Gay Vietnam: the most beautiful places in Vietnam for discerning gay travellers

Just as a freshly dripped sữa đá coffee offers that sweet caffeine kick to the frontal cortex, a trip to Vietnam will inevitably knock you for six. Embodying the urban jungle; Saigon’s sassy natives squat behind fragrant vats of phở bò while epic roads cut through the scene like impassable motorised rivers. In Vietnam, craziness is interwoven with natural beauty like nowhere else on earth, where the cheerful, forgiving perspectives of its people can cause you to re-evaluate life back home. Walk blindly into moving traffic and experience the biblical happen, or, embrace a different kind of spirituality while exploring Vietnam’s most rural shrines and temples. It’s true you must leave the chaos of Hanoi and Saigon to unearth whole new visions of Vietnam – from crumbling colonial opulence in Da Nang to humble mountain tribes in the ‘Tonkinese Alps’. To help you find gay Vietnam amongst it all, we’ve outlined the top places to visit in Vietnam for discerning gay travellers. 

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LGBT situation 

Vietnam stands as the most progressive country in gay Asia for LGBT rights, sharing its crown with both Thailand and Taiwan. Expect your time in Vietnam to be pretty hassle-free as same-sex couples are treated with grace at accommodations across the country. Despite Vietnam’s relative acceptance to homosexuality however, there are no anti-discrimination laws in place and same-sex marriage is still not permitted (Taiwan wears the crown solo for gay Asia on this front). Among Vietnamese, coming out to family and friends is still a taboo and thus rarely done. And while social constraints hold citizens back, the mainstream media in the country promotes the normalisation of gay culture and transgender people are recognised by law.

To get to gay Vietnam travel directly to either of the two biggest cities. VietPride is held annually in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi every September, with Hanoi’s celebrations outlasting the HCMC’s by a number of days. If you find yourself in Hanoi during pride, take advantage of the various film screenings, talks, parties and rallies taking place around the city. At any other time, these two cities have active gay scenes, but gay bars and clubs are rather low profile and the scene is constantly evolving. Use Grindr to find like-minded locals who can show you the secrets of gay Vietnam, or try Utopia for useful travel information and contacts around each city.

Photo: QUI

1. Ho Chi Minh

The initial stop of many wet-behind-the-ears backpackers, Ho Chi Minh City is a wicked traffic jam of a city that you’ll fall inextricably in love with. Holding a population of around 8.6 million and about as many motorcycles, the city takes a bit of navigating but, once you get your map the right way up, you’ll find that the one-time capital is packed with things to do. Captured by the French in 1859 and falling to communist forces at the end of the Vietnam War, what was Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. Once the centre of the world’s biggest ideological storm, the city commemorates its past in monuments and hard-hitting war museums that stand testimony to the atrocities committed by the American forces. Nonetheless, a tone of forgiveness can be felt within these spaces and, across the chaotic city, cheeky smiles plaster the faces of feisty locals who jostle to ply their wares or simply to practice English.

District 1 – also known as “the backpacker district” – is HCMC’s tourist centre and while it does have its fair share of fishbowl-chugging ex-pats, it’s also home to the best museums, upmarket accommodations and nightlife. And boy, is it affordable! If you’re looking for gay Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 can serve you well, with a variety of queer hangouts and gay-friendly lodgings around Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao. Make sure to gorge yourself on much of the best food in Vietnam while in gay Saigon, making sure not to avoid the low-down street vendors where you must slurp your noodles from tiny red tables just several inches from the ground. Your knees will be up near your ears but your taste buds (and your wallet) will thank you!

Photo: Thai An

Ho Chi Minh | Photo: Quang Nguyen vinh

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You needn’t travel far to find gay Hanoi; simply move north from Hoàn Kiếm Lake towards the backpacker area where most mixed bars, clubs and street eats are found

2. Hanoi 

Two for two on the best cities to visit in Vietnam, our next mention goes to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh’s Northern rival and capital, a rather more romantic version of affairs centred within the crumbling citadel walls of its Old Quarter. Don’t conflate romantic with slow-moving, however, because those Grab motorcyclists are still most definitely out for blood. Flex your reaction times and lose yourself in the charms of Hanoi’s city centre, where old mixes with new in the best of ways. Bounce back and forth between authentic street-side eateries and futuristic sky bars, settling on the tranquil central lake where newly married couples pose at sunset among temple worshippers, pushy vendors and fitness fanatics. When you need a break from gawking at Hanoi’s dazzling streets, hideaway in any museum, hipster café or hangout spot, sampling the surprisingly delicious local speciality of cà phê trứng (egg coffee) as you relax.

You needn’t travel far to find gay Hanoi; simply move north from Hoàn Kiếm Lake towards the backpacker area where most mixed bars, clubs and street eats are found. If this is your first Vietnam travel experience, be aware that scammers and hustlers are active here, with some even preying on gay travellers. So carry your street-smarts with you at all times, particularly after a few drinks! While the Hanoi gay scene is pretty discreet, you can meet like-minded people on apps like Grindr or frequent any of the exclusively male gay massage spas that pop up around the centre. If you arrive in September you’re in luck! Hanoi Pride will be taking place, with the week leading up to it dedicated to LGBT exhibitions, film screenings and other events including a bike rally.

Hanoi | Photo: Nguyen Do

3. Phu Quoc Island

Vietnam’s largest island off its west coast, Phu Quoc has seen a fast rise to fame as the next paradise island to rival the likes of Thai big boys such as Koh Samui or Phi Phi. What Phu Quoc has that they do not however is tranquillity by the bucket load. While many Southeast-Asian islands battle with over-tourism and over-development, Phu Quoc has managed to fall slightly under the radar by mainstream tourists, making it a more affordable destination with untouched natural assets yet to be fully exploited (don’t exploit them!). Visit Phu Quoc with an eco-friendly mentality, opting for sustainable lodgings and activities where possible to ensure Phu Quoc doesn’t go the same way as neighbouring islands. Fortunately, endowed as it is with the dense tropical jungle that covers the majority of land, Phu Quoc makes it easy to be an eco-warrior. Phu Quoc National Park covers the entire northeast, a place where hikers and wildlife watchers can spend days trekking from deserted beach to craggy clifftop never far from the jungle and its cooling waterfalls.

South-eastwards lies Phu Quoc’s main centre which serves holidaymakers with museums, night markets and all the cocktail bars anyone could wish for, just moments from the most popular beaches. North Long Beach is the longest and runs alongside the majority of the city’s nightlife, while Sao Beach and Ong Lang offer picture-perfect alternatives. Gay Phu Quoc takes its lead from the rest of Vietnam and welcomes the international LGBTQ+ community with open arms. Although there are no official gay beaches, many of the various beach clubs and bars around the island are consistently gay friendly and the gay bars and clubs that do exist attract the best people from across the island, locals and tourists as one! Although by night you’ll probably want to stay among the riffraff, by day you can find solitude and authenticity with a visit to Ham Ninh fishing village and/or an interlude at Suoi Tranh Waterfall which offers a chance to bathe in natural pools surrounded by rainforest. The nearby Hang Doi cave formation is also worth staying longer for.

Photo: Taylor Simpson

Photo: Marvin Meyer

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Home to one of the world’s most beautiful bays, Nha Trang brings some tropical rhythms to an otherwise fast-paced country, making it an ideal escape for travellers once the allure of the capital has worn off

4. Nha Trang

Boasting some of the mainland’s best beaches in proximity to a smattering of tidy, well-kept islands is the south-central city of Nha Trang. Home to one of the world’s most beautiful bays, Nha Trang brings some tropical rhythms to an otherwise fast-paced country, making it an ideal escape for travellers once the allure of the capital has worn off. As popular among gays as it is honeymooners, Nha Trang stretches beyond its beaches into both forest and mountains where famed waterfalls and hot springs lie beside ancient temples. Gay Nha Trang can seem a little sparse in comparison to the big cities above, but worthwhile attractions include Fairy Spring waterfall and Thao Ba hot springs, as well as the Buddhist sites of Po Nagar Cham Towers and Statue of Buddha. Climb the platform here, or take a trip to Long Son Pagoda to get impressive views of the region.

If rain threatens to ruin your beach day (unlikely) then the Alexandre Yersin Museum and the National Oceanographic Museum are always open for either bubonic plague history or rare seahorses! The bustling Dam Market can provide some cover in addition to local produce, dried seafood and Vietnamese textiles. Thanh Citadel is another must-see for history buffs wanting to uncover the secrets of the Trinh dynasty while in a traditional area of the city. With still so much to see in the area, opt to take an island-hopping boat around the bay, stopping at the fantastical Monkey Island for a ton of monkeys and rollercoaster rides. Alternatively (and a real winner while in Nha Trang), head to Hon Tam from where you can maraud above the city in a hot air balloon, appreciating the spectacular landscape.

Photo: Kiril Dobrev

5. Doc Let

Lesser known yet no less worthy of your visit are the white shores of Doc Let, just one hour up the coast from Nha Trang. Tourist life in Doc Let is often centred on the scenic bay, where the majority of resorts and hotels are based. Venturing out, however, you’ll soon see that Doc Let has much more to offer. In the centre, below the bay, find the town’s port and shipyard which, despite its less-than-fancy aesthetics, brings wealth and dynamism to the city. The third section of Doc Let lies even more southward and grants visitors a more tranquil stay among the most isolated – perhaps also the best – beaches in town, including Jungle Beach which is still under development. For more lengthy shores in remote settings, try the seemingly endless stretch at Doc Let Beach where the shallow waters are calm and the sunsets phenomenal.

While salty spray and palm fronds abound on the shorefront, Doc Let is also dotted with a number of authentic fishing villages and smaller local communities. Force yourself from the beach to be rewarded with no-nonsense seafood restaurants, bustling flea markets and family-owned shops. While tourist attractions away from the beach resorts are limited, keep yourselves amused with water sports, leisurely beachside coffee breaks and day trips to the nearby city of Ninh Hoa.

Photo: Chinh Le Duc

6. Da Nang

Not short of a few idyllic beaches itself is the one-time French colonial port of Da Nang, Vietnam’s third-largest city located between historic Hue in the north and crumbling beauty, Hoi An, just a short way down. A wholly convenient stop-off point, Da Nang entices travellers with adventure, commerce and French architectural influence to compliment age-old Buddhist styles, Although largely upstaged by Hoi An and judged harshly by some, there are plenty of reasons to make a base here. Enjoy the bustling atmosphere of the city’s most central beaches or drive a short way to more secluded spots. This is a great set up for a day trip, either to My Khe Beach for jet skiing, snorkelling and surfing exploits, or, to Tien Sa Beach on the Son Tra peninsula for more private retreats, travelling over the famously ornate Dragon Bridge to get there. Many backpackers who stop in Da Nang do so in order to hike the Bà Nà hills to the west before shopping for affordable silks and textiles in Hoi An.

Once an American military site ‘liberated’ by the Viet Cong in 1975, Da Nang can also provide an intriguing day out by way of the abandoned base. While you’re in the area you may wish to unwind on China Beach or take a trail up to the Buddhist shrines high on Marble Mountain, an ex-mining site boasting 360° views of the surrounding area. Da Nang’s not done with us yet, however, because we still haven’t set foot in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, here you’ll find Son Doong, the largest cave in the world as well as countless hiking trails and protected native fauna. After a good day’s sightseeing, move back to the city centre for street food and market fare, winding up on the bar street of Bach Dang for a good night out. By now you will come to except the low-key Viet gay scene, but as always, everyone is welcome.

Da Nang | Photo: Pixabay

7. Sa Pa

Brave the winding roads north of Hanoi into the rural region on the edge of the Tonkinese Alps near the border to China for a trip you’ll never forget. The verdant countryside here is primed for rice crops, giving a groomed yet scenic landscape of hillside paddies harvested by hand. Showing a very different side to Vietnam, Sa Pa lies among it all, with its people, a diverse mix of ethnic tribes, located in the deep valleys surrounding. The Hmong, Giay and Red Dzao people – to name but a few – all reside here, largely self-sustaining under the protection of the mighty Fansipan Mountain. Sa Pa is one of the nation’s top trekking destinations, an old French hill station used as a base for those journeying up or down. Much more than an outpost of convenience, however, Sa Pa is a joy, made so by its humble, ever-smiling people who go out of their way to welcome visitors, giving homestays and guided tours through the area and over Phang Xi Pang mountain.

While this does of course mean you’ll have to leave your disco shoes in Hanoi, we couldn’t recommend Sa Pa more. The market town itself, though bustling, is never quite as impressive as the smaller traditional villages that surround it, giving an insight into the local way of life as well as limitless hiking opportunities, such as to Silver Waterfall and the Tram Ton Pass. As well as authentic culture, hiking and boundless (though often misty) views, Sa Pa can entertain with cable car trips up to the summit of Mount Fansipan, with the option to unwind at the town’s selection of cafés, restaurants and massage salons.

Photo: Sasin Tipchai

Photo: Jakob Owens

8. Ly Son Island

You may have thought things couldn’t get more remote, but Ly Son Island may take the biscuit. A small cluster of volcanic islets off the central coast of Vietnam, Ly Son is relatively underserved and unknown, despite boasting myriad geological wonders and the best seafood so far. The two main islands here are Dao Lon and Dao Be, both lacking in resorts and palm trees but overrun with authenticity, pristine coral reefs and fields of… garlic. Come for the fascinating, prehistoric rock formations and stay for the world-famous garlic seafood dishes, with interludes of shrine visiting and reef snorkelling! Don’t expect heaps of action while staying on Ly Son but instead embrace the starkness and solitude, exploring black cliffs, crater-top views and dramatic beaches. Easily accessible via a 30-minute ferry from Sa Ky Port in Quang Ngai Province, Ly Son Island is already a popular spot for Vietnamese backpackers who appreciate the wallet-friendly lifestyle and natural wonder.

9. Da Lat

Another of the lesser-known cities in Vietnam is the young city of Dalat found in the Central Highlands. An interesting stop on the way from Saigon to the east coast, Dalat is a motorcyclist’s paradise – not something we’d say about the big cities! – proffering empty roads that wind into the mountains past coffee plantations, pine woods and epic waterfalls. If you like caffeine and natural landscapes on your road trips then Dalat is for you, the town itself hosting a buzzing café culture and small party scene. By day, get Insta-happy in the centre’s lavender gardens or gain elevation and impressive vistas of Tuyền Lâm Lake atop Pinhatt Mountain. Robin Hill is an alternative viewpoint, instead offering bird’s eye views of the entire cityscape. To really challenge yourself, tackle the steeper trails of Langbiang Mountain to be rewarded with more exceptional views.

Dalat is home to the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak, which you might have heard of as civet, weasel or poop (!!) coffee. Visit any one of the highland plantations to try some for yourself while waterfall hopping in the area (Tiger’s Cave or Elephant Falls being two great options) before resting in the tranquil gardens of the Valley of Love. Back in town, Dalat will continue to surprise you with bonkers architecture – in the form of ‘Crazy House’ and 100 Roof Bar – as well as superb world-class cuisine for the price of a stamp. While the mixed nightlife in Dalat is saved for a couple of streets, the crowd is welcoming, allowing for socialising and intimate conversation in ambient settings. Alternatively, open your pores and your mind at one of the city’s gay saunas!

Photo: David Mark

10. Ninh Binh

Reserved for intrepid travellers who want to escape the tourist traps of Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam, Ninh Binh is a refreshing and authentic alternative. A small city just two hours south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh has been growing in popularity in recent years for its immense natural beauty, ancient history and undeveloped feel. While this may mean a smaller number of boutique hotels than you might expect, you’ll soon find your visit worth it as you lay eyes on the region’s rugged valleys and karst mountains topped with pagodas. Once the capital of an ancient Vietnamese kingdom spanning three dynasties, the city holds much importance in Vietnamese history. See the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoa Lu to get a feel for her old world majesty.

Use Ninh Binh as your base before branching out into the region for mountain trekking, cave hunting and wildlife-watching excursions. A visit to Cúc Phương National Park is a must while in Ninh Binh, the country’s firstborn and largest national park home to a number of species of rare langur monkeys and a breath-taking acreage of wilderness. Get perspective on the region by climbing the 486-step stone staircase to the peak of Mua Cave where panoramic views of Tam Coc’s rice paddies and the Ngo Dong River await. Alternatively, explore the vast cave system of Trang An on a 3-hour rowing boat tour which will take you beneath towering limestone formations towards the mysterious Skull Island: one of the filming locations for the King Kong movie. All in a day’s work, arrive back in Ninh Binh for fuss-free dining before enjoying the twinkling night views of Bai Dinh Pagoda. Those who can’t resist the call of the wild meanwhile may be up for a spot of camping in Cuc Phong or – if you can’t go without a hot shower – try one of the gay-friendly hotels on the edge of Van Long Nature Reserve.

Photo: Quang Nguyen

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