Thailand’s LGBTQ+ community draws tourists from China looking to be themselves

Xinyu Wen visited Thailand in June and organized her two-week trip around the Pride celebration in Bangkok.

Instead, the 28-year-old stayed for a month and a half because her participation in the march sparked conversations and new understandings in the booming LBGTQ+ community of the Thai capital.

Many LGBTQ+ people from China who are routinely mocked and excluded at home are attracted to Thailand by the freedom to be who they are. Wen remarked, “I felt like I was in a giant party or a huge amusement park while I was walking along the procession on the streets of Bangkok. We could forget about anything disturbing and have fun,” she remarked.

Thailand's LGBTQ+ community draws tourists from China looking to be themselves
Thailand’s LGBTQ+ community draws tourists from China looking to be themselves

Thailand’s tourism authorities regularly advertise Bangkok’s reputation as one of the most welcoming cities in the region for LGBTQ+ persons. Bangkok is only a 5-hour flight from Beijing.

When a friend emailed Wen a picture of rainbow-colored, Pride-themed ice cream being sold on the streets, Wen became intrigued by Thailand.

She added, “I wanted to go to Thailand to look.”

Wen identifies as queer, which, in her words, implies that both she and her partners can be of any gender. At home, Wen claimed that she frequently encounters critical looks from bystanders because she wears her hair short like a man’s and that once, her barber inquired, “What happened to your life?”

Wen, however, observed that at the June Bangkok Pride march, people were free to dress however they pleased. She was thrilled to be able to finally let her guard down and express herself in public. She went on to say that she was particularly moved by the protest component of the event, when participants carried placards with traditional Chinese writing that read, “China has no LGBTQ” and “Freedom is what we deserve.” She reflected, “I was touched but also sad.

She researched the situation in Thailand before her trip and discovered stories indicating that prejudice is still pervasive, particularly in the workplace. Thailand does not recognize same-sex relationships or marriages, which prevents them from adopting children and using other legal procedures that are available to straight couples.

Thailand's LGBTQ+ community draws tourists from China looking to be themselves

“Even though I initially had a critical attitude toward the parade in Bangkok because discrimination against LGBTQ people hasn’t vanished, I still felt inspired because the overlooked groups and the repressed feelings matter here,” the author said.

According to Apichai Chatchalermkit, a representative of the Thailand Tourism Authority, LGBTQ+ visitors are “high-potential” since they frequently travel and spend more money than other tourists.

“Using a photo of LGBTQ+ individuals in tourism advertisements is considered as offering a warm welcome without discrimination,” the man stated.

Thailand doesn’t track statistics on LGBTQ+ visitors. However, out of a total of 16 million visitors, it has only recorded 2.2 million Chinese visitors as of mid-August.

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Many of his Chinese clients, according to gay real estate agent Owen Zhu in Bangkok, are also staying in the homes they purchase. Most of his LGBTQ+ clientele, according to his estimate of 2/3 of them, purchase flats to live in on a part- or full-time basis.

He noted that there are numerous chat groups where homosexual guys from China arrange travels to Thailand and share information about parties and tickets to events. “Among Chinese gay people, Thailand is known as gay’s heaven,” he stated.

China does not have strong prohibitions against homosexuality, but other Asian nations do. For example, Malaysia declared in August that anyone found in possession of an LGBTQ+-themed watch might face a 3-year prison sentence. However, there are additional social pressures on Chinese LGBTQ+ persons to fit in that can make expressing their identities freely challenging.

Jade Yang, a lesbian in her traditional province in central China, was persuaded to wed a gay guy by her parents so that they could both maintain their façades.

Thailand's LGBTQ+ community draws tourists from China looking to be themselves

When the 28-year-old, who works in the entertainment industry, visited Thailand for the first time four years ago, she recalled being astonished to overhear individuals discussing their same-sex lovers in casual conversation. Yang moved to Thailand in February, claiming she wanted to go away from her hometown because she despised lying to her family and friends about the marriage.

Now that she doesn’t have to worry about how to behave as a straight woman, she claimed, she can date the ladies she loves and concentrate on her academics and job.

Over the last three years, “I wasted a lot of time,” she admitted. “I feel like there is a lot of the world still to discover after coming here. I’ve also realized that I should love myself more and not deny who I am so easily.

According to Adisak Wongwaikankha, the owner of the Silver Sand gay bar in Bangkok, roughly 30% of his patrons identify as LGBTQ+ and are from China.

He runs a drag show on the second level and a bar on the first.

The majority of our Chinese consumers, he continued, “come with excitement and curiosity.”

Thailand’s lax enforcement of its prostitution laws and renowned nightclub performances are further attractions for tourists, both inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community.

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