Scenic, cultural, fun-loving and gay-friendly
It's International Day Against Homophobia today, and while some parts of Asia are a little bit backward when it comes to tolerating, let along embracing, alternative lifestyles, there are a few cities that are leading the pack with gusto. Here's a quick rundown on the continent's top spots that are happy to be gay.
To say that Nepal is a major gay travel spot right now may be stretching the point, considering its not-so-illustrious past. Homosexuality was a crime in Nepal up till 2007, with gays being harassed routinely by law enforcement, and Maoists condemning them as a "product of capitalism."
But change is in the air. Nepal is now being touted as the next big gay travel destination in Asia, with the tourism board toying with the idea of promoting same-sex weddings on Everest and elephant safaris for gays (we’ll spare you the 'Brokeback' jokes for now). The country will host the first Asian Symposium on Gay and Lesbian Tourism in June, and is making great strides in the recognition of gay rights thanks to a flamboyant gay activist and a member of parliament called Sunil Pant.
And homosexual jetsetters are starting to sit up and pay attention. "Our Active Nepal trip was brochured in 2009. However, we had very few inquiries and no bookings on the tour. When the country began its focus on [gay and lesbian] PR in late 2009 we saw an instant spike in interest and our October 2010 departure was sold out by the beginning of March," said Robert Sharp, co-founder of gay tour operator OUT Adventures.
Bangkok is Asia’s undisputed queer capital, with too many gay bars to count, an anything-goes local attitude, and some seriously fine transvestites and transsexuals across the country.
Sharing the title with Bangkok as the Thai epicenter of all things queer is the ultra-liberal Pattaya, with beautiful beaches packed with beautiful bodies, a sultry night scene, and a yearly gay pride parade. Pattaya makes headlines around the globe every year for hosting the glam Miss International Queen, a beauty pageant for transsexuals and transvestites staged by world-famous transvestite cabaret extravaganza Tiffany's Show.
Shanghai, ChinaShanghai is your best bet for going gay in China. While the city is chiefly known for being China’s boom city for its financial activity, its gay scene is undergoing a similar growth spurt. Shanghai hosted its first gay pride week and published its first gay magazine last year, and same-sex nightclubs are getting hotter by the minute.
That is not to say that everyone’s happy with the free loving. Several events of last year’s gay pride week were shut down by Chinese authorities, and the central government still routinely pulls the plug on homosexual websites. Not that it perturbs the city’s pleasure-seeking revelers much. Come nightfall, certain parts of the city are as accepting as other cosmopolitan cities around the world.
It will be hard for queens not to have a good time in the Philippines, what with it being full of gorgeous gay-friendly beaches and welcoming gay bars.
When in the capital of Manila, gay revelers flock to the intersection of Maria Orosa Street and Julio Street in Malate, which is lined with happening gay nightspots. Baguio, Boracay, Cagayan de Oro and Cebu are all gay-friendly cities (check out Utopia Asia's listings for more details) and the region of Puerto Galera is known for being a prime hottie-spotting area, summed up effectively by Filipino blogger Manila Gay Guy: "So many choices, too little time."
While the country has gained the reputation of being tolerant of gays, however, some lesbian couples still consider themselves stigmatized in the Philippines.