Gay Asia travel: discover the best places the continent has to offer

For first-timers and return visitors alike, gay Asia offers all kinds of new flavours and experiences to arouse the senses. Delve into Eastern culture by way of guarded Korean palaces or ancient Khmer kingdoms, sampling all of the many distinct cuisines along the way. Whether it’s an authentic dish of Nasi Lemak in Singapore’s hawker bazaars, takoyaki squid balls on neon-lit Osaka streets, or even Michelin-starred fare under the sea in the Maldives, Asia has something to satisfy any taste and any budget. For gay Asian top nightlife, there are clear winners; namely, Taipei for its openly gay mega clubs or Siem Reap for its weird and wonderful queer party scene. Come morning, gear up the moped for rural escapes to inspiring national parks and untold paradise beaches. Hop on for our latest selection of the best gay Asian travel destinations.

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Taipei | Photo: Thomas Tucker

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A liberal, open-minded meeting point for the international gay community, the democratic underdog nation of Taiwan is also full of unique cultural wonders, a fantastic food scene and a lovably laidback population

1. Taiwan

The unrivalled king of Gay Asia is the unassuming, sweet potato-shaped island of Taiwan, not far off the east coast of China, in easy reach of Japan in the north and the Philippines in the south. The only country in Asia where gay marriage is legal – this is just one of many reasons why Taiwan is our number one. A liberal, open-minded meeting point for the international gay community, this democratic underdog nation is also full of unique cultural wonders, a fantastic food scene and a lovably laidback population. Plan your trip around October to take part in Asia’s biggest and best gay pride celebration, avoiding the hot and sticky summer months between July and September if you know what’s good for you.

Spilling out from the affordable capital of Taipei, Taiwan presents forested mountain regions, hot spring villages, epic river canyons and rugged beaches all the way to the exotic coastal park of Kending in the south, near second city Kaohsiung. Hire a car, motorbike or take the high-speed train, stopping off at any of the 100 big peaks (or 100 other little ones) for trekking adventures amid stunning natural scenery and beside indigenous towns, filling up on your return trip in the foodie of Tainan capital of Tainan. Learn more about Taiwan’s best natural attractions and life outside of Taipei with our comprehensive Taiwan travel guide.

Photo: Darshan Patel

Photo: Joel Fulgencio

2. Siem Reap, Cambodia

Both the gateway to Angkor Wat and the nightlife capital of Cambodia, Siem Reap offers mayhem and ancient mystery in equal measure. Well-equipped for tourists with its fair share of boutique hotels and lavish brunch spots, the city is also well within reach of authentic Cambodia. Just jump in a tuk-tuk and brace yourself for the bumpy roads out of the city, to discover the floating villages of Tonlé Sap or lesser-visited traditional towns surrounding sacred mountain spots. But of course, it’s Angkor Wat that steals the region’s thunder, and rightly so. The largest religious monument in the world spread over 1.6 square kilometres as the heart of the ancient Khmer Empire (ruling from the 9th to the 15th centuries), Angkor Wat is sure to impress. Come at either sunrise or sunset to view the huge main temple and its peachy reflection upon the royal ponds, renting either a quadbike, tuk-tuk or (ideally electric) bicycle to get around from there with differing levels of ease.

Though the main temples are likely to keep you busy for at least a day or two, back in town there’s loads more to see and do. Get pampered in some of the most luxurious spas you’ve ever seen, sampling everything from Khmer street food (barbequed scorpion anyone?) to Michelin-starred French cuisine. If the tourist markets and independent stores don’t cut it for souvenirs, check out the Cambodian Cultural Village, which, as well as selling handicrafts, will also initiate you into local traditional culture. Discover what else lies outside of Siem Reap, with our full Cambodia travel guide.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap | Photo: Vicky T.

3. Osaka, Japan

The humble port city of Osaka, though hardly rivalling Tokyo in terms of size or popularity, is without doubt among the top gay travel Asia destinations for its cosmopolitan outlook and foodie credentials. Both modern and traditional, in proximity to the Geisha centre of Kyoto and the wild deer colonies of Nara, Osaka is a wonderful base for exploration on Honshu island. Stay in any number of boutique or international hotels, day-tripping amongst the city’s top museums, such as Kamigata Ukiyoe which showcases national artistic styles. Choosing from Osaka’s countless cultural attractions can be difficult, but standouts for us include the Sumiyoshi Shrine, built 1,800 years ago as one of the oldest Shinto shrines in the whole of Japan, and the impressive architecture of Osaka Castle based in a gorgeous city park that turns pink with cherry blossom every spring.

With its unpretentious merchant history, Osaka shakes the conservatism found elsewhere in Japan, making social life in the city is a little easier to integrate into. After exercising the local act of kuidaore (‘eating ‘til you drop’) on Dotonburi food street, stay among the neon lights for izakaya-style bars and a worldly choice of karaoke clubs. Learn more of the city and its surrounding attractions in our Osaka travel guide, or bookmark our Japan 10-day itinerary for advice on getting the most out of your short time in Japan.

Osaka | Photo: Kit Ko

Osaka | Photo: Agathe Marty

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History lovers will especially love Kathmandu; for the ancient Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan and the divergent Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudha

4. Kathmandu, Nepal

Capital of Nepal and home to as many as seven UNESCO world heritage sites, Kathmandu is a winning addition to any gay Asia travel itinerary. History lovers will especially love Kathmandu; for the ancient Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan and the divergent Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudha, to name but a few. A city of contrasts with wild rickshaw drivers shaking up the zen atmosphere en route to the buzzing Durbar Square, Kathmandu is both invigorating and exhausting. Though Thamel District is popular as the main backpacker centre with its pashmina handicraft stores lined with pushy trekking touts, to fully experience Kathmandu you’ll need to leave the central comforts, winding through the backstreets past craft workshops and artistic heritage, and out into the rest of Kathmandu Valley, a region packed with evermore sacred religious sites, royal palaces and Himalayan wonders. Uncover Nepal at large with our article on the spiritual power of Nepal.

Kathmandu | Photo: Raimond Klavins

5. Maldives

The Maldives has long been the travel Asia gay paradise on everybody’s lips, coveted for its luxurious beachfront villas and resort spas on an archipelago of 1,200 remote coral islands in the Indian Ocean. Of these islands, only 200 are inhabited but that still leaves more than enough choice for Goldilocks travellers. For the best choice of guesthouse lodgings, Male and Ari atolls can provide, while many other atolls are privately owned by individual resorts making for the most exclusive luxury retreats. Though your 6-star suite – complete with personal butler and private pool – might mean there’s no need to venture far from your resort, we’d recommend island hopping by ferry or speedboat to best experience island culture at its most authentic.

As well as ultimate relaxation upon the azure coast, the Maldives are most famous for their underwater attractions. It’s in the water where you’ll find some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities anywhere in the world, introducing adventurers to a rich world of coral reef and underwater cave systems home to all kinds of tropical fish. The warm waters surrounding the stilted wooden houses of Banana Reef are particularly popular among divers, but venture to less-frequented parts to have the best chance of sighting manta rays, turtles, barracuda and whale sharks. Thinking of travelling to the Maldives? Get all you need to know with our article on gay travel to the Maldives.

Maldives | Photo: Ishan Seefromthesky

6. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

The remotest state of India based on a series of islands 1,000 kilometres off the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands take a little while to reach. Factor in a flight or ferry journey from Kolkata, Chennai or Visakhapatnam to be rewarded at last with the verdant beauty of the Andamans, a place boasting immense biodiversity both on land and underwater. Besides the wildlife within the dense tropical forests, dive from almost any of its beaches to find untouched coral reef among crystal-clear waters. Said to be the world’s richest marine reserves, as yet undamaged by human life, the Andaman Sea is a real delight for snorkelling and diving adventures in accord with tropical beach getaways.

Off-limits to foreigners and most Indians until as recently as 2018, the Andaman Islands still lack tourist infrastructure and visiting outside of season could be difficult. Avoid monsoon season by travelling between the months of November and April, scheduling your trip between December and March to coincide with tortoise nesting season. Besides diving, other adventures in the region include island hopping across almost 600 atolls, starting and ending at the most popular islands of Great Andaman and Ritchie Archipelago, flip-flopping between water sports and beachside relaxation. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are home to a great number of native tribes, many of whom follow animism, a religion marking the supernatural power of nature and the natural world, controlled by the deity Paluga. Trek the mangrove-lined rainforests growing mindful to the sounds of the jungle, to experience this religion firsthand.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands | Photo: Tatonomusic

7. Seoul, South Korea

A vast city of 10 million and capital of the ‘Land of Morning Calm’ is the city of Seoul, South Korea. Bound to be top of any South Korean itinerary, Seoul leaves most newcomers completely transfixed by neon-lit hieroglyphs on commercial streets pumping K-pop tunes both day and night. It’s not all chaos and street dance however because there is a quieter side to the capital, whether in the palace-flanked teahouses of Insadong and Bukchon hanok village or among the clouds on any of the rocky peaks both in and outside of the ancient city walls. With 5,000 years of culture, well preserved after many years of being shut off from the world, South Korea is something truly unique to Asia. Venture to the northern border to come face to face with the DMZ and North Korean military, or embrace the country’s natural beauty with a trip to rural mountain valleys, zip-lining to the K-drama set of Nami Island for the best fall foliage.

Back in the city, Seoul nightlife will keep you wide awake, either in the ex-pat area of Itaewon (and the nearby Homo Hill!) or the mega clubs in upmarket Gangnam or youthful Hongdae. Whichever it is, be sure to fill up on marinated pork belly BBQ at any of the 24-hour BBQ joints in town, going easy on the cheap local favourite of Soju and Beer (Somaek) if you have an early start. Gain insight into gay Seoul’s best points of interest with our Seoul travel guide, or follow our Korea 10-day itinerary for the very best vacations in South Korea.

Photo: Yi Liu

Seoul | Photo: Berti Weber

8. Krabi, Thailand

With an apt appetite for fresh local shellfish and proximity to Thailand’s best coral reef islands, Krabi is a dream destination for those wanting to explore the less-travelled southern region while still being in reach of wild parties of Koh Phi Phi and beyond. Though many use Krabi as a neat jumping-off point to the climber’s paradise of Railay Beach or the slow-moving isle of Koh Lanta, Krabi is a more than worthy of its own tourists, luring ever-more people to cruise its mangrove forests, scale its limestone cliffs and mosey through its traditional fishing villages, all among perfectly stunning coastline to rival the southern islands.

Though nearby Ao Nang wins the majority of wild nightlife, we think central Krabi is all the better for its understated bar scene, free from backpacking crowds and sleazy tourist traps. While the gay scene is somewhat lacking, many of Krabi’s live-music bars and laidback hangouts are all gay-friendly affairs, offering an easy way to make new friends and experience local culture. Head to the riverside to feast on seafood and cheap beer before mellowing out to reggae vibes at the liveliest bars. Otherwise, take the next ferry out to Koh Phi Phi where the young club scene around Tonsai Village and Loh Dalum is sure to keep you busy. Those hungry for more Thailand travel advice can help themselves to our story on the best destinations to enjoy gay Thailand and our 10-day Thailand itinerary.

Photo: Pascal Debrunner

9. Singapore

Once a playground for merchant pirates and an outpost of the Sumatran Empire, Singapore now stands as a thriving centre of international trade and a cultural melting pot, serving as an excellent leaping-off point into the continent. Access Singapore in both comfort and convenience, getting a fine introduction to Chinese, Malay and immigrant fusion culture upon the multilingual public transport system, which will take you from the chapatti cafés of Little India to the dragon temples of Chinatown in minutes. For sophisticated glamour, Marina Bay has you covered, with the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel enticing guests with the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool and world-class dining experiences. For all lesser budgets, the hawker markets compete most adequately – if fact, even Singapore’s street food stalls are not without Michelin stars these days.

When the heat and humidity gets all too much, shopping in the city’s air-conditioned malls on Orchard Road or browsing its fancy art galleries are top activities, but otherwise, this green city is best seen from the treetop bridges within the urban design feat of Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO world heritage site said to be the lungs of Singapore. Come nightfall, Singapore becomes a regional gay mecca, hosting myriad bars, clubs, spas and saunas appealing to the local and international gay community. The House of Blue Spin is a particular highlight, alongside the Sunday Tanjong Beach Club parties. Largely you’ll find young Singaporeans to be wholly progressive and anti-discrimination legislation ensures LGBT people are protected in spite of backwards colonial laws. Find more of the best places to visit in Singapore with our dedicated Singapore travel guide.

Singapore | Photo: Victor He

10. Boracay, Philippines

Just seven kilometres in length and 500 metres wide at its narrowest point, Boracay island is paradise in Miniature, allowing for easy-going beach retreats that don’t require much thought. With most bus transfers and ferry rides to the island organised by your hotel or resort, your Boracay vacation is sure to be a breeze, leading straight to ocean views and coconut smoothies for days.

Though once the kingpin of Philippines beach holidays, Boracay’s lack of safe infrastructure and years of over-tourism led to its closure in 2019. Upon reopening, Boracay is decidedly smarter, cleaner and more committed to sustainable practices, though crowds in peak season still remain, particularly around Station 2, Boracay’s nightlife centre. Happily, though, the beautiful stretch of sand known as White Beach is split between three sections, with Station 1 reserved for more tranquil stays at high-end resorts. From here, walk or take a tuk-tuk to Bulabog Beach on the opposite side of the island for popular activities of parasailing and jet skiing, or stay put on palm-lined White Beach to take advantage of the best beach views and the many attractive kite- and windsurfing instructors.

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Boracay | Photo: Ramon Kagie

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