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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)

We interviewed our dear friend Somphorn (RIP) from Luang Prabang about growing up gay in Laos and the gay scene in Luang Prabang.

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!

Gay couple travel book Nomadic Boys Out in the World

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.

Heads up: We just wanted to let you know that this post contains affiliate links. That means if you book something through one of those links, we'll get a small commission, at no extra cost to you. It helps us keep our blog going – so thank you in advance for your support! ♥

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

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 Lao Cafe (CCC Bar), 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 parties, 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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Happy travels are safe travels

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Stefan Arestis

Hey everyone, I'm Stefan, the curly-haired Greek flavor behind the gay travel blog Nomadic Boys. Together with my other half, I have explored more than 90 countries across 5 continents. What I love most about traveling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends, learning new cultures. I've written about LGBTQ travel in numerous online publications such as Gaycation Magazine, Gaycities, Gay Times and Pink News as well as for other non-gay-specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Check my full bio here.

Viv

Sunday 23rd of February 2020

Loved LP FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE PLACE ITSELF

Stefan Arestis

Monday 24th of February 2020

Agreed! :)

Mike

Friday 27th of December 2019

Hi: Any suggestions for inexpensive accommodation in Vientiane & Luang Prabang? Regards Mike

Stefan Arestis

Sunday 29th of December 2019

Definitely the ones we recommend in our guides for it.

stephen bull

Saturday 21st of December 2019

Sorry to hear about Somphorn. Liver cancer is an undiscussed issue in many bits of Asia mainly due to chronic hepatitis.

Stefan Arestis

Saturday 21st of December 2019

That's just awful to hear :( Thanks for raising it.

stephen bull

Saturday 21st of December 2019

Hi we a fifty something gay couple and spending a week in Luang Prupang early January. We are interested in meeting some of the local gays and would be happy to pay for a tour guide. We are not particularly interested in the sleazy stuff. Can you recommend or put us in touch with any locals who may be interested. I speak English and school boy French. My partner has English, Mandarin and some basic Thai. Thanks

Stefan Arestis

Saturday 21st of December 2019

Hope you find someone. The Laotians are wonderful people :)

Johnny Friskilä

Sunday 17th of March 2019

Hope you are doing good guys! Just wanted you to let you know that I booked Singharat Guest House after seeing it on your blog, but yeah, I wouldn´t call it a great option (even on that budget), and if it was up to me, I would remove it as a recommendation. Just to let you know...

Nomadic boys

Sunday 17th of March 2019

Thanks Johnny! For us it wasn't so bad. May we ask what you didn't like about it please? We welcome all feedback like yours so we can keep our content fully updated :)