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

Monday, September 11, 2023


LGBTQ+ people from China, frequently scorned and ostracized at home, are coming to Thailand in droves, drawn by the freedom to be themselves.

Bangkok is only a 5-hour flight from Beijing, and Thailand’s tourism authorities actively promote its status as among the most open to LGBTQ+ people in the region.

Thailand Tourism Authority official Apichai Chatchalermkit said in an Aug. 9 article in a newspaper that LGBTQ+ tourists are considered “high-potential” as they tend to spend more and travel more frequently than other visitors.

Using a photo of LGBTQ+ individuals in tourism advertisements is considered as offering a warm welcome without discrimination, he said.

Thailand doesn’t keep figures on LGBTQ+ tourists. But through mid-August, it has counted 2.2 million Chinese tourists out of an overall 16 million.

Owen Zhu, a gay real estate agent in Bangkok who sells houses to Chinese clients, said many are also coming to stay.

He estimated some 2/3 of his clients are LGBTQ+, many of whom buy apartments to live in part- or full-time.

Among Chinese gay people, Thailand is called gay’s heaven, he said, noting that there are many chat groups where gay men from China coordinate trips to Thailand and share information about parties and tickets to events.

Being gay is not illegal in China, though other Asian countries have strict laws around homosexuality such as Malaysia, which announced in August that anyone in possession of an LGBTQ+-themed watch could be jailed for 3 years.

But LGBTQ+ people in China face other pressures to conform that can make the free expression of their identities difficult.

Another draw for tourists, inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community, is Thailand’s loose enforcement of prostitution laws and renowned nightclub shows.

Eros Li first came to Thailand in February to check out the nightlife and the massage parlors, many of which offer sex services.

The 42-year-old returned two months later, saying that, while there are some spas in China where similar sex services are on offer, they are less accessible and there is a risk of being arrested.

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