Sri Lanka

With its many natural as well as man-made attractions, some of particular significance to the LGBTQI communities, it’s no wonder that Lonely Planet ranked Sri Lanka as the top country to visit in 2019. However, though there’s a number of very active, human rights groups acting on behalf of these communities, their legal rights are still to be formally addressed.

Homosexual activity in Sri Lanka between consenting adult males may be technically illegal, but gays are visible in culture and politics. Ironically, lesbianism was not mentioned in law until 1995 when the government reviewed laws and criminalised sex between women.

Well-known organisation Equal Ground is the convening organisation for Pride Sri Lanka.

This year, with the Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Equal Ground presented an eclectic array of movies for the Abhimani Queer Film Festival Program 2019 which ran in June – the 15th year it was held for the Festival Of Colombo Pride. www.equal-ground.org/ www.facebook.com/EQUALGROUND/
Established in 2004, Equal Ground works for the LGBTQI communities by raising awareness and through advocacy. A phone counselling service is also offered, and travellers are welcome to call about activities. Annual event Women On Top is held to celebrate International Women’s Day plus women-only events are held.
Lesbians travelling to Colombo can also contact The Women’s Support Group (WSG) for activities. Formed in 1999, WSG works for the rights of lesbians, bisexual women and transgendered persons. It also offers counselling for LBT women in distress.

Utopia was founded in 1995 and also focuses on protecting LGBTQI rights. It operates two drop-in centres – in Colombo and Kandy, conducts film screenings, hosts reading room facilities and social get-togethers. Counselling, STI/HIV testing, info and treatment is also provided. The organisation certifies businesses, travel guides, and accommodations that are LGBTQI friendly. Local activists are working to decriminalise private homosexual activities which they state are “enjoyed by more than one million ‘Utopians’ in Sri Lanka”. www.utopia-asia.com/index.htm
Resorts which are LGBT friendly include KulansaMai Globe TravelsRange TravelsSri Lanka Trekking Nature HolidaysSriLanka Tours. Those run by members of the local LGBT community include Foozoo Travel, Rainbow Happy Tours, and Vacation Srilanka, while Sri Lanka Blissful Island specialises in Lesbian-friendly excursions.

Unmissable attractions are the garden estates of the Bawa brothers, two of Sri Lanka’s most famous gay luminaries. Located on the coast, about halfway between Colombo and Galle (where a number of gay expats have retired), Geoffrey Bawa’s vast estate, Lunuganga is open for lunch, serving Sri Lankan cuisine, with guided tours by appointment. His architecture combines Ceylonese and colonial traditions with environmentally-sensitive modernism.

Bevis Bawa’s private pleasure gardens, known as Brief, are more sensual, filled with provocative sculptures as well as a large collection of drawings, paintings and photography.

Of note there is a significant Down Under influence, as Bevis was assisted by his live-in guest, famous gay Australian artist Donald Friend.

In Colombo, the former offices of Geoffrey Bawa are now the popular Gallery Café. This is a must-see venue, both for the tropical modern architecture and the rare opportunity to see a photo by another famous gay Sri Lankan, Lionel Wendt, who was a pioneer of the modern male nude, celebrating his Sri Lankan subjects.

Only 15 minutes’ drive north of Colombo’s international airport is Negombo, with a relaxed, gay culture. Budget airlines offer low priced flights from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to this peaceful beach resort. Seaside dining and bars, friendly locals and gay-only resorts make it a favourite holiday destination for jet-setting regional gays.

Here, the luxury Dickman Resort features nine exclusive and well-appointed rooms and suites around a charming Mango Garden retreat and large eco-friendly swimming pool. This private paradise with a ‘No Children’ policy also offers packages of tours with accommodation. www.dickmanresort.com

Not far is Sri Lanka’s long-running gay-friendly spa, the Spa Negombo. Located in a 19th Century Dutch villa, just 10 minutes from the International Airport, treatments range from Ayurveda to Thai to Shiatsu.

The area also features interesting gay-friendly eateries . Facing the ocean, The Container (made out of a shipping container) offers a variety of western foods as well as takeaway to enjoy on the beach. Dolce Vita is beside the beach and has delicious tiramusu, pizza and gelato. This Italian coffee shop has a terrace with great views. Gay-owned restaurant Lords is an arty, open air restaurant featuring Western and Sri Lankan food served with popular Australian wines.
There are many more places as well as ways recommended by Utopia for the LGBTQI traveller to meet up with locals in different parts of Sri Lanka which add to the many attractions that the country has to offer.

Cook Islands

Like many other Polynesian islands which are renowned for a tolerance of other cultures and personal values, the culture of the Cook Islands has always been warm and friendly towards the LGBTQI community. Indeed its fashion and music industries feature leading gay personalities.

Homosexuals and transgender people have actually been part of Cook Islander culture for centuries. Cross-dressing men who took on traditional women’s roles in the community were an integral part of life and transgenders were regarded as important to the family and local tribe, and arguably still are. The word tutuva’ine (meaning “like a woman”) usually refers to a cross-dresser or drag queen. It may also be useful to be familiar with the Cook Islands Māori word for transgender Akava’ine which means “to behave as a woman”. Sometimes the Cook Islands slang word laelae is used to describe effeminate behaviour.

Indeed, the Cook Islands were one of a number of Pacific cultures which, until colonisation at least, were perfectly comfortable with male-to-male sex. Attitudes – and laws, all changed with the arrival of the missionaries.

At present, homosexuality is illegal for men in the Cook Islands but not for women. However, the law doesn’t appear to be enforced. So currently, on the statute books, consensual sodomy is punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment while any “indecent act” between two men is punishable with up to five years.

In the current (1969) Act, there are two sections which ban gay sex. In 2017, the Cook Islands put forward a draft Crimes Bill, created with assistance from New Zealand, to decriminalise consensual sex between two men by removing those two sections. However, the Bill was given an indefinite extension to allow further community consultation so it is anticipated that it won’t be made law until after the next general election.

In deference to the laws as they still exist, local gay men do not show affection in public so it is advisable for visitors to be aware of this. And although same-sex marriage is outlawed, a legal inconsistency in favour of the LGBTQI community means that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned since 2013.

A good point of contact would be the nation’s only LGBTI community group, the Te Tiare Association, which officially launched in June 2008. It strongly advocated for and supported the proposed legal changes, and was invited to meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in 2018 to further discuss decriminalisation. The group continues to encourage debate on the issue and has organised events to raise awareness of the lives of LGBTI people. http://www.tetiareassociation.com/

Regarding accommodations, most are gay-friendly and discreet. The Little Polynesian, for example, has a good reputation. One of Rarotonga’s leading boutique resorts, this adults-only resort is ideal for those looking for a romantic, private and luxurious escape. https://www.littlepolynesian.com/

And www.gayhomestays.comhighlights a romantic beach house on Muri Lagoon which features panoramic views, an organic herbs and fruits garden, swimming pool, turtles, colourful reef fish.

As far as socialising is concerned, though there’s not a stand-out gay-scene, everyone socialises well together so the gay people you meet will probably be part of the IT-crowd. Of note, New Year’s Eve is always a sell-out for visitors. The tiny capital of Avarua is the place to celebrate – the bars are near each other, making it easy to hop between nightspots.

Philippines

Airport info- There are five airports in the Philippines. If you are flying internationally, you are most likely to arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila or, if you are flying on a budget airline, Clark International Airport two hours outside Manila. For both, it’s best to take a taxi to your hotel as local buses can be unreliable. If you want to visit the stunning island of Cebu, you can fly into Mactan International Airport in Cebu City.

Your LGBT+ Holiday Guide to the Philippines

Airport info- There are five airports in the Philippines. If you are flying internationally, you are most likely to arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila or, if you are flying on a budget airline, Clark International Airport two hours outside Manila. For both, it’s best to take a taxi to your hotel as local buses can be unreliable. If you want to visit the stunning island of Cebu, you can fly into Mactan International Airport in Cebu City.

Good to know- There is no departure tax, the fee is included into the price of your ticket.

Getting around The Philippines- In big cities like Metro Manila, Davoa City and Cebu it is best to travel by taxi. Once you’re away from the traffic of the big cities, you can easily hire a bike, which can be a great way to explore the beautiful island resorts.

For domestic travel, flights and buses are great, affordable options. Or there is an impressive network of affordable ferries connecting many of the 7,641 islands that make up the Philippines. It’s worth checking out 2GO Travel (www.travel.2go.com.ph), which serves the majority of major destinations in the Philippines.

When to visit- This is a hot country! The climate is divided into three main seasons: Tag-Init, a hot, dry season from March to May; Tag-Ulan, the rainy season from June to November; and Tag-Lamig, the cool and dry season from December to February with temperatures ranging between 26°C and 28°C. Most people visit between December and April. Be warned, if you want to visit the Philippines over Christmas and New Year, make sure to book well in advance. The lead-up to Chinese New Year at the end of January-beginning of February is also a busy time.

Visas- The Philippines is one of the easiest countries in the world to visit for a holiday as it shares diplomatic relations with 150+ countries. This means that you are entitled to enter the country and stay for up to 30 days without securing a visitor’s visa. However, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after arrival, and you can show proof of onward or return travel.

Money- The currency in the Philippines is the peso (PhP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Bank notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 pesos. All large banks, most hotels, and some malls can exchange foreign currency and most credit cards are widely accepted including American Express, Mastercard and Visa. Travelers’ checks (particularly American Express) are accepted in hotels and large stores. Tipping isn’t mandatory, but it’s standard and encouraged.

Internet/Sim cards- Buying a sim card while on holiday can be a great way to use GPS for finding your way around, transfering money online, contacting family and friends or in case of an emergency. You can easily buy one at the airport on arrival, in corner shops and in phone shops in town. You can choose from several carriers- Smart, TNT, Sun and Globe.

Electricity- Plug sockets in the Philippines accept standard US format plugs (5-15, type B).

Drinking water- In Manila, it is recommended that you drink bottled water and only use tap water to brush your teeth and wash your hands. In other, smaller cities, such as Cebu however it’s considered safe to drink tap water. To be completely safe, we recommend drinking bottled water where possible.

Safety- The Philippines is generally a safe and welcoming place to visit. However, there are certain safety and security issues that all travellers should be aware of. In the bigger cities like Manila and Cebu, poverty makes crime like pickpocketing and theft a more frequent occurrence, so always be careful with your personal possessions. Always be on the lookout for scams that target tourists and, if in doubt, ask at your hotel or book through them. Travelling around the country, outside of the big cities, is generally safe.


LGBT+ Rights and Culture in the Philippines

Laws on LGBT+ rights- There is no law against homosexuality in The Philippines, although same-sex partnerships have yet to be recognised. The age of consent is 18 and applies to all types of relationships.

Recent legal developments- Notable legal developments include the lifting of a ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the Philippines armed forces and the establishment of Ang Ladlad – an LGBT political party. Even more recently, in 2018 there was a wave of local ordinances passed prohibiting discrimination against LGBT+ people in employment and education and any use of verbal or written abuse.

Pride Parade- An important moment for LGBT+ movements in the Philippines came when Asia’s first-ever gay pride march took place in Manila in June, 1994. Since then, the LGBT+ Pride Parade has become an established and respected annual event in the city, with a record breaking 15,000 people attending in 2018.

Local attitude to LGBT+ culture- Acceptance of the LGBT+ community in the Philippines has grown over the last few years thanks to education and political activism. This has also led to a growing number of hotels, bars and companies that cater to LGBT+ tourists visiting this beautiful island nation. Gays and lesbians are widely accepted in Filipino society although the level of acceptance does vary depending on the place. Larger cities and popular tourist destinations are the most welcoming, while smaller and poorer communities in rural areas are less accustomed to LGBT+ visitors.

LGBT+ Culture in the Philippines- Although discrimination does still exist in smaller, more rural communities, Filippino LGBT+ culture is rich and vibrant with a growing number of clubs, hotels and institutions catering to the community. The recent changes in LGBT+ rights and President Duterte’s support for the community has helped promote widespread acceptance.


Gay Scene


 

Where to go

Amazing scenic view of sea bay and mountain islands, Palawan, Philippines

Manila- As well as glitzy super-clubs like Encore, Manor and Republiq, the capital city has some of the most vibrant and exciting LGBT+ clubs and bars. Don’t miss the new and exciting Nectar Nightclub, a dance club that is a favourite on weekends with the local LGBT+ crowd, partially because of the DJs and the go-go dancers. Go early because it gets busy! Time is another must-visit club in Metro Manila. Just off Makati Avenue, Time hosts monthly gay nights and LGBT+ are welcome any time to enjoy the mix of techno and electronica. Both clubs are in the Makati District, one of the hotspots of LGBT culture in Metro Manila.

Boracay- EPIC is THE beachfront club to visit when you’re on holiday in Boracay. In the afternoon and evenings it offers a huge range of Asian and Western food in the restaurant. At night, the venue transforms into an incredible club with an open-air dance floor and some of the best local and international DJs. Once you’ve explored EPIC, try Club Gold opposite the Feliz Hotel, a dedicated gay bar with amazing drag shows.

Palawan- This glamorous tropical island has a fun, laid back LGBT+ scene. After relaxing on Palawan’s pristine beaches head to one of the best restaurants on the island, the gay owned KaLui Restaurant. Enjoy a fresh, expertly prepared Asian fusion meal then finish the night at Puerto Princesa’s cool Tiki Bar for a cocktail and dancing. Or if you’re visiting the El Nido area, stop by the gay owned Pinche’s Mexican Bar & Grill for amazing quesadillas.

 

Where to stay 

Manila- For any LGBT+ travellers visiting Manila, there is no better choice than the Dusit Thani hotel. This elegant 500-room hotel and spa will welcome you in style and provide an oasis of calm in the exciting city of Manila. The Dusit Thani is located in the Makati Business District and is therefore ideally positioned for business and for pleasure, with some of Metro Manila’s best LGBT+ bars and clubs nearby, including Nectar Nightclub and Time (see above).

Dusit Thani Manila

— Philippines —

 

Palawan- The Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa is a very special place and a definite must when visiting the Philippines for a holiday or honeymoon. The Sheridan is a progressive eco-resort overlooking stunning Sabang Beach that is proud to welcome LGBT+ visitors. This world-class resort offers 97 luxurious beachside rooms, a wellness spa, the fabulous Blue Bar and South Sea Restaurant, which sources its fresh ingredients from the Sheridan’s own eco farm. The Sheridan is also close to Puerto Princesa’s famous Tiki Bar, one of the best LGBT+ hangouts on the island and a great place for cocktails and dancing.

 

Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa

— Philippines —

 

Must visit

  • The Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan- only 15 minutes away from the Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
  • Mountain climbing on Mount Mayon- the country’s most picturesque volcano.
  • Surfing in San Juan in North Luzon.
  • Surfing in Baler, the point break made famous by the scene from the classic movie Apocalypse Now.
  • For shopping, try Greenhills Shopping Centre in Manila

Your LGBT+ Holiday Guide to the Philippines

Where to get updates/news/events (link to sites)- The Inquirer, ABS- CBN and Rappler all have sections dedicated to news articles about LGBT+ issues in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Is there a membership the LGBT can join? – Galang is one of the leading NGO supporting LGBT+ rights in the Philippines. Established in 2008, Galang offers support to LGBT+ individuals in poor communities. The website Transgender Philippines also has a great list of LGBT+ organisations throughout the country.

Recommended gay areas- The Malate (particularly around J Nakpil Street and M Orosa Street) and Makati districts in Metro Manila and Timog Avenue in Quezon City are well known gay areas with great clubs, bars and restaurants specifically tailored at LGBT+ visitors.

Hawaii Islands

Amazing scenery, a choice of gay-owned as well as gay-friendly accommodation and beaches ensure Hawaii is a premier drawcard for LGBTQI travel. In addition, since 2013, when same-sex marriage became legal, Hawaii has become a popular place for gay weddings, indeed there are companies specialising in it – for example, gayhawaiiwedding.com which seems to specialise in weddings on Maui and which has an ocean view condo which can be hired.

The many trendy hotels, dining scene and plentiful nightlife on Oahu attract numerous members of LGBTQI international communities, which is not surprising as this island and the state’s capital Honolulu attracts the most visitors annually – around five million.

However there’s also cozy bars, Tapa’s Lanai Bar – which offers delicious brunches – and Wang Chung’s are popular gay hangouts which offer karaoke that also features at Mask-Querade bar on the Big Island. Hilo is that island’s largest town, which is located along the beach and is also a top gay destination.

The most popular gay bars in Waikiki are Hula’s and Bacchus. The latter offers daily drink specials and live DJs on weekends as well as events, such as trivia nights and catamaran cruises. Hula’s Bar at the Waikiki Grand Hotel has been serving international guests for over 40 years and offers spectacular views of Diamond Head as well as the beautiful Waikiki Beach sunsets. With live and recorded music (thongs are accepted!) it turns from beach bar to nightclub with dancing till late as well as regular male revues and drag shows, and Pride Events (October 20, 2018).

Not far from Hula’s, conveniently located in the heart of Waikiki and touted as the most popular gay beach in Hawaii is Queen’s Surf Beach. A scenic beach on a secluded stretch of sand which is famous for its surf break, Queen’s draws a mainly gay-male crowd and is very social. On Kauai, Donkey Beach is very popular with the community while on Maui, stunning and world-renowned Little Beach is the place to go. On the Big Island of Hawaii, gay-popular beaches include the black sand beach of Kahena Beach which features spinner dolphins while Wailea Beach offers good snorkelling.

As well as gay couples and single travellers, earlier this year Oahu showed it caters to gay families when its Disney Aulani Resort & Spa specifically welcomed LGBT families for an authentic island experience in January. They happily discovered that, welcoming people like family – ‘ohana – is a tradition that Hawaiians warmly extend to all members of the LGBT community.


EVENTFUL

There are many gay events held through the year. Kauai Pride is held in each Summer in June. The Pride Dance Party and Drag Show is at Tree’s Lounge on Sunday, June 18; Camping, Parade, Gay Games & Picnic TBA, around June 16-18.

Maui Pride is held on the first weekend of October [www.MauiPride.org] while Hawaii’s largest Pride Festival is held in Oahu. The 2018 Honolulu Pride™ Parade + Festival takes place on Saturday, October 20, 2018 and is set to be big – the 2017 parade featured 115 floats with the festival attracting thousands of participants and visitors. It is organised by the Hawai’i Legacy Foundation [hawaiilgbtlegacyfoundation.com] which in the past year has provided over 3,500 direct services for the LGBT community. The Foundation also established the LGBT Center – Waikiki for meetings, education and training.


ORGANISED

There are a number of key organisations that support the LGBTQI community. In a residential neighbourhood of Honolulu lies the district of Manoa, home to the largest college campus in the state, the University of Hawaii, which offers many initiatives and programs for LGBT youth and maintains LGBTI Student Services.

www.HonoluluFrontrunners.org provides encouragement and support to gay men, lesbians and others with an interest in running or walking.

Lambda Aloha is a non-profit organization established on Kauai for over 30 years, supporting LGBT efforts and civil rights as well as providing social interaction and support. www.LambdaAloha.com

General information on events, attractions and accommodation is available at Gogayhawaii.com

Maldives Islands

Looking like you’ve just stepped into the pages of a high-end architectural magazine, showcasing some of the world’s most luxurious designer over-water bungalows framed by stunning white sand beaches, warm clear azure blue waters and perfectly manicured lush foliage, it’s no wonder that the Maldives sits at the top of most bucket lists. It’s also fast nearing the top of the gay bucket list.

Comprising 26 atolls of around 1200 islands, though this country is under strict Islamic law which criminalises homosexuality and alcohol, within its over 100 private resorts – each its own island – gay tourists are warmly and respectfully catered to.

Indeed the resorts may be the only places where gay locals are accepted within the country and feel safe. Many employees hail from Europe,  Asia,  the UK and the US and are trained, with the entire staff, to be sensitive to all guests and demonstrate tolerance. So though there are not any exclusively gay resorts, most are gay-friendly as the Maldives heavily depends on tourism.

However,  when in the capital Malé or at the airport it’s advised to exercise discretion,  ie no PDAs ( which would be frowned upon whether gay or straight ) and a degree of modesty ( especially regarding women’s dress ) as it’s a conservative society with no real gay community or gay scene. Of note, in 2013, openly gay Maldivian blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed had his throat slashed outside his home in Male after years of campaigning for free speech and religious tolerance. Fortunately he survived and now lives in Sri Lanka.

Speaking of the airport, its $450m upgrade is due to be completed soon ( 2017/18 ).  And getting to the Maldives is easy from Hong Kong ( around 4 hours ) and only an hour-and-a-half from Colombo in Sri Lanka with Sri Lankan Airlines.

This island nation with wonderful weather year-round, offers top diving, snorkelling, surfing and a variety of water sports and beach activities.  As well as a choice of fresh delicious cuisines, the Maldives offers the world’s first under-water nightclub, underwater spa and underwater restaurant.

The latter is found in the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island which, upgraded from a Hilton but still under that company umbrella, celebrates a diversity and inclusion initiative.

Only 10 minutes from the airport is Bandos Island which has been awarded the 2017 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. Recognised as a leading family and diving resort, special offers include: times when children can stay free; diving packages with 10 free dives included; and a complimentary romantic candlelit dinner by the beach.

Also close to the airport is the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, located on one of the Maldives’ largest lagoons. Offering a 24-hour speedboat service and business centre as well as baby-sitting and an In-house Ayurveda Physician, families as well as couples are catered for.

Another well-known gay friendly resort is the trendy W Retreat And Spa which has its own nightclub while Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa mixes luxury, romance and relaxation while its house reef showcases lots of fish, small sharks and turtles.

Flagship and award-winning resort Gili Lankanfushi features some of the country’s largest suites, some of which are only accessible by boat, as well as top facilities including a tennis court and seaside restaurant. With a personal guest officer available 24/7, and a direct line to the chef and spa, it’s no wonder this resort continually features on Condé Nast Traveller’s Gold Lists. Its luxurious Private Reserve, reputedly the largest over-water villa in the world atop a sapphire lagoon, is popular with gay couples while the Anantara Dhigu kids’ club is ideal for gay families.

Adaaran Prestige Vadoo offers a personal butler as well as guests’ own indulgent plunge pool while snorkelling unveils the vibrant aquatic life of its exotic reef.

On-call travel consultants and public relations are offered 24/7 by Crown Tours to answer any questions, provide information and ensure all visitor requirements and needs are met. CT’s top-notch customer service begins with a personalised meet and greet service by its airport handling team who assist with inbound and outbound journeys. Excellent local knowledge, expertise and years of experience in the hospitality industry plus a wide network of partners enable CT to arrange premium holidays in some of the Maldives top resorts that cover exciting experiences such as adventure or leisure diving, snorkelling, cruising, sailing, renewal of vows, ensuring an unforgettable holiday, which really shouldn’t be otherwise – in this veritably perfect paradise for all.

Fiji

Following the repeal of Fiji’s Penal Code early in 2010, homosexuality has been decriminalised there since February 1.

Seven months later, on September 27, Fiji’s largest university formed a support group for GLBT students. “Drodrolagi” means ‘rainbow’ in the Fijian language and the DrodrolagiMovement (droMo) established at the University of the South Pacific’s Suva campus aims to provide a safe environment while raising awareness of LGBT issues in the wider student population.

In 2013,a new constitution came into effect in Fiji that includes protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. However same-sex marriages and civil unions are not recognised so those intending to holiday in Fiji for romantic reasons should be aware as nuptials there won’t be legal binding.

As well as droMo, the strong LGBT movement in the country includes Haus of Khameleon (www.hausofkhameleon.org), a social justice organisation supporting transgender equality in Fiji and the Pacific, and DIVA for Equality (www.divafiji.com) also known as Diverse Voices and Actions,a growing collective and peer support group of lesbians, bisexual women, trans masculine people and other marginalised women.

Though many who are openly gay are happily employed in hospitality, Fijian society is fairlyconservative so it’s preferable to avoid public displays of affection.

There are a number of accommodations that are gay-friendly and/or gay/bisexual owned.  These include a number on Taveuni Island such as Coconut Grove Beachfront Cottages – a small intimate resort on a private white sand beach, the Maravu Plantation Resort which offers a tropical setting with well-appointed cottages and easy access to jungle and waterfall hikes, Taveuni Palms’ all-inclusive private villas, and Qamea Resort & Spa’s 17 luxuriously appointed bures. There’s also the secluded Royal Davui Resort at Beqa Lagoon which offers a year-round rate including all meals, Tiliva Resort, an upmarket diving resort on Kadavu Island, and Navutu Stars Resort which comprises 10 beachfront bungalows along three bays on the Yasawas’ Yaqueta Island.

There are some nightclubs in Lautoka, Nadi and Suva which are gay-tolerant with Suva’s interestingly-themed Purple Haze, decorated with neon planets and inflatable aliens, known as being very gay-friendly.

It may be worth being familiar withthe term ‘Vakasalewalewa’ which,in Fijian culture, refers to men who may present themselves, or live their lives as, women and can include transgender women (female-to-male).

Guam

ISA Guam’s founding members pose behind the LGBT pride flag at Alupang Beach in Tamuning on June 22. From right.

Image courtesy of www.isaguam.org

 

In the Pacific Ocean, northeast of New Guinea and eastern Australia and also close to Asia lies the island of Guam. Although part of the region of Micronesia, Guam is a US territory so it offers goods available in America. Palm-fringed beaches, rural villages of the native Chamorro and tropical weather result in a popular drawcard for this remote but easily accessible charming paradise, with regular flights from nearby Japan, China, Korea and the Philippines.

Despite being a mainly Catholic country, Guam’s small community appears to be accepting of the gay lifestyle which seems well integrated within the mainstream, with islanders – native and foreign – usually very discreet.
There’s a considerable bi-sexual population as well as a transgender community while a small segment of the young native population, mainly 16 to 25 years, is openly gay. In addition, the large US Air Force and Navy bases also contribute to enhancing the gay scene.

 

With upmarket boutiques and brand name stores, the main tourist town of Tumon also showcases high-end restaurants and hotels, including the Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott which front the long beach. Its Ypao Beach along with Agat beach at Apra Harbor are reputedly popular places to meet [cruising spots].

Legal advances

Same-sex activity was decriminalised in the late ’70s and gender changes are legal in Guam. Since June 2015, Guam has recognised and performed same-sex marriages, when its Supreme Court ruled to legalise same-sex marriage across the nation. This evolved from Guam Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cruz’s introduction of the Same-sex Civil Union Legislation in 2009. Of note, when Cruz was appointed in 1997 it was claimed that he may have been the USA’s highest-ranking gay judge (who came out before being appointed). This reveals the acceptance of the gay lifestyle here, for Cruz was appointed Guam Chief Justice in 1999, retiring from the bench in 2001 before being appointed Vice Speaker of the 32nd Guam Legislature.

Since the ’90s, there has been a visible LGBT social scene. The most recent organisation is ISA Guam; formed in 2016, it supports and advocates for LGBT rights and equality. Known as ISA Guahan it is the LGBTQ network and produces an informative newsletter and electronic material.

In gay communities worldwide, Pride events are often held in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots – commonly considered to be the beginning of the modern LGBT civil rights movement – thus in Guam, LGBTQ Pride Month is usually held in June; ISA Guam’s launch party on May 28 last year was also a pre-Pride celebration welcoming the LGBT Festival of Pacific Arts delegates. Pride in the Pacific was an all-ages LGBTQ Pride event hosted by ISA Guam. Stay tuned to ISA events for June 2017.

 

A few gay nightclubs and bars are around but they tend to come and go, though some had many years of loyal patronage in the recent past (Denial, Midnight Special).

Guam’s only AIDS service organisation is the Guahan Project which provides free and confidential OraSure HIV counselling, testing, referrals and other health and educational services.

Vietnam

Recent legislative leaps have seen Vietnamese society move forward in accepting the LGBTI community and placed the country at the forefront of gay rights in Southeast Asia. In January, 2015, the ban on same-sex marriage was abolished. This effectively decriminalised it so same-sex couples won’t face prosecution for marrying in Vietnam, although further legislation would be needed to give them the rights and protections of straight couples.

Adding to this acceptance is the significance of having an openly gay US Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius. Being a successful person who is gay with a husband, he is reportedly credited with promoting “a very good image” as well as attracting support from Vietnam society.

As much of Vietnam’s population is under 30, the cities are filled with vibrant, attractive young people, who are also friendly and helpful in the genuine Asian way.

Aside from gay-popular bars and clubs there are cruising parks, fitness centres and public pools where people meet, as well as openly gay spas and saunas.In addition, for many years, blind people have found work as masseurs as it’s believed their heightened sense of touch makes them better therapists. Some of these blind massage parlours also reportedly double as gay cruise spaces.However, for the most part, much of gay life remains discreet and underground.

One of the largest celebrations is Viet Pride.Since 2014, Viet Pride celebrations have taken place in 17 cities and provinces across Vietnam, with the most prominent ones being in Hanoi and Saigon.

In 2016, Viet Pride took place in Hanoi in late August. Its promotion highlighted the fact that at least three per cent of the population is part of the LGBT community – equivalent to 2-3 million people.

The 5th Vietnam LGBT Pride, this well-orchestrated event included pre-opening and main events such as workshops speed dating, films, a Queer Talkshow and History Exhibition, music nights, community fair as well as an Opening Ceremony and the Viet Pride Bike Rally – the official Pride parade.

 

The main events were held over three days while the pre-opening ones extended the timeline to around a fortnight. If you

plan to participate or view the celebrations, it is recommended you book well in advance.

Activities, bars & spas

In HCMC, on Sundays at 7:30 pm, an English and French casual conversation club are held for gay men at the Intercontinental Club.

For those into sports, there is an array of outdoor as well as indoor facilities at the Workers’ Club(Nha Van Hoa Lao Dong) such as a gym, pool and saunas –which can be ‘cruisy’– as well as tennis, volleyball, table tennis, basketball and ballroom dancing classes.

For those who want to take their fitness to the next level, California Fitness & Yoga is gay-friendly with six branches around the country and growing: Hanoi, HCMC, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Binh Duong, and Bien Hoa.

Popular HCMC bars either owned and run by local gays orgay-popular include: Whiskey & Wares; THI Bar; and the Republic Lounge – which on Fridays features popular drag shows.

A number of Hanoi spas cater exclusively for males such as Spa Adam, T-House, Polar Spa and Zspa. Pink Beach Spa, near the Hanoi airport, and HCMC’s Nadam are two of the most spacious gay saunas in Vietnam.

Also in Ho Chi Minh, Guyspa House features a large variety of facilities including an outdoor pool. While you’re in HCMC, for a non-alcoholic brew and/or a delicious cake, drop by the No Stress Café. An openly gay coffee shop, the friendly lesbian owner is a strong supporter of the local LGBT community.

Thailand

Photo courtesy of http://www.phuket-pride.org

Although Thailand is renowned for a generally non-judgemental attitude with Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, particularly, offering a gay-friendly ambience, away from the mix withwestern culture – especially in country areas – many people are conservative.

Bangkok’s Silom district is the major financial and business centre and bursts into life at night.Around Silom road onthe vibrant side alleys of Sois 2 and 4, the gay sceneis busy and friendly;attracting crowds in Soi 4 are The Balcony and Telephone pub. Only around 200 metres away is Soi 2 which has the most popular Bangkok gay club, DJ Station with another well patronised one closeby -G.O.D. (Guys On Display). Reputedly offering some of the best go-go bars – numbered at around 40,Soi Cowboyattractsmainly tourists and expatriates.

In Pattaya, two well-known gay beaches – each laying claim to ‘the most popular gay beach in Thailand’ are Jomtien and Dong Tan.A choice of gay-friendly bars populate the area near Jomtien beach and around the Jomtien Complex.Almost year round, Dongtan beach’s gay area is busy during afternoons and weekends.

On the island of Phuket, the majority of gays and transgender people live and party in Patong – which refers to the beach and town.Centred around Soi Bangla (themain entertainment zone for straight people) andthe gay area of Paradise Plaza,the lively nightlifefeatures many night clubs, massage parlours and bars as well as a variety of restaurants withmany activities also offered by day.Connected to the Royal Paradise Hotel & Spa,the Paradise Complex comprises gay-centric guesthouses, restaurants, shops, clubs and bars. The bar girls are often bar boys, and popular ones include Boat Bar, My Way Cabaret, go-go bar ZAG Club and the Tangmo Club which has nightly shows featuring beautiful lady boys.

Popular accommodations which are mainly gay owned and/or gay managed include Connect Guesthouse, Adonis Guest House,Club One Seven Phuket, Aquarius Guesthouse & Sauna thatis “men only” as is Phuket Gay Homestay which opened a new herbal steam room sauna in 2016. Of note, CC’s Hideaway Karon is also pet friendly.

In Chiang Mai, gay bars can be found in the Night Bazaar area – includingRam Bar, Secrets Bar, and Orion Bar.

Parties/Events

Bangkok’s best-known gay sauna and one of the longest-running gay venues, Babylon Sauna hosts a special edition of its popular monthly Foam Party on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, with live DJ and cocktails, starting around 6:30pm. The following day Babylon hosts a Xmas mini concert from 7pm.

Soon after is end-of-year bashWhite Party Bangkok.Featuring three massive parties, world-renowned DJs and star performers, it runs from Friday, 30 December, 2016, to Sunday, 1 January, 2017 at GMM Live House 8/F CentralWorld.

Looking ahead, Gay events for 2017 set tocontinue to attract much interest include The Bangkok Pride Festival and Phuket Pride.

Phuket Pride features a choice of activities from April 27-30, including pool parties, sports events, day trips and beach parties for LGBT residents, tourists and friends to celebrate the 2017 inclusive theme of “Come Together”.

From May 15-20, The Bangkok Pride Festival offers a variety of film festivals, workshops, LGBT social events and parties culminating in the popular Pride March on Saturday May 20 on Silom Road.

Patong hospital has the only MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) clinic on Phuket – at the end of the parking lot is Sabadee clinic.Gay and bisexual foreigners can visit theClinic for an HIV test or obtain PEP treatment.

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