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Gay Luang Prabang: discover the gay scene with local boy Somphorn (RIP)

Stefan Arestis
Gay Luang Prabang: discover the gay scene with local boy Somphorn (RIP)

UPDATE: it is with great sadness we report that in June 2019, our dear friend Somphorn passed away after battling liver cancer.

Somphorn was a stalwart in the LGBTQ community of Laos and his memory will forever live on. We have many fond memories with Somphorn during our travels in Laos and we will always keep his memory alive.

We are very sad to have lost a dear friend, but the heavens have gained an angel!

Somphorn was the owner of the popular gay friendly Lao Lao Gardens in Luang Prabang, which is where we met him. He gave us his insight as to what it’s like growing up in gay Laos.

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Hi Somphorn! Please introduce yourself:

My name is Somphorn Boupha, 32 years old. I was born and raised in the city of Luang Prabang in Laos.

I own and manage Lao Lao Garden in Luang Prabang, which is a gay friendly bar and restaurant. I also help my friends out with tours in and around Luang Prabang – I love meeting people from all around the world and showing off my city.

Gay tour of Cambodia and Laos

Every November, our friends at Out Adventures organise a fabulous gay tour through Laos and Cambodia. Channel your inner Lara Croft as you sashay your way through the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, explore the vibrant nightlife of Phnom Penh with a group of fabulous like-minded men, immerse yourself in the serenity of Luang Prabang and try a few exotic culinary discoveries…barbecued spider anyone?

Find out more

Are you out to your friends and family?

Yes, all my family and friends know I’m gay. I came out to my family when I was around 20 years old. My mother said she always suspected I was different and was very accepting, as were all my siblings.

I lost my father from a young age so I never really knew him. I was very fortunate to be accepted by everyone around me. I do have friends who had a more negative experience when coming out to their families. One friend in particular was told to leave the house and never come back, but he has now managed to resolve his issues with his family after almost a decade!

Somphorn in white
Somphorn posing in white

What’s it like growing up gay in Laos?

I was really lucky to have a very accepting family and group of friends, which made it very easy for me. However, there were no gay places so it was hard to meet other guys. Now the social media apps have made this a lot easier.

It can be problematic though for some to gain employment in government or other high status sectors if they are openly gay as there are no anti discrimination laws. Discretion is therefore important. Everyone around me knows I’m gay, but as long as I don’t shout out loud about it, then everything is fine.

Are there any gay places in Luang Prabang you recommend?

There are quite a few gay owned bars in Luang Prabang but Lao Lao Garden is the most well known because of various reference to it in online gay resources like Utopia. We have gay staff and attract a mixed crowd of both local and western gays each evening.

In Laos it is illegal to market my bar as gay or put a rainbow flag outside. If I did, then this would attract negative attention from the police and Lao Lao Garden would be closed down.

Somphorn being discreet :)
Somphorn posing

Are there any gay friendly hotels you recommend to gay travelers?

Friends have stayed in the following places, all welcoming to gay couples: 

BELMOND LA RESIDENCE PHOU VAO   Book online

  • Very romantic residence with friendly staff, a beautiful spa and spectacular infinity pool.
  • Prices start from $600 / £410 a night.

LE SEN BOUTIQUE HOTEL   Book online

  • Very central, walking distance from most attractions.
  • Has a gym and a swimming pool.
  • Prices start from $195 / £133 for a room.

SINGHARAT GUEST HOUSE   Book online

  • Great budget option in central Luang Prabang.
  • Prices start from $23 / £15 for a double bed.
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Where can gay travelers meet local gay Laotians?

Grindr and Hornet are a good starting point. In Luang Prabang, we obviously attract a large LGBTQ crowd here at Lao Lao Garden.

In Vientiane there is a bar called CCC Café, which is also unofficially a ‘gay bar’, but like my bar, not allowed to market it as such.

Somphorn posing
Somphorn posing at home in Luang Prabang

How do you deal with the midnight curfew?

The curfew in Laos technically requires everyone to be home by midnight. But this is not actually enforced. The police are not going to stop you if you are outdoors after midnight! But for businesses, we are required to close by midnight. In Luang Prabang this is more strictly enforced in order to protect and preserve its UNESCO status.

Some business outside the centre of Luang Prabang pay bribes to the police to allow them to stay open beyond the midnight curfew.

The midnight curfew in Laos
The midnight curfew in Laos is more strictly enforced in Luang Prabang

So where’s good to hangout in Luang Prabang after curfew?

There is a popular bowling alley a short tuk tuk ride away from the centre, which has managed to benefit from a loophole in the law and stays open till around 2am.

I also know a few other local bars, which do the same, but it changes all the time.

STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL

Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.

Are there any gay events in Laos?

Actually we had our first Pride on 25th June 2012 and again on 17 May 2013 called Proud To Be Us. It is hosted by the US Embassy and held on their sports field in Vientiane.

There haven't been any more announced yet, but you can join the Gay In Laos closed Facebook group for more information.

Which are some highlights you recommend gay travelers to Laos to check out?

Luang Prabang is my favorite place in Laos. It is a beautiful UNESCO listed city that despite being very touristy, has retained a magical charm. It was the Royal Capital of Laos until 1975 and has retained its ‘old world' charm. It's full of bustling markets and really pretty Buddhist temples like the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating to the 1500s. Near to Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Waterfall which I think is the best thing in the country. They are so gorgeous, involving a trek through the jungle. I guarantee you'll get some of your best Instagram shots right here!

Vang Vieng is also a fun place to head with friends for party, drinking and tubing adventures. Other highlights in Laos I recommend include cruising along the Mekong River and visiting the impressive Plain of Jars archaeological site.

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Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor, and author of the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about traveling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends, and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gaycation Magazine, Gaycities, Gay Times, Pink News, and Attitude Magazine. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay-specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practiced as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

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