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.
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.
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