LGBT+ Travel in Vietnam: What You Need To Know
Traveling is an eye-opening experience for everyone, including LGBT+ travellers. It may be translated differently, but in general, this is the short form of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and the “+” represents for other diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions. In other words, this term stands for the whole community, which can reach to 3 – 5% of the population – as diverse and minor at the same time. Just like any other traveler, LGBT+ people travel for their own reasons, including alone travelers, couple travelers, those who travel for their honeymoon, or even for the Gay Pride.
As any other tourists, LGBT+ travelers have their own specific needs. In other words, being a minority traveler in a foreign place could be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. To minimize the unexpected situations, it’s better to get yourself well-prepared in advance to the departure, to best enjoy your true self in the trip.
Asia has been featured as a conservative continent, but do you know that the LGBT+ rights movement here has achieved many positive milestones in the last decade, much faster compared to the more-than-50-years movement in some Western countries? Social and legal acceptance toward LGBT+ community does not limit to having an equal marriage law or not, Vietnam is a living proof of this point. As an attractive destination for LGBT travelers from all around the world, with the rising number of trips shown in reports recently, Vietnam is considered as one of the most welcoming countries for LGBT+ tourists in Asia for many reasons, and as any Asian countries, Vietnam has its own culture that you need to learn and respect to avoid awkward and frustrating situations. This guide will provide everything you need to know about LGBT+ travel in Vietnam, along with the top destinations and must-participate-activities in the country.
Is it safe to travel to Vietnam as an LGBT+ traveler?
While Vietnamese law has never criminalized same-sex relationship or transgender community, as well as they never criminalize intimate behaviour between 2 people in public, but the cultural values on the other hand, is sometimes against such acts, many other topics have the same rules applied. The culture standards might be different in provinces or cities. So it’s important to know where you’re going.
If you travel to urban cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, the possibility for you to have such an uncomfortable experience is quite rare. From the local authority to the service providers, no one could stop you on the street, or turn you away because of your gender identity. About the accommodation, it’s understandable for the local owners to arrange a double room for you and your partner. And the travel companies are quite friendly with LGBT+ customers, they could arrange you an LGBT+ tour guide in case you need.
On the other hand, you may have experience of getting surprised eyes from local people when traveling to some of the rural areas where the level of LGBT+ inclusiveness is not as high. It may come from the lack of knowledge, as there are many provinces in Vietnam that still don’t have electricity. In that case, all you need is to keep a friendly attitude toward them. In the mountain areas where you can have a fascinating view, people are very friendly that once they consider you as a good friend, they can treat you very well!
So is it safe? Sure, it is quite safe to be an LGBT+ traveler here in Vietnam! You can have interesting experiences like in Taiwan or Australia where LGBT+ people have been both socially and legally recognized. However, like other Asian countries, you might have a few embarrassing experiences when traveling to rural places. Just keep in mind that people are very friendly, if they look at you doing some intimate things, it may be because of their first time seeing that.
LGBT+ history in Vietnam
The diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression have been noted in several history books of worldwide nations, including Vietnam. There was no particular prejudice to or distinctions between people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identity, and the rest of society. Like many other countries, for a long time Vietnamese children were taught to obey the “social gender roles and models”, about who they should be and whom they should love. As a result, those who are not “fit” in that shape suddenly feel marginalized from society, even that “social gender model” has led to some negative attitudes, created stigmas and discrimination toward LGBT+ people. It is not until the last half-decade that there have been some major and positive changes toward recognizing LGBT+ lives and the human rights challenges they have been facing for a long time.
Unlike other Western countries, Vietnamese culture has another way to define sexual orientation and gender identity. According to UNDP in the Vietnam country report – “Being LGBT in Asia”, it was because of the patriarchal and patrilineal society that non-normative sexual orientation and gender identity are traditionally viewed and discussed as male homosexuality. The most common “model” of homosexuality was sometimes mixed up between gay and male-to-female transgender people. However, there were not so many cases of female-bodied who identified themselves as lesbian or female-to-male transgender, as most of the time the women had to follow the social norm of finding a husband, having children and raising a family.
Despite the rare information of homosexuals in historical documents, Vietnamese culture has a familiar and popular image of cross-dressing, which is now still one of the attractions for tourists traveling to religious places like northern temples. People used to believe that once a man dressed and behaved like a woman, they had the power to communicate with spiritual forces. Cross-dressing, or even name-changing, was also a way to protect children from evil spirits, or make it easier to grow them up. This practice was not relevant to the children’s sexuality or gender identity, but often according to the “witch” – a doctor who claimed themselves to have supernatural powers.
LGBT+ situation in Vietnam in modern society
Things have changed a lot since a project in 2008 that aimed to create a positive image of the LGBT+ community in media and social mindset. In 2015, the Civil Codes was passed by the National Assembly which recognized the rights of transgender people. The same-sex relationship has not been banned anymore since 2014, but the same-sex marriage is still not recognized and protected by law.
Since the first Viet Pride organized in Hanoi in 2012, the Pride spirit has spread throughout the country and raised to more than 35 provinces, which became an annual event of the community taking place from June to October with various activities like performances, film screenings, exhibitions, and Pride parade, etc. attracting a large number of foreigners who travel to several cities and provinces during that period.
In comparison to the negative and illegal images of LGBT+ people in the news and TV series 10 years ago, the LGBT+ models appear with the positive influence, talent and well-contribution to the community. Several TV shows introduced the life of LGBT+ people around the country to the national viewers, for example, the influencers like Huong Giang – the first Vietnamese trans woman who won the Miss International Queen in 2018.
LGBT+ destinations in Vietnam
It’s not hard to find your own LGBT+ space in big cities like Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
In Ho Chi Minh City, you could check out Tipsy Unicorn, Republic or Saigon Outcast. They have weekly LGBT+ events organized by the community themselves, such as Saigon is Burning, Rewind Rupaul’s Drag Race Night Game, Full Disclosure, and many more.
Not into parties? You might want to taste the original coffee of Vietnam from Kai – a young and energetic coffee shop located near Ben Thanh market that includes both indoor and outdoor space, rumor said that Kai was created for young gay men in Saigon. Or if you want to support an LGBT+ organization, let’s come to ICS Hub, where you can find books, booklets, documents and stories about Vietnamese LGBT+.
Some other preferences for you in case you have a longer trip than a week, let’s check out GenderFunk – a group of drag queens that have monthly events in Saigon Outcast, or a mix up between the international Bingo with the traditional Loto, let’s come to Sai Gon Tan Thoi’s show which occurs weekly at Rubik Zoo, too! Or you can discover 10 awesome things to do District 1 Ho Chi Minh City.
For tourists coming to Hanoi capital, one of the top destinations is the GC Bar, the best known gay bar in Hanoi. A familiar name for coffee in Hanoi is The Nest Boardgame – a place where you can join interesting games with young people here. You can explore the quiet and good coffee at Stay Cafe on Thai Thinh street, and don’t forget to taste their freshly baked cakes! If you want to find somewhere colorful and young, The Note Coffee Hanoi is a must try, where there are so many colorful notes posted on the wall, make it distinguish from any other places.
LGBT travel safety
Although the LGBT+ topic is now open in Vietnam, there are some things that LGBT+ travelers should note when they visit Vietnam. Here are some of the most important ones:
• Intimate behaviors: We all love to show how much we love our significant ones, and it’s totally OK to do that during your romantic dates or dinners, but you might draw some wary eyes from local Vietnamese if you do that in public places, since many of them are discrete and shy. If you catch someone looking at you curiously, just give them a friendly smile.
• Accommodation: Let’s take a look at the blogs for travelers, you can find helpful information. If this is the first time you travel, try to book a room at hotels, as these hotels offer the best privacy, safety and professionalism. If you can find a gay-friendly hotel, or an LGBT+ owned homestay, then it’s more wonderful! It would be a good idea to hire a local guide, as they know more about the places than in the reviews. If you’re concerned about the property owner’s attitude toward LGBT+, mention this to them beforehand. You might even find new friends and allies. Always keep in mind that communication is important!
• Travel in a group: It is romantic when you travel alone or with your partner, but traveling with friends is more fun. With friends, you can have your “favorite photographer” for the couple’s moments! Traveling with friends will also help to ensure the safety of every group member, in case someone gets lost!
• Transportation: Transportation in Vietnam is generally safe for LGBT+ people, and you shall not face discrimination here. There are many modes of transportation you could take, from airplane, train, or bus, so if you are not accustomed to riding motorbikes, it would be a good idea to use a taxi or the local app Grab instead.
• General safety: Before departing, always make sure that you had the contact of your country’s embassy in Vietnam here, contact of local LGBT+ organizations, and other emergency services.
Vietnam is not only an interesting destination for foreign travelers, but also a country of diversity and kindness. You’re encouraged to be the true and best version while you’re here. Whether you’re from a wonderful country that already has equality for LGBT+, or you’re from a still-conservative country where you have to hide yourself, Vietnam is a place that you could share your story, your emotions, and your heart with. We hope to welcome you here not only as a tourist, but also as a friend, a fellow LGBT+ community, or a family member. If you are looking for further tips for your multi-day tours in Vietnam, don’t hesitate to give us a call!
© ICS written for Maika Tours
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