Admittedly, I was a little dubious when my fiancé first suggested a quick trip to Vietnam after a stopover in Singapore. An economically developing country still controlled by a central communist party—not known to be a friend to human or gay rights—I wasn’t sure if Vietnam was the right choice for a couple of NYC gay boys. After some research, my fears were allayed by Douglas at gay and gay-friendly tour operator Purple Dragon. He assured me that Purple Dragon did all the advance work to make sure hotels were supportive—no suspicious looks or nagging questions like “did you two men really want to share a room with only one bed?” Even better, the local guides—Trung in Saigon and Tuan in Hanoi—knew the latest, sometimes hard-to-find gay hotspots, and would give us insight into local gay and lesbian life. After a whirlwind 5-day tour organized by the Purple Dragon team, we are dreaming of going back. Here are my taste-y tips for making Vietnam your gay honeymoon getaway.
Tastey Stay. In non-stop Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh, but I almost never heard anyone refer to it by that name—including the flight attendant on arrival), it’s best to stay in the heart of it all. The modernized Caravelle Hotel has an enormous breakfast buffet with Vietnamese favorites and a beautiful view of the historical Hotel Continental—made famous in the movie, The Quiet American. In Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi, I fell in love with the curious combination of French colonial and stalwart communist architecture. The Sofitel Metropole is one of those classic grand dame Southeast Asia hotels on par in colonial splendor and history with Grand Raffles in Siem Reap and Raffles Singapore. Sofitel has done a meticulous job of restoring the Metropole—the dark hard wood floors made me feel like Catherine Deneuve in Indochine.
Tastey Eats. The traditional dish Pho—a noodle soup, often with chicken or beef— differs in flavor and spices from Saigon to Hanoi—so we tried them all, and loved them all. Don’t miss Pho 2000 in Saigon made famous by a Bill Clinton visit or Hanoi’s Mai Anh near Metropole. Our guide Trung had a lot of rules about when we could eat the delicious sandwich Banh Mi (pretty much only in the morning), but ultimately took pity on us and let us buy a couple at Saigon’s Nhu Lan (run by an “old lesbian couple” he told us).
Tastey Drinks. All over Vietnam everyone rides motorbikes which just made the men seem sexier driving up to Hanoi’s gay hot spot Golden Cock—a bar that wouldn’t be out of place in New York’s East Village. In Saigon on Saturday night, there’s a nice mix of gays, lesbians and straights at Q Bar directly across the street from the Caravelle Hotel. A better, and quieter way, to catch up with your guide and other locals is over coffee and beer. I became addicted to the Vietnamese strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk (yum), while my fiancé became enamored by Bia Hoi—a draft beer made in small batches delivered that day to the establishment.
Tastey Tips. Pack some extra cash for your walk around Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This warren of streets, each featuring a specialized vendor—from locksmiths to shoes to fresh meat (frog legs)—was endlessly fascinating and mesmerizing. For one of the most romantic experiences on your gay honeymoon, make sure to have Purple Dragon book your excursion to Halong Bay. The overnight trip on a private boat through some of the most spectacular scenery was unforgettable. Photographs from this collection of 2000 rock formations appear in everything from guide books to the movie, Indochine—seeing them up close and personal is indescribable. Reason enough to make your way to Vietnam for your gay honeymoon.
Jon Paul Buchmeyer is the author of the award-winning humorous memoir Alphabet City: My So-Called Sitcom Life and writes frequently for Condé Nast Traveler and Bon Appétit magazines. In addition, he is the author of his own popular blogs: ABCityblog.com and Poptimistic.com.