What's it really like?
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City may not be the capital but it is the bigger, buzzier counterpart to traditional, historic Hanoi. Although often skipped by travelers in favor of Vietnam’s beautiful coastlines or more picturesque cities like Hue and Hoi An, you can’t get a full idea of modern Vietnam without stopping by Ho Chi Minh.
The city is filled with the legacy of Saigon, from the old-fashioned street food markets and back alleys of the city to the grandiose colonial buildings and museums that nod to the French occupation and subsequent war. This blends in with the frantic pace of a modern city, with its shopping malls, restaurants, skyscrapers, and vibrant nightlife, to form something unique and intoxicating.
There is another reason to visit: Ho Chi Minh is the biggest gay hub in the country. While not exactly a gay destination in itself, the gay bars, clubs, and events in town are more than enough to keep the casual visitor busy. There’s a friendly local queer scene that gathers in popular gay and gay-owned bars throughout the week, and which is becoming increasingly international as HCM grows as a backpacker destination. You’ll also find some truly exceptional gay saunas here, offering everything from beautiful traditional Vietnamese gardens to rowdy themed parties.
To make the most of old Saigon colonial grandeur and the city’s hottest gay nightlife and clubs, District 1 is the place to stay. All of the gay-friendly hotels we recommend are in central District 1, where most of the major tourist landmarks and near to the gay bars.
As in many countries, Vietnam’s attitude towards homosexuality is complex and evolving. On one hand, the country stands out in Asia for never having had explicit laws forbidding same-sex relationships. A ban on gay marriage was lifted in 2015, and LGBT representation in the media has been growing and is becoming increasingly accepted.
That said, many Vietnamese, especially in older generations, maintain conservative attitudes towards the LGBT community. It is not easy for locals to come out, and many stay in the closet or keep their gay social life very low-key. Gay marriage, though no longer illegal, doesn’t offer the same protections as opposite-sex marriage, and LGBT people are not protected under the law.
Things are easier for travelers. Visitors to Vietnam are unlikely to encounter any trouble, especially in big cities like HCM and Hanoi. Hotels are almost universally gay-friendly and will not question you sharing a bed. The only thing you really need to keep in mind is that overt displays of affection are considered extremely rude, even between straight couples.
Ho Chi Minh is home to some of the best gay bars and clubs in Vietnam, and the scene here is bigger and more varied than in Hanoi. There are some long-established venues, but bars do tend to open and close at a fast rate, meaning the face of gay Saigon is constantly changing.
Most bars are primarily geared towards locals, which gives them a very authentic and laid-back vibe. However, this is changing as Ho Chi Minh becomes an increasingly popular tourist destination and gay visitors start exploring the local scene.
Most gay venues are in Quan 1, the tourist heart of the city, and there is no real gayborhood. That said, all of the bars we have highlighted below are within a short walk of each other, so you can easily bar hop before heading to Republic or getting a taxi to one of the large club nights.
The Tipsy Unicorn is one of the first “official” gay bars in the city and is one of the friendliest and most welcoming places in town. Expect a mixed, primarily LGBT crowd, with locals, tourists, and expats. They have a really fun trivia night on Wednesdays, a drag show on Sundays, and a resident DJ on Saturdays. They also hold Ru Paul’s Drag Race viewing parties whenever the show is on. Daily happy hour between 4 and 8 PM (including 2 for 1 cocktail), and open until 2 AM every night.
THI Bar & Live Music is a small, cozy gay-owned bar located in the Bui Vien backpacker district. It attracts a mixed crowd of locals and passing backpackers and gets especially gay during the weekends, where it is one of the popular stops on the way to Republic. There are good happy hour deals 4- 8 PM, and live music on every night.
Whiskey & Wares is another gay-owned, gay-popular venue, located a couple of minutes away from THI Bar. Its American owners have brought a classic hipster vibe to the place, with a trendy industrial design and an excellent selection of whiskeys, craft beers, and Vietnamese-inspired cocktails. Laid-back and super friendly, this is a great place to start your night.
Le PUB is a gay-popular bar and nightclub with a young, energetic vibe and arty decor. You can choose between dancing, karaoke, or just chilling in the lounge. Weekends are always packed, and you can expect a gay-friendly mixed crowd any night of the week. Located in the backpacker district, it’s fairly popular with tourists but remains pretty local.
Republic Lounge is the gay nightclub in HCM and where you will inevitably end up on most gay nights out in town. You are always guaranteed a fun night out here, especially on Thursdays and Fridays when they host the best drag show in town. It is worth mentioning that prices are slightly higher than usual, but the delicious cocktails are well worth it. It starts getting busy at about 11 PM and ends at 3 AM on weekdays, but keeps going until 5 AM on Friday and Saturday nights.
Full Disclosure is the biggest and gayest LGBT party in town, held monthly in venues across the city. They always include a great drag show and a DJ spinning late into the night, but themes vary, from pool parties to their legendary “Yass” parties honoring gay favorites like Britney and Lady Gaga. The party starts at around 10, get there early to make the most of it. Check out their Facebook page for info on upcoming events.
GenderFunk parties celebrate everything queer, with a focus on all types of drag and gender-bending. They are held about once a month in changing venues around HCM. Don’t miss out on them for some outrageous, glittery fun. Check out the GenderFunk Facebook page for upcoming events.
Despite a pretty subdued cruising scene, gay saunas in HCM are of a high standard, especially compared to other cities with similar-sized gay scenes. The saunas attract a mix of locals, expats, and tourists. The locals can be relatively shy, so don’t expect them to make the first move, but this also means it’s easy to hang out in the saunas and be friendly with no pressure or expectation.
NaDam Spa is an absolutely gorgeous men’s only sauna located in the northern end of town, about a half-hour taxi ride from the city center. It features traditional Vietnamese design with rich teak furnishings, old brick walls, and luxurious greenery, feeling like a complete retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is also the biggest gay sauna in town, with top-notch facilities including dry sauna, steam room, darkroom, and a large jacuzzi. A range of amazing treatments and massages are also available.
De.soi9 Sauna is tucked away at the end of an alley, where you will find a lovely garden that gives the place a peaceful and isolated vibe. Inside, the decor is luxe and a little bit kitsch, with several areas for mingling, including a steam room, dry sauna, jacuzzi, cinema, and private cabins. There is no bar and no massage services.
The SixtyNine Zone is owned by the same people as De.soi9 Sauna and has similarly high-quality facilities. It holds daily themed parties, such as Bear night on Mondays, Tattoo night on Thursday, or Student night on Wednesdays. Unlike its partner sauna, there is a bar which overlooks the large jacuzzi.
Vietnam has made great strides when it comes to identifying and treating HIV. The number of cases has dropped significantly since 2010, and as of 2018, 65% of all people with HIV were undergoing treatment.
There is a wealth of resources available in Ho Chi Minh where you can get tested, but most of them are geared towards locals. G-Link is a great service with 5 dedicated clinics throughout the city, where you have more of a chance of finding English-speaking staff.
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