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This is our complete gay travel guide to China, including places to stay, safety tips for gay travelers and unmissable sights.
Picking out the best vacation destination is a challenge, which is why we’re here to give you a simple word of advice: don’t be sleeping on the Sleeping Giant!
It seems a common misconception that China only represents oppression and a loss of freedom. We definitely understand concerns from the LGBTQ community regarding discrimination, but allow us to assure you that most Chinese citizens are respectful, kind, and almost too eager to receive visitors from all walks of life.
As one of the world’s first civilizations, there has been more than enough time for specific Chinese cultures to steep like an exquisite cup of tea. Seemingly every region of China offers its own distinctive cuisine, architectural wonders, and natural sights. The country provides boundless opportunities for exciting travel from the countless pagodas and temples to the towering mountains and shining bodies of water. And that’s not even mentioning the gay bars, clubs, and saunas that can be found in some of China’s more progressive cities.
As daunting a task vacation planning can be, just follow our comprehensive guide to gay travel in China, and you will surely leave the country with a smile on your face.
Stay connected in China
We strongly advise you get a VPN for your China trip. Almost all social media and other major websites are blocked including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Gmail, Whatsapp, Netflix, Spotify, Wikipedia, Dropbox, and many many more! The only way to access them during your trip to China is via a VPN.
Gay rights in China
Homosexuality has been well-documented in China since ancient times, yet being gay only became legal throughout the entire country in 1997. What caused such a drastic delay?
A large part of the problem certainly stems from early Western influences. Still, nowadays, it’s safe to say that the conservative Chinese government is placing the most significant hold on the advancement of LGBTQ rights in China. The public seems to take an impartial stance in regards to the LGBTQ community. They currently do not aim to approve, disapprove, or promote the representation of queer people. And even though their opinion is swerving more and more towards tolerance and open acceptance, authorities dominate the conversation on the LGBTQ community.
While being gay was declassified as a mental illness in 2001, being transgender is still considered a disorder. However, trans people are at least protected from discrimination in the workplace. There is no anti-discrimination law in China that focuses on the LGBTQ community. Gay people also do not have the right to marry, form a civil union, or adopt children. It has been speculated that China was trying to approve a new anti-discrimination law back in 2019, but seemingly no progress has been made on that front. While China is yet to earn a spot on our top ten list of gay friendly countries in Asia, as always, we remain hopeful for a future change!
See the sights of Asia on a gay tour
From the chaotic streets of New Deli, India to the quiet zen of Hakone, Japan, Out Adventures' has a vast roster of gay Asian tours showcasing the continent's incredible diversity. Hikers will love their industrious Everest Base Camp climb in Nepal while foodies will naturally be drawn to their signature Thailand tour. Looking to get off the beaten path, you say? Well in our opinion, there's no better escape than Out Adventures' far-flung Mongolian adventure.
Is China safe for gay travelers?
From our experience as foreigners, we found China to be an astonishingly safe vacation spot. The Chinese warmly welcome tourists and love displaying the charm of their country and culture. In fact, we felt like we were treated as novelties, particularly outside of the large cities.
China is a closed country with an Internet that is tightly controlled and monitored by the government. Approximately 1.5 billion people live in China, and most of them will rarely go outside the country. Therefore, seeing people from another place is an exciting experience. For example, we were frequently asked to pose for photos only due to our status as travelers from abroad.
The worst we ever encountered during our adventure was someone asking us if we were brothers. Whether we stayed at a family guesthouse or an established hotel, booking a double bed was never an issue.
However, as nice as we had it during our trip, we understand that the situation is different for the local Chinese LGBTQ community. Although China is evolving as a whole, the country is still considered very conservative, and there exist few laws regarding the protection or recognition of queer folks. Thankfully, most of the bigger cities have developed a confident community where gay people can find acceptance and support.
Get online in China
WiFi can be accessed in some places like hotels and restaurants in big cities in China but in more rural places it can be more difficult to get online. If you want reliable internet access we recommend bringing a portable WiFi device with you. This also enables you to connect more than one device at a time, perfect for couples!
Top gay scenes in China
As the most heavily populated country globally, it makes sense that China would be fairly loaded with areas where gay people can meet others like them. That being said, the gay scenes in China do drastically differ from those around the world. The community tends to stay on the quiet and obscure side, but they are out there, eager to meet and party with tourists and locals alike!
While members of the queer community in Shanghai may act more reserved, it’s important to note that they represent the largest gay scene in all of China. Plus, they certainly come to life when considering LGBTQ events! In June, Shanghai Pride lights up the streets while Shanghai LGBTQ Tourism Week in October invites queer folks to cast a spotlight on the community. Then there’s the French Concession neighborhood, which welcomes locals and tourists alike to traverse popular gay bars, including Lucca Cafe and Lounge and Eddy’s.
Gay Hong Kong should be considered a forever evolving beast considering the absolute magnitude of the cityscape. This heavily populated area decriminalized homosexuality in 1991. Since then, the LGBTQ community has forged its own unique neighborhoods. The most notable gay hangouts exist in the Central District entertainment zone on Hong Kong Island, but there is also the Causeway Bay District and the Tsim Sha Tsui District. Queer nightlife in HK is exceptionally diverse, and the same could easily be said of their events, including Pink Dot and Pride.
In Beijing, queer folks tend to believe that who they love is not entirely important regarding who they are as individuals. It is likely because of their reservations that Beijing has no dedicated neighborhood for the LGBTQ community. But that does not mean a lack of gay fun by any means! Destination is the most famous gay bar in the area, and the Boat Bar hosts the Queer as Folk event every second Sunday of the month to showcase gay life throughout the city.
The entire city of Chengdu seems to be in a state of rapid expansion, especially when you consider the battle for LGBTQ rights. The area is known as the unofficial gay capital of China, likely because they embraced the first widely reported gay marriage in the country. They have also hosted a gay kissing competition on one of their most essential shopping streets, which stirred up plenty of controversies. Somebody, please help us sign up for next year!
Where do you think some of the most beautiful people in the world live? Would you have guessed Chongqing, China? Because I don’t think the area would have come to mind before we visited the first time, but it sure is the truth! The city with the largest population also happens to be the most gorgeous and the most gay. While there are no defined queer neighborhoods throughout Chongqing, the area is still known for having the highest number of LGBTQ bars and organizations.
You know those cities that seem to perfectly blend their history with their expansion into modernity? Guangzhou is perhaps one of the finest examples of this phenomenon, harboring some of China’s oldest temples while also highlighting impressive, contemporary buildings. The location is stunning and surprisingly gay, all things considered! The LGBTQ community does not necessarily have a set home within Guangzhou, but the scene is quickly growing. We definitely suggest seeking out one of their gay dance parties for a night you will not soon forget.
Top experiences in China for gay travelers
Whether you prefer sightseeing at the most popular and touristy attractions, or you would instead enjoy exploring more secluded and serene locations, China provides outstanding options for gay travelers! In our opinion, it is always best to strike a balance, which is why we have included our favorite crowd-pleasers as well as our number one nature activities.
Marvel at the Forbidden City in Beijing
The Forbidden City takes up approximately 720,000 square meters in the Imperial City of Beijing. Along with containing the fascinating Palace Museum, the space consists of 980 intricately designed buildings, an impressive moat, and numerous gates. What really pushes the Forbidden City into that must-visit threshold is the astonishing number of preserved ancient wooden structures that have deemed the location a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite touristy crowds, the trip is relatively peaceful and makes for the perfect afternoon excursion!
Walk on the Great Wall of China
At the top of any bucket list will sit architectural marvels from around the globe. The Great Wall of China undoubtedly exists on the majority of those lists due to its 2000-year-long history and unbelievable length across Northern China. The Badaling section is the most famous by far, so it can get quite busy. But, if you’re hoping to find more intimacy and seclusion with can’t miss views, we personally adore the Juyongguan section. Either way, prepare yourself for a beautiful hike! You can easily visit the Great Wall on a day trip from Beijing.
Visit the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an
We’ve all studied the elaborate means by which Egyptians honored their dead, but did you know similar practices existed in early China? The Terracotta Warriors are a form of funerary art buried with the very first Chinese Emperor to provide him with protection from beyond the grave. There are a total of three massive pits containing roughly 8000 soldiers and 670 horses. If you’re history buffs like us, just be sure to grab an English guide to help you through the site. Find out more in our gay guide to Xian.
Hike along the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces near Guilin
Ever wanted to see a dragon in real life? Duh! Who hasn’t?! Aside from visiting reptilian sanctuaries, the closest we’ve come to witnessing the powerful majesty of a dragon was during our time in Guilin. The Longsheng Rice Terraces are known as the dragon’s backbone due to the large, arching hills of the mountain range and the intricately carved terraces that resemble scales. The hike is nothing short of unforgettable, especially when the fields are glistening with water, and the rice is ripe for harvest.
Visit the Panda Sanctuary in Chengdu
If you’re anything like us, you probably conduct in-depth research before visiting any kind of zoo, just to make sure the practices benefit the animals involved. Well, let us go ahead and give you our guarantee that the Chengdu Panda Research Base is completely legit! Unlike other animal caretakers, the folks at the panda sanctuary focus on educating their guests so that everyone will walk away with a passion for the conservation of endangered species. We would revisit these cute, fluffy bears in a heartbeat!
Bike through the Karst Peaks of Yangshuo
Depending on where you stay in China, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly surrounded by the madness of the concrete jungle. It’s essential to have time away from that hustle and bustle. By far, the best way to encounter the natural world of China, in our personal opinions, is by traveling across the Karst Peaks of Yangshuo. Hitch a ride on a bike or go hiking into the bliss of limestone mountains, rushing rivers, and quiet dirt roads. It is pure heaven!
Gay tours in China
If you'd prefer to explore a new destination as part of a group, there are some excellent gay and gay-friendly tours operating in China. By joining a tour group you'll be able to relax and enjoy everything without worrying about logistics. You'll also be able to make friends with like-minded people so it's ideal if travelling by yourself.
1. He Travel gay cultural tour of China
He Travel are a fantastic gay tour company and they are offering this lovely cultural tour of China for gay travelers who really want to get to grips with China's culture. It starts in Beijing – including visits to the Great Wall, cruising the Three Gorges of the Yangtze and going to Xian to see the Terracotta Army – before finishing up in bustling Shanghai. This tour is an excellent way to see some of the main highlights of this fascinating country, all in the company of other gay travelers.
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2. He Travel adventure tour of China
For those with an adventurous streak, He Travel also runs an adventure tour of China filled with hiking, cycling and feeding black snub-nosed monkeys! Most of this tour takes place among the picturesque mountains of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, where you can hike through the famous 10,000-foot-deep Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! There'll also be time to relax though, as you enjoy sunsets over monasteries and explore tiny villages.
HeTravel is offering our readers an exclusive 5% discount valid for any cruise and tour you book with them. Click the button below to find out more.
Pride and other gay friendly events in China
What’s a gaycation without a handful of gay-specific events tossed into the mix of thrilling expeditions? No matter the time of the year, China is home to a slew of Pride celebrations, gay parties, and queer film festivals! It may not seem like much compared to other international destinations, but if you’d like to see these events continue, it’s essential to support these organizers as they traverse their way around the restrictions that bind them.
Shanghai Pride in June
Not only is Shanghai Pride loads of fun with its broad array of parties, forums, and art showcases, but it also serves as a major milestone for Chinese members of the LGBTQ community. In 2009, Shanghai Pride made waves as the first mass queer event in all of China. What once started as a modest community event has now turned into a joyful celebration of diversity attended by thousands. Shanghai Pride continues to stand as the most significant acknowledgement of the community throughout China.
Pink Dot Hong Kong in September
Pink Dot is the largest annual LGBTQ event to take place in Hong Kong, which already sets it apart as a must-attend occasion. But when you actually feast your eyes upon the carnival, you will undoubtedly fall in love with the entire spectacle! In our opinion, what really makes Pink Dot such a valuable experience are the Pink Talks that address LGBTQ-specific problems within HK and the attendance of the Rainbow Church to bless gay couples. Wholesome, educational, and fun! What more could you ask for?
Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in September
The Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film festival began in 1989, making it the oldest LGBTQ film festival in Asia. Those who spearhead the festival approach their audience with three goals in mind: 1) to showcase LGBTQ films from around the world that discuss a vast number of topics, 2) to promote equal opportunities for queer people working in the arts, and 3) to put an end to discrimination within China. We would call the event a major success in every regard!
Beijing Queer Film Festival (BJQFF) in September
In China, screening LGBTQ films is a complicated process due to censorship laws, but the volunteers of the Beijing Queer Film Festival fight to make it work! Since they cannot present gay-themed movies, they instead focus on providing a platform for independent queer creators from Asian backgrounds. The BJQFF is the only community-based, non-governmental film festival in China that highlights the work of LGBTQ filmmakers. If you’re in Beijing at the time of the festival, please consider showing support for these incredible organizers!
Hong Kong Pride in November
Above being a fun event that brings gay people together, Hong Kong Pride has made great strides in the uphill battle of garnering support for the LGBTQ movement by encouraging more people to step out of the closet. When HK Pride began back in 2008, only 1000 queer folks took to the streets to march for their rights. Today, upwards of 12,000 people are slated to attend the brilliantly themed function in the coming years. We love to see it!
Food and drinks in China
Ah, one of our favorite parts of vacay! We love exploring and partying as much as the next couple, but come on. Is there anything better than learning about a culture through the divine foods they create? Culinary skill takes years to perfect, and China has had more than enough time to invent exquisite dishes that please various palettes. The following foods are our faves, but don’t be shy. Try everything you can get your hands on!
Dim Sum in Hong Kong
Do you know why they call it dim sum? Because when you eat these tasty foods, you’ll have everything you want and then some! Dim sum consists of any small dish from dumplings to cakes, and it can be served for nearly every meal. People in Hong Kong appreciate dim sum unlike citizens from any other destination in China, so it is definitely a must-try while visiting. Just make sure you take your meal with a cup of tea – it’s essential!
Hot Pot in Beijing
If you find yourself staying in China through the winter, warm yourself up by enjoying the best soup imaginable: hot pot! Well… we call it a soup, but honestly, hot pot is even better. The delicious broth acts as the means of cooking a variety of ingredients, including meats and veggies. Over time, the broth takes on the flavors of those add-ins, creating a uniquely flavorful experience. We especially recommend the Beijing specialty of mutton hot pot. It’s to die for!
Freshly Made Dumplings in Beijing
You’re missing out if you haven’t tried authentic jiaozi! And what exactly is jiaozi? It’s a dumpling! Whether you eat these savory delicacies boiled, steamed, or pan-fried, you won’t be able to deny the allure of their price and convenience. Nor could you possibly resist the talent that goes into crafting them. The wrapper must be extremely thin, while the scrumptious filling needs to be sealed by a particular number of folds. Never before has art tasted so delicious!
Kung Pao Chicken in Sichuan
Surely, most everyone has heard of kung pao chicken. Perhaps you’ve even tried it at your local Chinese restaurant. But trust us when we say that whatever dish you have eaten could not possibly live up to the punch packed by the classic Sichuan spice found in China! Sichuan food is our absolute favorite due to its robust seasoning and intense heat, but kung pao chicken stands high above the rest thanks to its complementary textures and flavors.
Soup Dumplings (Xiaolongbao) in Shanghai
If you all like dumplings, just wait till you try xiaolongbao! These delectable, nearly bite-sized treats are called soup dumplings for a reason. Unlike a traditional Chinese dumpling, xiaolongbao is filled with a soup broth made into a firm gelatin form. Once heated, that gelatin turns back into a silky, smooth, divine tasting broth that pairs perfectly with the added meats and veggies. Always handle these delicate little darlings with care, and be sure not to burn your tongue!
Plan your trip to China
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to China. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
Travel insurance: We always make sure we have travel insurance because you just never know when you might miss a flight, lose your luggage or face some other mishap on your travels. We recommend Heymondo Travel Insurance for your trip to China, as they offer affordable and comprehensive coverage. It's also really easy to make a claim online if you need to.
How to get there: Depending on where you are traveling from you are most likely to get to China by flying into the Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou Baiyun international airports. If you arrive in the capital of Beijing you can reach the city via bus, train or taxi although we personally prefer to pre-book a private airport transfer. With a private transfer there's no need to worry about juggling your luggage while trying to figure out public transport in a new language.
Visa requirements: Passport holders from some countries (such as the United Kingdom and all European Union citizens) can enter China visa-free for up to 30 days. If you are visiting Xian from countries such as the United States, Canada or Australia then you will need to apply for a visa online.
Online privacy: Many western sites like Instagram, Facebook and even Google are blocked in China, so if you're looking to connect with friends or family back home while traveling there then you will need to organise a VPN. A VPN is perfect for travelling as it provides a reliable and affordable way to browse the internet with complete anonymity.
Getting around: China is huge so traveling within the country can take a while. Luckily the public transport systems are impeccable, particularly the efficient and fast rail services. You can also travel within the country via domestic flights, buses and ferries. Check out this guide for more details on transport within China.
Power Plugs: China uses power plug types A, C and I of which some are also found in other countries. However, since you probably never know which one you will find in each place (China is a BIG country) we recommend bringing a universal power adaptor with you.
Vaccinations: All travellers to China should ensure they are up to date with routine vaccinations such as measles, mumps, rubella etc. Most travellers should also be vaccinated against typhoid and hepatitis A. Depending on where else in the country you will be visiting and what you might be doing you may need further vaccinations. Make sure you check the CDC website and speak with your doctor well before making any travel arrangements.
Currency: The currency used in China is the Renminbi which uses the code RMB or CNY. While the official name is Renminbi it's usually also called the Chinese Yuan, although technically a yuan is a basic unit of Renminbi, with RMB banknotes starting at one Yuan and going up to 100 Yuan. The symbol for the yuan in Chinese is 元. Currently, US$1 converts to about 7.10 yuan, €1 is worth about 7.76 yuan and £1 converts to around 8.84 yuan.
Tipping culture: Tipping in China is not commonplace at all, and you may cause confusion or even offence if you try to leave a tip. In some more touristy destinations, like Xi'an for example, Chinese workers at high-end hotels may be more accustomed to receiving tips, but you really don't need to. Check out this guide for more information on why you shouldn't tip in China.
Internet access: It's possible to access good quality free WiFi in many hotels, restaurants and cafes in the big cities, although it's quite different in more rural areas. You can also access free WiFi in airport and train stations but you will need a Chinese SIM card – which you can organise ahead of time to be delivered to your hotel.
Accommodation: We love using Booking.com when planning our travels in China as they have so many options for the best prices. Many listings include free cancellation which is perfect if you like to be spontaneous when traveling. Their online customer support is also excellent and available 24/7.
Sightseeing and adventure: When we're looking for tours and activities in China we always go straight to GetYourGuide. They have so many fun options at great prices, plus it's really easy to book online.
When to visit: China is big so when you visit can depend on which parts you want to see. The country generally falls into four distinct seasons so if you want to see pretty leaves or flowers then autumn or spring are your best bet. Otherwise, we'd say time your visit for any gay events you wish to attend and AVOID Chinese public holidays like Chinese New Year or Spring Festival as everything will be packed.
Safety tips for gay travel to China
Is China safe for gay travellers? The short answer is yes, but make sure you avoid PDAs unless you're in a gay establishment. The Chinese government is quite conservative but most Chinese people generally seek to stay neutral on matters of homosexuality and tourists, in particular, are usually welcomed for their novelty factor.
- Check official government advice before you go. We recommend you do this any time you're travelling so that you are aware of any recent developments that might create difficulties. Here is the most recent travel advice for UK citizens to China, but check your own government website if you're travelling from somewhere else.
- Although homosexuality is legal in China, you should avoid public displays of affection unless you're in an actual gay bar or club. Older members of Chinese society are very socially conservative and frown on LGBTQ lifestyles. We didn't encounter any problems during our time in China, but we also didn't flaunt our love in public either.
- Just like anywhere in the world, be aware of your surroundings, especially in big cities. Chinese cities especially can be very crowded and busy, so it can be easy to not notice if someone is slipping a hand into your pocket. Just be smart!
- Avoid excess alcohol and drug use. Be careful not to drink too much when in a new country, as you're a much easier target when obviously intoxicated. We're not saying don't have a good time, but it's best to keep your wits about you in an unfamiliar place.
- Don't wear valuables in public. This is just basic common sense wherever you go but still bears mentioning. If you don't have flashy things on you then you'll be less of a target for pickpockets or muggers.
- Invest in a good money belt. It's always better not to carry too much cash or credit cards anyway, but having a good money belt hidden under your clothes is one of the best ways we've found of ensuring your valuables stay safe and secure out of harm's reach.
For more inspiration:
- Read about our experiences traveling through Asia as a gay couple
- Or choose one of these gay cruises to Asia in order to explore the region in luxury
- These are the best scuba diving spots in Asia
- If you're heading to Japan next make sure you use our gay Japan itinerary for first-time visitors
- And don't miss our gay guide to exciting Tokyo
- We also have a gay country guide to beautiful Thailand
- Along with a gay city guide to the gay-tastic capital Bangkok