When you hear about gay travel destinations you often end up with the same shortlist. It is true that some places, especially in Europe, with its very open and liberal society, have become gay holidays cliché. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s great to go to places where you feel comfortable and welcomed, and where you have the chance to meet others like you.
But outside the Western world where LGBT rights have become widely respected, there are also less known places – far and exotic – that are good options for an adventure. In Asia, Thailand remains one the most favorite among gays, and everybody else. But here I want to highlight a secret gem: Taiwan.
Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, is a vibrant, 24-hour, sleepless, modern metropolis. Very much like many other Asian cities. But there is a difference. Taipei is also very gay. In May 2017, the highest constitutional court ruled current laws defining unions only as between a man and a woman are invalid, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The council of grand justices, said barring gay couples from marrying violated the people’s freedom of marriage and rights to equality.
In May 2017, the highest constitutional court ruled current laws defining unions only as between a man and a woman are invalid, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
This may come as a surprise for many in the West, especially considering Taiwan’s strong Chinese and Confucian social traits. Taiwan is in fact, a Chinese society with Mandarin and Taiwanese (two distinct Chinese dialects) as the main languages. As an island-country, located in the East China sea, north of Hong Kong and south of Japan; Taiwan has been mainly populated by several different waves of Chinese people coming from the Mainland throughout the centuries, and some aboriginal people. The last big wave being those escaping from Communism over 60 years ago, when Mao Zedong took over China, and after ending decades of Japanese occupation which left a big mark in Taiwanese local culture and society. Since then, Taiwan has been separated and governed independently from China; angering Beijing who doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s independence and right to self-rule.
Today, Taiwan is a thriving democracy. It’s recent past of rapid development and economic prowess have been accompanied by a strong sense of local identity and nation-building efforts to contain China. Young Taiwanese are friendly, open-minded and quite liberal. They are proud of their civil liberties and rights, and they defend them fiercely. It is not easy to live in the shadows of an always threatening authoritarian neighbor like China, and to stand up to it.
It’s recent past of rapid development and economic prowess have been accompanied by a strong sense of local identity and nation-building efforts.
Perhaps this is why Taiwan is relatively more open and liberal than its neighbors. A country that has built its identity in opposition to an undemocratic regime, and has somehow embraced Western concepts like political freedoms, civil rights and individual liberties.
Taipei city in particular feels very open and friendly towards gay people; with a progressive government that includes protections for the LGBT community established over a decade ago. The success of the marriage equality bill was just the ultimate recognition after a long democratic process. Indeed, a 2014 poll showed that more than 65 percent of Taiwan’s population supports marriage equality rights. In practice, many municipalities all over the country had been conducting same-sex unions in the last few years.
Moreover, Taipei city is proud to hold Asia’s largest annual LGBT Pride, usually at the end of October each year. It normally coincides with the Halloween weekend, which is taken very seriously by the young local crowd. Big parties are going on all weekend. People in costumes and in a celebratory mood flood into the main nightlife areas of the city. Taipei is filled with a festival-like atmosphere and gays from all over Asia come for the Pride. This is strikingly different from places like Seoul in Korea, Tokyo in Japan or even Hong Kong, where the gay scene is very underground and gay rights are only recently started to appear in the public agenda. This “hunky_traveler” spent several years traveling around these countries. Most gay Taiwanese I met were out to friends and family, while Koreans or Japanese often were in the closet or having a double life.
Taipei city in particular feels very open and friendly towards gay people; with a progressive government that includes protections for the LGBT community established over a decade ago.
Taipei’s vibrant gay nightlife revolves around Ximen. Behind the well known Red Theater you can find over a dozen of gay bars with terraces to sit outside, and several shops tailored to gay customers. Cafe Dalida (like the famous French singer) is an institution and very welcoming towards foreigners. Ximen is a meeting point to start the night and have a couple of drinks, while the big gay clubs are spread around in the city (yes there are many to choose from). Another area where gays often hangout is around Dunhua, with a more mixed crowd of young hipsters though, there are a few well known gay bars in the area as well.
Taipei also hosts the big G5 parties, a sort of Asian version of the Circuit parties in Europe. The two biggest take place during the Pride weekend at the end of October, and during New Year’s. In fact, December 31st is the biggest night in Taipei and once more the city is flooded with gays from all over Asia to welcome the new year with a bang, and to attend G5 that goes on for the entire day in January 1. The midnight countdown of Taipei 101, the main landmark of the city, is a must.
Besides being an LGBT haven in Asia, Taiwan has many other interesting things to offer as a travel destination. It gives a chance to experience and taste the rich Chinese culture, with a certain touch of Japanese influence. It is a food paradise, with all the exotic cuisine variaties from Asia that you can possibly imagine, and tropical fruit and juices sold in every corner. Taipei is famous for its culinary status in Asia, as well as a good shopping destination. The rest of the country also offers wonderful nature, mountains, tea plantations, hot springs and a scenic rugged East Coast.
The best time to visit Taiwan is certainly in autumn when its more or less dry and not so hot, best months are from September to December, which is when the main gay events take place. This is a subtropical island, and it gets really hot and humid sometimes. So, now you know. If you are planning an Asian tour; make sure to stop in Taipei.