At the same time dazzlingly modern and beautifully traditional, Taipei is one of the most visited cities in Asia. Home to over 7 million inhabitants, the city is the political, economic and cultural heart of Taiwan.
For visitors, Taipei offers an exciting blend of east meets west and old meets new. The city is a safe and welcoming place to visit as an LGBT traveler, and is considered by many the gay capital of Asia. It is host to the continent’s largest Pride celebration, which welcomes over 80,000 people every October, and has some very progressive LGBT politics for Asian standards. Overall, Taipei has a much more prominent and outspoken gay community than anything you see in neighboring China.
In fact, many see Taiwan, and Taipei in general, as a sort of democratic, liberal version of China. Both countries share a lot of their history and culture, but Taiwan has passionately fought to have an independent identity and is self-governed.
The Red House and surrounding streets form Taipei’s gay village. The area is great for gay bar hopping and also includes some gay saunas, shops, and cafes. The Red house is in Ximending neighborhood of Wanhua district, Taipei’s oldest area.
Gay Taipei has a great collection of gay saunas and spas, in which you are almost guaranteed some action. However, over the past few years, a number of Taipei’s biggest gay saunas have close down.
Most gay travelers opt to stay in central Taipei, near to Ximending and the Zhongxiao East Road shopping area. The area has a great selection of hotels to fit a range of budgets and tastes.
If visiting Taipei for a gay festival or Pride weekend make sure to book well in advance, perhaps a few months ahead. Those popular gay-friendly hotels get booked up early for these events.
Taipei is seen by some as the capital of gay rights in Asia, combining an exciting gay nightlife and community and a progressive approach to LGBT rights. Taiwan as a country is home to Asia’s most progressive legal protections for LGBT residents, with same-sex marriage legal. The law came into effect on 24 May 2019 and 526 same-sex couples got married on the first day they were legally allowed to do so.
Gay Taipei is home to a vibrant nightlife, although a number of the largest gay clubs have closed in recent years. Nonetheless, the gay party and sauna scenes are still going strong, and hold up their own against big Asian gay hubs like Bangkok and Tokyo. The city hosts Asia’s largest Pride celebration, taking place annually in October with nearly 80,000 supporters. On a day-to-day basis, it is common to see gay couples holding hands, but not kissing. This is more an indication of the country’s general attitude towards public displays of affection than a result of homophobia.
As a city with progressive LGBT attitudes, it is relatively easy to get an HIV test in Taipei. The Kunming Brand of Taipei City Hospital provides anonymous, confidential, and free HIV testing. The Center for Disease Control website contains a full list of every hospital and NGO to offer HIV testing in Taiwan, although it is from 2014 so it could be out of date. In April 2019, Taiwan News reported that HIV saliva tests were to be sold at convenience stores.
As of 2013, there were 26,475 cases of HIV in Taiwan, 93% of which were men, and 51% of which were in the 20 to 29 age group. The main cause of infection is unprotected sex between men (80%). While these numbers are lower than some other Asian countries (mostly due to Taiwan’s smaller population), they do show young homosexual men to be particularly at risk. Practice safe sex at all times – both condoms and lube are easy to find in most convenience stores, as well as a few sex shops around town.
Taipei is divided into 12 districts, but only a few contain the city’s tourist attractions. It is an exciting city that offers some of the world’s best street food, great shopping opportunities, world-class culture and museums, and of course on of Asia’s liveliest gay scenes.
Wanhua – This is the city’s oldest district and the original heart of its bustling commerce. Nowadays, it is relatively run-down, but contains some fascinating heritage architecture and commerce. Ximending neighborhood is located here, which is the location of Taipei’s gay area, the Red House bar street. This is based around the iconic Red House Theater. Outside of the gayborhood, Ximending is popular with young locals exploring the full range of the neighborhood’s shopping and fast food options.
Zhongzheng – The city centre, concentrating government offices, Taipei Train Station, the National Museum, two large parks, and several temples.
Zhongshan – home to the main gay nightclub, G-Star. A former financial and business center, it is now full of hotels and restaurants, as well as a few parks, museums, and galleries.
Da’an – A commercial district where Taipei’s affluent live, eat and shop. ZhongXiao East Road is particularly good for shopping and trendy gay cocktail bars.
Xinyi – The financial district, and the place to go for brightly lit skyscrapers and a constant buzz of the big city. Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest building until the construction of the Burj Khalifa, is the main attraction here, as well as huge modern malls and the city’s best megaclubs.
Songshan – Home to Taipei’s most famous street market, the Raohe Street Night Market. During the day, check out Minsheng Community, a lovely tree-lined hipster enclave filled with coffee shops and designer boutiques.
Beitou – A mountainous suburban area that is home to Taipei’s best spa and hot springs. If you are planning to stay in the city during your stay, this is a great place for a more traditional Taiwanese experience just a 30-minute train from the city centre.
From Taipei Songshan Airport – This airport is in the city itself. There is an MRT station (green line) and a taxi rank. Taxis to most places in the city center should cost about $300 (10 USD).
From Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport – The airport recently added an MRT connection, which can get you to Taipei within 35-45 minutes for $165. There is a high-speed rail option and a standard railway option (which is cheaper but takes 90 minutes), but both of them involve a transfer at Taoyuan Railway Station. You can also catch one of several bus services which connect the airport with landmarks around the city (50-70 minutes, $150 at most).
Train – A combination of high-speed rail and standard trains connects Taipei to the rest of the country, which is the best way to get around if you are planning to see more than the capital.
MRT – The MRT is large and covers sections of the city and suburbs, making it the easiest way to get around. It is clean, comfortable, efficient, and air-conditioned. All signs and vending machines have English translations, so you should have no difficulty getting around. The last trains run at midnight.
Bus – The bus network is also great for getting around and all the information is displayed in English. You can either pay by cash ($15) or with a rechargeable card, which is also valid for the MRT.
Taxi – These are your best option for getting around at night, once the MRT has closed. It can also be useful during rush hour to avoid the crowded public transport. Taxis are easy to hail and available 24 hours a day, however most drivers speak only limited English. Uber is also operational in Taipei.
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