Friday, June 5, 2009

The Gay Bar of Laos

Source: FFWD

Deep in the mountains of Indochina, on the shores of the mighty Mekong River, in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang where every city block features at least two Buddhist temples, each more beautiful than the last, sits the only gay bar east of Thailand. Khop Chai isn’t remarkable at first. It’s a tiny bar that a straight man like me can spend 10 minutes in before realizing all the patrons are male. Though gay-friendly hangouts aren't rare in neighbouring Vietnam and Cambodia, an outright “out” venue is nearly unheard of. Khop Chai is so rare that if you meet a gay man who has visited Laos, odds are he’s frequented this bar.

Khop Chai is decorated with the typical Asian combination of bamboo and garishness. Rope lights outline every available surface and bright disco lights accompany shrill dance music that blares into the street. Inside, tiny, gay Laotians flirt shamelessly with middle-aged westerners. Drinks are cheap, the food is good and there is always a local willing to share my table and ask me on a date. There is not, it seems, any fear of the country’s totalitarian government among these gay men.

In a way it is safer to be “out” in one of the world's last remaining communist countries than in small town North America. “Geoff,” the American-born co-owner, asked me not to use his real name – not for fear of Laotian authorities, but so his clients back in the U.S. won’t find out his orientation. (Being a foreigner, Geoff really can't own anything in The People's Democratic Republic of Laos, so he shares both businesses with his Laotian boyfriend).


It's very cool that gays are recognized openly in this area of the world. No matter how much people look down on them, they always have this little car to go to where they are always welcomed. Also cool to see the communist government worry more about things like prostitution and decadence than homosexuality.

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