How Safe is Myanmar for LGBTQ Travelers?

Find out where LGBTQ travelers will feel most welcome and where to exercise caution in Myanmar, the legal status for locals, plus a few other travel safety tips from our expert, Ed Salvato.

Shares

Hot air balloons in Bagan, Myanmar Photo © iStock/ugurhan

Myanmar has become a hot destination, especially among LGBT travelers who are thunderstruck by the evocative photos posted by their enviable friends who've already visited.

While it's illegal to be gay there, we've found the culture to be far more accepting than other countries in Asia which ban homosexuality, including Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and India.

LGBTQ friendly places

Most visitors stay on the fairly well-trodden tourist trail, which includes Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and the former capital Yangon. These spots are all so accustomed to tourists, that LGBT travelers should have no problems here.

While there are no LGBT-exclusive establishments, Yangon is where the bulk of the community lives. StickyRice offers a fairly up-to-date listing of LGBT-popular venues in Yangon.

There’s a monthly gay event in Yangon called FAB – keep an eye on the dates to see if it coincides with your trip. Most of the attendees will be local, and the event draws a fairly young crowd.

Where to be cautious

Gay people are rarely out, the country is devoutly Buddhist, and most Burmese people tend to think of gay men as men who want to be women or dress like women. Some locals believe that those who conducted sexual misconduct in a previous life are gay in this one. But, attitudes are slowly changing. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist, and now the country’s leader, has spoken out against Myanmar's antiquated anti-gay laws. There have been pride festivals and film festivals — but on a very small scale.

In the rural areas, the locals are not used to seeing LGBT people. That said, Robert Sharp, owner of gay tour company Out Adventures, reports, "groups have experienced some very interesting conversations in rural areas, where locals are curious and just want to know more."

Legal status of LGBTQ locals

A holdover from British colonial days, homosexuality is illegal in Myanmar with punishment including 10 years’ imprisonment. The law is rarely enforced, but it can be used as an excuse to harass LGBT locals.

There are also other laws that can negatively impact the LGBT community, from sodomy laws to restrictions against participating in a marriage that is not considered “legal”, i.e., same sex. Many of the laws are quite conservative, and can also cross over to various sexual identities, as well as making, selling or distributing “obscene” material, i.e., pornography.

Current attitudes towards LGBTQ visitors

Two men or two women together are mostly viewed as just friends. More sophisticated Burmese, however, will understand the nature of the relationship but won't react, especially those in the hospitality field.

Though the culture is welcoming overall, with respect to gay travelers it's more like tolerated, not so much enthusiastically embraced.

Current attitudes towards LGBTQ locals

With many exceptions, generally speaking it is still shameful for a family to have a child that identifies as LGBT. It is still a conservative culture, especially after being under strict military rule for decades, where media could not openly report on LGBT issues, and LGBT people could not legally organize.

LGBTQ travel safety tips

  • When choosing safe and welcoming hotel accommodations, stick with boutique hotels or international chains, like the Shangri-La.
  • Your hotel may slip up in terms of your accommodations, not realizing two men or two women traveling together may be a couple, or by asking where their husbands or wives are. Call or email ahead to ensure the room is set up how you require. Be patient. They're not used to LGBT travelers. 
  • Avoid public displays of affection, which are culturally taboo for everyone (not just gay people).
  • Intimacy among Burmese men is most often a sign of familiarity, not of homosexuality.
  • For lesbian travelers, note that the Burmese are extremely respectful of women. Any attention is likely to be out of curiosity because you're a foreigner, but it is well known they are not in any way aggressive to women. That said, exercise the same caution you'd use back home.
  • Dating apps, especially Grindr and Hornet are often the best way to find out about LGBT venues, nightlife and events. Just beware of prostitution, which can lead to trouble for travelers.
  • Dress modestly covering knees and shoulders, especially when visiting temples. 

Resources

Myanmar is a challenge logistically, especially if you go overland (as opposed to an all-inclusive river cruise). Work with an international tour operator. We highly recommend OUT Adventures which has been organizing trips there for four years.

Venture Out is launching their first Myanmar adventure in early 2018.

The NomadicBoys, a blog produced by a young well-traveled gay couple has extensive up-to-date information on the country and its gay life.

Get a travel insurance quote for Myanmar

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Related articles

3 Comments

  • Meilir said

    This is an interesting article, but might I suggest changing the name?? The title of this article is "How safe is Myanmar for LGBT travellers?" and yet, there is no mention on safety for the T aspect of the LGBT acronym in this post.

    As a Transgender individuals my issues and anxieties about travelling to Myanmar don't rotate around PDA's or sharing a room with my partner, it's more a case of am I going to be safe presenting as myself? Will I be arrested for simply existing in the country? And will I have a safe trip including at the airport where the airport security will see 'M' on the passport of someone who looks like an 'F'.

    It's just tiring to see these articles that are supposedly directed towards "LGBT" individuals, when the content of the articles are always only specifically focusing on the LG and B.

  • Loic said

    There is an other lgbt bar/restaurant called O'Thentic in yaw min gyi street. They have a weekly lgbt event every tuesday with drag queen show twice a month.
    Nice place. Friendly staff. Cocktail are good particurlarly tgeir cocktail pitcher.

  • Jhoji Mingtian said

    Between Yangon in Myanmar and Bangkok in Thailand, I have plan to travel in two countries. I'm a cisgender male just dressing like a woman, not in LGBTQ.
    As always being interested in women only.
    Is it safe walking on the street?

Add a Comment