What’s it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

What’s it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

“Why should I spend my tourist dollars in a country that wants to throw me in jail?!”

This was our dilemma before setting off for our big travel adventures in Asia – as a gay couple.

If it isn’t illegal (like in Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Maldives, Malaysia, India, Myanmar…), then it’s certainly not truly welcomed (think Indonesia, China or Mongolia).

What's it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

Will you welcome this gay couple into your country?

A few (like Nepal and Vietnam) have taken proactive steps to start to protect their LGBT community instead of criminalising them.

And some have gone further to not only protect their LGBT community, but to embrace, support them and in addition, actively promote gay tourism: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Boracay Philippines

The Mandala Spa on Boracay island in the Philippines used our image to promote their Rainbow Romance package

So as a gay traveller, does that mean you shouldn’t visit countries like India or Myanmar? Are you really under any practical danger visiting a country like Malaysia or the Maldives? Should you take that hard line approach and avoid visiting some of the most beautiful areas of our planet just because of some really archaic, backwards laws?

After over 18 months travelling as a gay couple in Asia, here’s a few lessons we learnt and hope we can relay to all gay travellers in this post:

  1. Ignore the anti-gay laws: as a foreigner you are completely safe!
  2. This is because it’s one rule for locals, another for tourists.
  3. Despite anti-gay laws, it IS ethical to spend money in these countries.
  4. Going out there as a tourist is more effective to their LGBT community then a blanket ban on visiting.
Gay couple travelling in Asia Great Wall of China Mutianyu Beijing

The Nomadic Boys at the Great Wall of China

#1 Ignore the anti-gay laws: as a foreigner you are completely safe!

One common opinion we found in every single country we visited: most people just couldn’t care less about you. Not in a bad way of course. Their priorities are their jobs, family, paying their bills, educating their children, putting food on the table.

No one heterosexual was ever interested in what the Nomadic Boys got up to in the bedroom (or bathtub…!):

Gay couple travelling in Asia bath fun in Hue Vietnam

What could the Nomadic Boys possibly be doing behind closed doors? (Bath fun in Hue, Central Vietnam)

At no stage during our travels in Asia did we ever feel threatened or in danger for being gay.

At worst, the gay club we went to in Delhi was busted by the police at 1am. The policemen were using the anti gay laws to get a bribe from the club promoters. Everyone else was left alone and told to leave via the back door.

Travelling as a gay couple in Asia India tuk tuk Delhi

Look out for those corrupt police in India…any excuse for a bribe!

We are not obviously gay when you first meet us, we don’t mince about waving a rainbow flag, nor do we show any public displays of affection like holding hands or kissing (we don’t do this anyway back home in London/Lyon).

At the very worst, we got the whole“double bed – are you sure?!” or “are you twins/brothers?” type of questions a lot.

Travelling in Asia as a gay couple Jaipur India Rajesthan

Do we really look like brothers? Posing at Jaipur’s City Palace in Northern India

#2 One rule for locals, another for tourists

In every country we visited in Asia, gay tourists are always treated differently compared to LGBT locals.

Our friend Kaluu from Colombo pointed out that whilst homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka, the police almost always turn a blind eye to tourists: no one wants to get involved with foreign embassies if it ever came to that.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Sri Lanka anti gay laws practical implications

Will the Sri Lankan police turn a blind eye if they caught this stolen kiss on Mirissa beach?

In Malaysia, we met many gay locals, really excited to show us round. However, they asked us to not use their name on our blog for fear of negative implications on their work and by their society.

Yet the hotels we worked with throughout Malaysia were delighted to embrace and welcome us as a gay couple and promote pink tourism, like The Four Seasons on Langkawi island who arranged this lovers ritual ceremony for us:

Gay couple travelling in Asia Langkawi island Malaysia

Part of the lover’s ritual following our massage at the Four Seasons Langkawi spa in Malaysia

Tourism is big business, so foreigners will always be given special treatment despite the homophobic laws.

The only exception is Brunei: a tiny country on Borneo island, which is financially independent, funded by oil, so no interest in tourism. And also the autonomous Aceh province in North Indonesia.

In both Brunei and Aceh, extreme Sharia Law applies, so both gay locals and LGBT tourists risk some form of public whipping and/or death by stoning.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Rinca Island Komodo National Park Indonesia

“BAD GAY BOY STEFAN! THAT’S 100 LASHES!” Sebastien demonstrating some of the subtleties of Sharia Law

#3 Despite anti-gay laws, it IS ethical to spend money in these countries

Is it ethical to spend money in countries which criminalise their LGBT communities?

We say a big fat yes of course!

We have been criticised for promoting LGBT travel to countries like the Maldives, Malaysia, Sri Lanka etc, but we always question the true value of a blanket ban on gay tourists visiting such countries.

Gay couple travelling Asia Pingyao China

We say bring on the gay tourism to all of Asia!

The money you spend on holiday mainly goes to the local businesses you are eating at, staying at or touring with.

In other words, the people benefiting are every day people like you and me (maybe straight, maybe gay), who simply want to make a living for themselves, and not the politicians who are creating and promoting anti gay laws.

In most cases, these local businesses probably don’t even agree or care for these laws.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Gay life in Kuala Lumpur continues to strive at Marketplace‘s gay night every Saturday despite Malaysia’s anti-gay laws

Most importantly of all, if you visit a gay owned or gay friendly establishment during your travels, your money helps them flourish in a society, which is likely to be fighting to close them down or make their lives difficult.

Your presence there is invaluable in supporting the local LGBT community and businesses, as well as helping them flourish.

And finally, we strongly believe that meeting and engaging with gay locals is far more productive then refusing to visit their country in the first place.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Bali Joe gay bar Seminyak Bali Indonesia

Embracing our new friends at Bali Joe gay bar in Bali, Indonesia

#4 So go on and book your flight to Delhi, Male, Colombo etc

We strongly believe boycotting a country like India, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives, Sri Lanka etc is counter productive.

Actually going out there and supporting LGBT owned businesses and making friends and interacting with the local LGBT community is far more effective then boycotting their country.

Imagine you were in their shoes, would you prefer your gay sisters abroad to ignore you, or come over and embrace and support you?

We sure know what we’d choose.

And you’ll make heaps of friends along the way!

Gay couple travelling in Asia LGBT community Kuching Sarawak Malaysia

Hanging out with our friends in Kuching, Sarawak on the Malaysian side of Borneo island

For more, read our Huffington Post article about 5 reasons gay couples should travel to Asia.

And, listen to our interview below with Touriocity about our gay travels in Asia:

 

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What's it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia?

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80 Comments

  1. Fred in Motul

    I agree with you guys. Boycotts starve families like the All Inclusive Resorts do in major Tourist Areas. If at all possible, avoid staying in places that give you no chance to enrich the local economy with your $. Living in a country that is not Gay Friendly can be tough, and I have done it, but I would not recommend it. Most people do not care what you do with each other. You can get in a lot of trouble fast if you should involve a local of any age. My best advice is: No “hook ups” with any locals while not in your home country where you understand the language and laws. Stay Safe!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for your comment Fred and very sound advice. There’s a story in there right?!! 🙂

      Reply
      • Fred in Motul

        Oh Hell yeah! My Husband and I are now retired in Mexico and love it here. Very accepting and totally safe. We do not rock any boats and have never been comfortable with any “PDA” even in the states. That kind of thing could have got you killed while we were growing up. Still could today in the wrong places. In our travels in and around Mexico and Central America, we have never run into any open Homophobia and feel we have been lucky. We have been together 30 years, and now finally married over a year now. While my son was little, he traveled right along with us, but now, as he has a life and a job in the US, we get occasional visits when we can go out on adventure together. Thanks for taking us along on your exciting journeys. We both really like seeing what you are up to next! We hope the Galapagos Islands will be our next big adventure once we are finished building our “Home Base” here. Looking forward to more!!
        Fred

        Reply
        • Stefan Arestis

          Fred we too. We planning a Galapagos luxury cruise in October- wanna join us?

          Reply
          • Fred in Motul

            Oh would we ever! The question is can we. Keep us in mind and update us as your plans progress. If I had to make a decision right this very moment, it would have to be no, but who knows what this summer will bring? There is a chance. Of course, if you are ever in Mexico, please let us know. We are near Merida and are a short drive from many ruins and neat cities here. Would love to show you around.

            Belize is the country we lived in, that turned homophobic while we were there due to the influence of a group of US based Evangelicals that came down and stirred up a lot of hate. Never directly affected us, but we saw the hand writing on the wall. There were other problems too. While the beaches and islands are great, the inland is poor and many times desperate. Crime is now common and there is much violence. If you were not a local and Gay to boot, you could be targeted, and we decided not to be a target. Very happy here, safe in Mexico.

            Keep us updated!! Thank you so much.

          • Stefan Arestis

            Thanks Fred, I will email you. I’ve been to Guatemala and Mexico, but that’s about it in Central America. Didn’t realise it got so bad in Belize!

          • Fred in Motul

            It is sad about Belize. It will get better in time, I hope. We traveled to Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and loved them all, then settled on Belize. Got there and lived there almost a year and learned.

            Send me an email address and I will send you some pictures of what we have here. 25 minutes to the beaches (Gulf Coast. 3 hours to Cancun.) Motul is a quiet little Colonial town. The big city of Merida is near by and parts of it look like US cities.

            Hope your day is wonderful!

            Fred

          • Stefan Arestis

            Amazing! Thanks Fred 🙂

  2. Shandos

    This is such a great attitude, I agree 100%! My view is that if you avoid such places, in a way you are letting these laws to continue unchallenged. But if LGBT travellers head to these places, it’s part of normalising people’s attitudes on the LGBT community (it’s a lot easier for people to be hateful towards something they don’t know first-hand) and hopefully helping people to question why such laws exist.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for your comment Shandos and right on!!

      Reply
  3. Rachel Pregunta

    Hello boys! 😉 First up, I so hate we didn’t meet you in the Philippines. We’re just about to go on our Asian trip next month, which will be short, but really happy to have read this post. As someone who grew up in a Christian country, I will say its great for you guys to still promote visiting countries here in Asia. The part I most loved, is you guys mentioning the support of local stores. What you said is completely true. You will see most people friendly, however, there are general beliefs and “old” culture still tied to a lot of people, so I say don’t hate, and show how you guys are just live everyone. Because everyone is unique and beautiful! Following your journey. 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awwww thanks for your comment Rachel – and such a good point!

      Reply
  4. Stephen

    I agree too. And think it’s great that your blog is getting more popular and discussing, not only the destinations, but also these topics. “Travel broadens the mind” – for not only the traveller, but also hopefully for those that they come into contact with! Keep up the good work and happy, gay travels!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thank you ?

      Reply
  5. Paula McInerney

    It seriously sucks that you have to even think about these issues. People are people and that is it. I know it is not as simplistic as it should be. My besties are gay and travel, and in some places they can hold hands and in others they choose not to display their love, for safety reasons. Again, that sucks, being on your guard at all times. I guess, however that in some countries, Gordon and I also have to be more aware of PDA’s. You guys are so friendly, and everyone loves you, even in a virtual world. When I finally meet you both, no matter where – there will be a huge PDA.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awwwww Paula thanks so much 🙂

      Reply
  6. Julek

    I agree with you boys ansolutly in 100%. Funny think is that over thouse countrys male are “play” with Man more offen as in Europe but officialy No one confirm that ?
    Yes you looks like brothers ?

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Lol thanks Julek

      Reply
  7. Amy

    This is such a great post; it really makes sense what you say about not boycotting countries. Your Four Seasons stay looks incredible by the way – I’m jealous!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awwww thanks a lot Amy 🙂

      Reply
  8. Hannah

    Good job my loves <3 You guys are a huge inspiration to not just the LGBT community but also the travel community. I hate that is has to be an issue to start with but I applaud your approach and positivity while travelling in less welcoming places.
    PS: Should you ever end up in jail I'll come get ya 😉 no stoning or flogging on my watch!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Hannah thanks so much: my stoning angel 🙂

      Reply
  9. Meg Jerrard

    Thanks for shedding some light on your experiences – interesting to find out that they turn a blind eye generally to tourists. makes sense though not wantign to start up a political uproar with foreign countries about something so politically sensitive. You would think that would draw more bad international attention to them than good.

    And very cool to hear that Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines have started to actively promote gay tourism. Hopefully other countries throughout Asia will begin to follow suit.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Meg.

      Reply
  10. Mary

    Thanks for this post! I agree especially with point 3: the money spent will be helping local businesses who may not care about, or support, such laws at all. Instead of boycotting entirely, many of these people have made their livelihood through tourism. Supporting pro-LGBT and LGBT-owned businesses will go a much longer way!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Mary

      Reply
  11. Jackie

    I agree with some earlier commenters that it’s beyond ridiculous that you have to even think about this.! That being said, I’m glad your voices and experiences are out for everyone to learn from. There is such authenticity to your posts and this one is no different. It’s so important to get out there to travel and experience the world and along the way break apart homophobic mindsets.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Jackie!

      Reply
  12. Carmen

    Thanks so much for sharing your travels and experiences. I wouldn’t have thought at first that they would turn a blind eye to tourists in these countries, but thinking about it again, it makes a lot of sense. Especially if tourism is one of the biggest parts of that country’s economy!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Carmen

      Reply
  13. Lesley

    I’m most happy to hear that you feel safe when traveling. I hope you continue to explore the world. I love your posts and your easy-going personalities.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Lesley

      Reply
  14. Danik

    Great post guys and love the outfits in some of the photos. I found this to be an interesting read. 🙂 Have a great day guys 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Danik

      Reply
  15. Ed Rex

    Yeah, I completely agree that you can spend your money in countries that have anti-gay laws. However, I make a point in spending that money in supporting the LGBTQ establishments as they do need support in promoting themselves in the face of their governments.

    It is important to remember that you do have to respect their views too as mutual respect will form a smooth process of agreement and hopefully one day bring about new laws.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Agreed!

      Reply
  16. anna

    What a great attitude to have. Glad you guys still visited those countries which had gay taboos. Hopefully one day they would be more accepting due to the influx of foreign travelers. Btw, I love Mandala Spa. My good friend owns it so i’m glad to see you guys pay them a visit!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Anna. Yeah Mandala Spa is AMAZING!

      Reply
  17. Vedante | The Lavish Nomad

    I am from India and “Look out for those corrupt police in India…any excuse for a bribe!” made me chuckle haha! You guys have a great attitude and looking forward to more of your adventures 😀

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awww thanks Vedante 🙂

      Reply
  18. Tatiana

    May I just say… You two are such a lovely couple! 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awww thanks Tatiana 🙂

      Reply
  19. Jenna

    That’s too bad that there are still countries with laws like this, especially for locals, but glad to hear you can still travel safely as a tourist! I agree with you about not boycotting these spots–its great if you can raise awareness and support local businesses, especially those that are LGBT and might be struggling in one way or another. Looks like you have had a wonderful time exploring!!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Jenna 🙂

      Reply
  20. Alouise

    Thanks for this post. I think it’s something everyone should read (no matter their sexuality) because you bring up some really good points before. I especially liked the last couple of points, because you’re right boycotts traveling to a country doesn’t affect the politicians, but just hurts local businesses. Finding a supporting local LGBT business while traveling (in any country) is something everyone should do.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Alouise!

      Reply
  21. Jennifer Melroy

    I have always wondered how being a gay couple traveling in some of those anti-gay countries is. I have done a lot of travel in Africa in places that are very anti-gay. I understand boycotting due to the laws but at the same time, I agree with you point it’s the local business that you are hurting not the government that passes the laws.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Jennifer. Africa would love to travel together one day….

      Reply
  22. Eileen

    Fantastic job guys! My buddy JUST got his passport and visited me from the states to London a couple months ago. He’s nervous about traveling as he identifies as LGBT – I tell him how silly that is and he should explore as much as anyone else! I’ll be sharing this post with him and everyone 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Eileen 🙂

      Reply
  23. Vicky and Buddy

    I think it’s important to still visit countries that aren’t as gay friendly, not just to support the local LGBT community, but to also let the rest of the locals see that anyone should be welcome in the country no matter what their sexuality.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks guys

      Reply
  24. Christopher

    You guys look like you are having way too much fun!!! 😉 There will always be people who have issues with sexual orientation, religion, cultures, race, technology, lifestyles etc etc. This is part of why we travel; To cross borders and break barriers. We do it for ourselves first, to stay open minded but we also share our stores to open the minds of others. Writing great post like this is your part in opening people’s minds. For those who want to keep there minds closed…piss off . Don’t let them ruin your fun. 😉

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awww thank a lot for your lovely comment Chris 🙂

      Reply
  25. Joe Ankenbauer

    I loved the post! While I don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated like that, but I think it’s amazing you guys are shedding light on the whole situation. It’s pretty awesome that some countries are even promoting gay travel. One day, we’ll all have our heads out of our asses and we won’t have to worry about this. Until then, keep it coming guys!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Joe 🙂

      Reply
  26. Sagar Kole

    Awesome insight. 🙂
    and yeah loved the Pic of ( Embracing our new friends at Bali Joe gay bar in Bali, Indonesia )
    THAT BIG EYES 😉
    keep posting …
    Cheers.!!!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      He he he

      Reply
  27. keith

    Extremely good-looking couple! Love the blog and found it on the web from Jakarta, looking for things to do.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Keith

      Reply
  28. Melanie

    Great post! I was always wondering about the gay or lesbian scene in Asia, especially in countries like Sri Lanka and India. Glad you guys show that it is possible and that locals didn’t care much.
    ‘t c

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Melanie 🙂

      Reply
  29. Tom

    wow guys i was wondering about that , and that experiences is really greatful !

    hope i meet you one day somewhere in Asia.

    Thank u!

    Tom

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Our pleasure Tom – and hope to meet you too 🙂

      Reply
  30. Joella

    I agree with you. I (for the most part, I’m sure I could think of exceptions) don’t see the sense in boycotting countries for human rights issues- like you say, the money you spend goes towards local people trying to look after their families and the more people that travel to a country, the more open it becomes. There’s a new tv series with Ellen Page and she is travelling around finding out what it’s like to be gay in different countries. It’s a really interesting twist on a travel show.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Joella 🙂

      Reply
  31. NOM NOM Boris

    So true! Especially the part about going to local gay own establishments and supporting them. I very much agreed with you. I was in Philippines and while I was in a big group which did help, everyone we met was pretty cool about me being gay. Several of my Filipino friend’s aunts wanted me to set up on dates with their gay friends haha. I was slightly worried about my upcoming work trip to India, but I do feel a bit better about it now 🙂

    xoxo

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Amazing – LOVE the Filipinos for this 🙂

      Reply
      • NOM NOM Boris

        hahaha i love Filipinos!!! Food and people are so good. I can totally see myself going back and won’t say no to a hot Pinoy hubby hahaha. I’m so glad I discovered your blog, its been very enjoyable reading it.

        Reply
        • Stefan Arestis

          Thanks!

          Reply
  32. Anas

    I totally agree with you , me and my bf r in same situation we’ve been to some anti gay countries we almost even got arrested once ( I wrote a book about it haha) and since then he got scared now he inky wanna travel to safe countries but I’m going to show him your blog he might change his mind, the funny thing is that we are too nomads ( working on it ) and going to travel the world we already seen few countries and this summer ( by August ) we will travel to spain+ norway+ Brazil + canary island+ some Asia countries maybe or more Europe , I will be so happy if we get to meet some day , maybe this Sumer if you guys traveling to any country
    I love your blog btw

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Anas! We may see you later this year in Gran Canaria or Brazil 🙂

      Reply
      • Anas

        I can’t wait :p

        Reply
        • Stefan Arestis

          🙂

          Reply
  33. Alan

    Came across your blog and I just love it. what you say is very true..Being a Malaysian myself, the gay life here is interesting… Since this is a Muslim country, the people are very accommodating. In fact the local don’t really care if you are straight or gay ….. to them what you do in the bedroom is nothing concern with them ….. Do let me know if you are visiting Malaysia again…..would love to meet you ….

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Alan! Sure will 🙂

      Reply
  34. George

    My partner and I will be visiting Malaysia (first time) and Thailand (second) in December 2016. This is how I came across your blog. Like the two of you we have traveled the world, as of now, 26 countries in all. Some as many as 6 times. We have been to numerous Middle East countries (Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia,) and have never had any problems. India, which has laws against gay activity is one of our favorite destinations (five visits)… wonderful people and beautiful country. Our philosophy, we are not “gay” travelers, we are travelers. Conduct yourselves with dignity and there will be no issues in any country.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Nice one George- thanks for the comment 🙂

      Reply
  35. Ramakant

    Thanks for writing such a lovely and informative post. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      🙂

      Reply

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