we found ourselves in Blueboy Discotheque. Blueboy is the oldest gay bar in Kuala Lumpur. It’s an intimate venue hosting nightly drag performances and all-night parties. We went on a Friday night, and the party rolled on until the early hours of the morning. It was wildly outrageous and a hell of a lot of fun.
Other gay and lesbian venues include iBlue Bar, The Geytherin Pub, and Utopia. There are also various gay spas and saunas for any boys looking for fun.
**I should mention that there is the occasional police raid at gay venues in Kuala Lumpur. However, in the unlikely event, it should happen, it will most likely lead to the end of your night rather than an arrest. Again, police are more concerned about locals who they believe to be breaking Sharia laws.
Top Things to do in Kuala Lumpur
- Visit the awe-inspiring Batu Caves.
- Walk amongst the treetops at KL Eco Park.
- Check out the impressive Masjid Wilayah Mosque.
- Sample ALL the food in China Town & Little India.
- Discover one of the many hidden gems in Kuala Lumpur.
- Book a best-selling tour or activity.
If you are the slightest bit interested in Malaysian history, Penang is an essential addition to your gay & lesbian Malaysia itinerary. Located along the west coast, Penang once served as a major trading hub. However, these days it’s rarely ever the coast that visitors come to visit.
No, most tourists come to Penang to experience the capital of George Town. Famous for its heritage houses, street art, hipster cafes, and street food, UNESCO declared the town a world heritage site in 2008.
Since then, Georgetown has flourished into a hub of creativity and culture, and its laidback bohemian vibe is infectious. There isn’t so much of a gay scene as such – instead, there are gay-friendly venues. But Penang isn’t really the place you come to party anyway. Get that out of your system in Kuala Lumpur, and spend your time in Penang sightseeing and eating – LOTS of eating.
Penang Gay Scene
As I say, there isn’t much of an explicitly gay or lesbian scene in Penang; however, there are plenty of gay-friendly venues. The main gay bar so to speak is Seventy7 bar, which hosts themed nights throughout the week and attracts both locals and tourists alike. Other LGBT friendly spaces include China House, 54JCT, Beach Blanket Babylon, and Gravity Rooftop Bar.
Top Things to do in Penang
- Go on a street art hunt in Georgetown.
- Take a guided heritage food tour of the foodie capital.
- Visit the stunning Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple.
- Take the cable car up to Penang Hill.
- Cover the best historical spots in town on this half-day city tour.
Now you’ve experienced the cultural and exciting cities in Malaysia, i’s time for us to hit the beach. Tucked away off the Western coast of Malaysia, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands. Famous for their endless natural landscapes, the islands boast some of the best beaches in Malaysia.
As a token of its beauty, in 2007 UNESCO declared Langkawi a world Geo Park. The main island, Pulau Langkawi, boasts sandy beaches, lush rice paddies, majestic waterfalls and sweeping rainforest. While island-hopping tours and activities allow you to discover the other wonders of the national park.
All things considered, it is no surprise that Langkawi is a popular choice among the LGBT+ travel community. The harmonious combination of relaxation and adventure appeals to all kinds of tourist. And while there isn’t a huge gay scene, again there are several gay-friendly venues.
Langkawi Gay Scene
As I say, there isn’t much of an explicitly gay or lesbian scene in Langkawi; however, there are plenty of gay-friendly venues. The nightlife in Langkawi is incredibly diverse, spanning from laid-back beach bars to pulsating nightclubs. The closest thing to a gay bar in Langkawi is Sunba Retro Bar, which attracts a mixed clientele with its signature cocktails and DJ parties. Other LGBT friendly spaces include ONE Love, Yellow Beach Cafe, The Nest, and Marrakesh Musicteque.
Top Things to do in Langkawi
- Rent a scooter and discover the islands rugged natural landscapes.
- Discover unparalleled beauty on an island-hopping tour.
- Do go chasing waterfalls such as Temurun and Seven Wells Waterfalls.
- Go ziplining through the jungle at Skytrek Adventure Park.
- Spot wildlife and go kayaking through the mangroves.
Located off the East Coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are somewhat of a hidden gem in South East Asia. Boasting pristine beaches, azure waters, and spectacular diving conditions, the paradise islands are a worthy contender of your gay and lesbian Malaysia Itinerary.
The largest island, Perhentian Besar, is the quieter and less crowded island. If your ideal getaway involves escaping the crowds and living off the grid, Perhentian Besar is the island for you. Conversely, Perhentian Kecil is livelier and more popular with backpackers, but equally beautiful.
Other than diving and snorkelling amongst a realm of tropical marine life, there isn’t much else to do on the islands. So grab yourself a sunbed, order a strong cocktail, and immerse yourself in the tranquillity such conditions provide – heaven!
Another place I insist you consider when planning your Malaysia Itinerary is Borneo. Borneo is the worlds 3rd largest island and shared among three countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.
While 73% of Borneo belongs to Indonesia, Malaysian Borneo comprises of 2 large states – Sawarak and Sabah. To experience all the adventurous attractions that Borneo has to offer, you will want to spend time in both areas.
Sawarak is most famous for its ancient rainforest and sweeping national parks. On the other hand, Sabah boasts towering mountain ranges and world-class dive sites. Also home to some of our planets most unique wildlife, everything about Borneo screams adventure.
Top Things to do in Borneo
- Encounter the endangered orangutans in the wild.
- Scuba dive at some of the most protected dive sites in the world.
- Summit Mount Kinabalu – Malaysia’s highest peak.
- Spot Wildlife on the Kinabatangan River.
- Go trekking amid the ancient rainforest.
Other Places to go in Gay & Lesbian Malaysia
While the locations we mentioned above were our favourite places in Malaysia, there are still many other places you may wish to consider. If you fancy seeing a more traditional side of the country, you could spend a couple of days in the charming city of Malacca. Alternatively, some lesser-known islands are worth visiting, such as Redang Island, Tioman Island, and Pangkor Island.
Meeting Other LGBT+ in Malaysia
Other than the select few gay bars in Malaysia, it may be challenging to connect with other LGBT+ people. That is why the internet is such an excellent tool for connecting with like-minded individuals.
We suggest using social media to locate other LGBT+ travellers or locals in Malaysia. You can use Facebook, for example, to yield dedicated LGBT groups in the area. Similarly, navigating specific hashtags on Instagram, such as #gaymalaysia or #gaykualalumpur, can help you locate all things LGBT near you.
Some other great platforms for connecting with people are:
- Local Dating Apps such as Grindr, Tinder, & Romeo
- Purple Roofs (for finding LGBT+ friendly accommodation)
You don’t need to use dating apps in any sort of romantic way either. Some are great for connecting with LGBT+ locals and travellers as friends. If you’re lucky, you may find yourself connecting with a local who can show you all the best spots in their area.
But be aware, dating apps are sometimes used for entrapment by the police. So use with caution, and always surf the web using a VPN. We use Surfshark VPN to keep us safe and secure. Register here and use promo code: ourtasteforlife for 85% off and 3 extra months free!
Tips & Advice for Gay & Lesbian Malaysia
Below are some general tips and advice that will ensure you have a stress-free time when travelling through Malaysia.
The currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit denoted as RM. At the time of writing 5.54 Ringgit is equal to £1.00/1.30$.
Travelling in West Malaysia is suitable for all budgets. Below is a breakdown of what your daily Malaysia budget might look like:
- Dorm Bed in a Hostel: $7-15
- Budget Private Room: $15-25
- Luxury Hotel Room: $100-300
- Local Restaurant Meal: $10-20
- Street Food/Food Courts: $1-3
- National Bus: $10-30
- Pint of Beer: $5-10
- Batu Caves Admission: Free
- KL Tower Admission: $20
If you are thinking of heading East to Borneo, you should consider that your daily spend will double if not triple, if you want to make the most of the attractions in the region.
The Best Time to Visit Malaysia
You will want to have a clear idea of what it is you want to do when planning your Malaysia itinerary, as the weather patterns are different in Peninsular and East Malaysia. The best time to visit Peninsular (West) Malaysia, is between November and August. Conversely, you should plan your trip to the East between March and September.
Getting Around in Malaysia
By Bus – After covering most of Peninsular Malaysia, we found the easiest way to travel from place to place was by tourist bus. It is by no means the quickest way; however, the buses are comfortable, and you do get to see some pretty epic scenery along the way.
It is worth noting that the road conditions are generally very good in the tourist regions of the West. Although, once you start travelling East to Borneo, they become more treacherous. We recommend avoiding bus travel in these areas as there is a history of accidents on the roads.
*Tip – We recommend using 12go Asia to book your bus travel around Malaysia.
By Train – There is also a cross country rail network, although the prices tend to be more expensive and we have no personal experience using it.
By Air – If you are on a tight timeframe and money isn’t too much of an issue, you can also travel via domestic flight to most parts of the country. We always use Skyscanner to ensure we are getting the best deals on flights.
Don’t forget, if it’s your first time travelling or backpacking Malaysia, check out our First timers guide to travelling Malaysia. It’s jam-packed with useful information regarding entry requirements, currency, safety, and all that jazz.
Malaysian food is some of the best in South East Asia. The amalgamation of Malay, Indian, and Chinese influence results in a distinct cuisine, unlike no other. Not only is the food delicious and diverse, but it’s generally super cheap too. You can’t go wrong with the street food in Malaysia which is ideal if you’re on a budget. But it does pay to learn a little of the local lingo, especially if you have allergies or dietary requirements. We love us a banana leaf curry, some Mee Goreng noodles, or even the simple roti always goes down a treat.
Is Malaysia Safe?
All things considered, Malaysia is a safe country to visit. Violent crimes are relatively low, and so long as you keep your wits about you, it’s highly unlikely you’ll run into any trouble.
Malaysia’s biggest safety issue is petty crimes such as pickpocketing, purse snatching and other types of petty thefts. So it pays to adopt extra care and vigilance when it comes to your belongings.
Furthermore, you should consider risks such as rabies among stray dogs, weather extremities, terrorism, and local laws. We recommend reading this article for more information on safety in Malaysia.
If you’re planning to engage in any sexual activity, it’s wise to pack condoms or protection from home. When travelling abroad, it can be difficult to tell if a product is FDA approved, so it’s best to prepare in advance.
With that, don’t even think about going to Malaysia without travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. If the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll want the best cover money can buy.
For this reason, we always recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. They are affordable, offer a variety of packages and add ons, and allow you to make amendments to your policy while travelling.
If you need further convincing, read our article on why you need travel insurance. Or get an on-the-spot quote from World Nomads using the form below.
Staying Connected in Malaysia
If, like us, you rely on the internet when you travel (let’s face it, who doesn’t anymore), we have the perfect solution. TravelWifi’s portable pocket wifi allows us to quickly and securely connect when we need it the most. Click the link for more information on coverage, packages, and the latest offers.
Or order a prepaid sim card for Thailand and collect at the airport upon arrival.
Oh, and don’t forget a VPN. Using a VPN is very important these days to make sure that all your data is safe and secure. Also, it helps while travelling not only for safety reasons but also it unlocks geo-restricted content such as Netflix and helps to avoid demographic price discrimination while looking for a flight or a hotel.
More on Malaysia
Planning a trip to Malaysia? Check out our other articles to help plan your trip.
- 2 Weeks in Malaysia – Itinerary & Travel Guide
- 2 Days in Kuala Lumpur – Itinerary & Travel Guide
- 15 Cool & Creative Instagram Spots in Kuala Lumpur
- 15 Unique Things to do in Kuala Lumpur – Hidden Gems in KL
- The Best Melaka Itinerary for 1 or 2 Days
Thank you for Reading!
That concludes Gay In: Malaysia – LGBT Travel Guide to Gay & Lesbian Malaysia. We hope you enjoy your time in this magical country. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below, or through our contact us page. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here where we share further travel advice & inspiration.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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