Twenty years ago – hardly a blip in historical time – Chinese authorities arrested gay rights activists when being gay was a crime. Not only was it a crime, but until 2001 – just 16 short years ago – it was considered to be a mental illness.
In China, gays who dress a certain way or show public displays of affection, still cause people to stare. In families, having a gay child often causes turmoil, and some parents even take their child to a clinic for treatment in an effort to convert them to heterosexuality.
Although China has the world’s third-largest “pink market” – with Europe and the US coming in first and second – being openly gay is definitely a challenge. In a country with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, it is estimated that 70 million make up the LGBTQ population.
So where does the pink market go to cut loose? Thailand, of course!
Thailand is known the world over for its acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyles, and Chinese gays are traveling there in droves to get away from judgmental eyes and family stress.
“We’re waiting for the go-go boys!” exclaims a Chinese tourist at a Thai night club called ZAG. Paradise Complex in Phuket has become THE destination for partying the night away, with several night clubs located in this one venue.
“Every night, around half our customers are from China. They used to come in the past, but this year suddenly there were a lot, so we added Chinese songs,” Bon Nadech, the owner of ZAG bar told AFP. As the night wore on at ZAG, the atmosphere became increasingly carefree, with lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gay, and straight partygoers tossing back shots and posing for pictures with the bare-chested go-go boys.
Chinese travel companies have picked up on the travel trend and are tapping into the LGBTQ market. Close to a dozen travel agents are offering trips specifically for gay tourists to go to Thailand. Their ads show travelers partying on rainbow-decorated yachts in an atmosphere of freedom.
More Chinese tourists visit Thailand than any other country. There are no visa requirements, and air links are inexpensive. It has become a trend for Thai entertainers, tour guides, and service staff to learn Mandarin to make it easier to communicate with Chinese tourists.
So far this year, close to 7 million Chinese have visited Thailand, bringing a ton of tourists dollars with them to spend on their holiday. And to the pink population, the welcoming Tourism Authority of Thailand says in a marketing campaign, “Go Thai Be Free!”