Travel Misconceptions: Gay Travel in Malaysia

Travel Misconceptions: Gay Travel in Malaysia

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One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

So, I’m starting my first ever guest posting series about these travel misconceptions we find throughout our lives and epic journeys. I’ve asked a few writers to talk about their own misconceptions and perhaps how they were proven wrong in their travels.

Without further ado, I’m happy to introduce the next guest posters on this blog – Stefan and Sebastien from Nomadic Boys – talking about their perspective on gay travel in Malaysia. Take it away Stefan & Sebastien!


We are Stefan and Sebastien, gay couple from London who quit their lives and jobs in London in June 2014 to travel the world.

We have been in Asia since and spent 3 months travelling around Malaysia.

Malaysia is a country where homosexuality is illegal with no rights to protect the LGBT community. It retains the colonial era criminal ban on sodomy with possible punishment including fines, prison for up to 20 years and even corporal punishment. In addition to this, Muslim citizens are also liable to further punishment by the special Islamic courts.

On the face of it, Malaysia isn’t the most open place in the world for members of the LGBT community and the situation seems to have deteriorated over the years. For example in 2005, the Royal Malaysian Navy chief, Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor stated that the Navy would never accept homosexuals. And in 2010, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia announced it would only allow depiction of homosexual characters as long as they “repent” or die…!

Despite the harsh laws, we were quite surprised to find an active gay scene in the large cities, particularly Kuala Lumpur and Penang. There is no such thing as an openly gay bar in the country – this could lead to their licence being revoked. But there are places well known in the LGBT community as gay friendly hangouts. We were interviewed on the government owned radio station called Traxx FM. The interview was quite gay with tongue-in-cheek references – which is ok, as long as the word gay is not used.

On top of this, we found Sarawak on Borneo Island more open-minded than mainland Malaysia, particularly, Kuching. It was more relaxed and the people friendly to us. We made a lot of friends and noticed more happy gay couples here than anywhere else in the country. This probably comes down to Sarawak having so many different races, religions, like the Dayak, which can further be broken down to more than 200 ethnic subgroups. Kuching was also declared the City of Unity last year.

Travel Misconceptions - Gay Travel in Malaysia

Sarawak sees a lot of international tourism as a result of the Rainforest World Music Festival every summer. Anything that attracts more foreigners, is also likely to attract gay couples like us, which helps broaden people’s views that gays are no different to anyone else.

Despite the anti-gay laws, we strongly feel that gay travellers should still visit countries like Malaysia instead of boycotting them entirely.

The money you spend on holiday mainly goes to the local businesses you are eating at, staying at or touring with. In other words, the people benefiting are every day people like you and me (maybe straight, maybe gay), who simply want to make a living for themselves, and not the politicians who are creating and promoting anti-gay laws.

In most cases, these local businesses probably don’t even agree or care for these laws.

Most importantly, if you visit a gay-owned or gay friendly establishment during your travels, your money helps them flourish in a society, which is likely to be fighting to close them down or make their lives difficult. Your presence there as a gay traveller is invaluable in supporting the local LGBT community and businesses.

We strongly believe that meeting and engaging with gay locals is far more productive then refusing to visit their country in the first place. And you’ll make heaps of friends along the way. We sure did in Kuching!

Travel Misconceptions - Gay Travel in Malaysia

Stefan & Sebastien are the couple behind Nomadic Boys, where they take you around adventures, great food, and the best of gay travel around Asia. Find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest!


Travel Misconceptions - Gay Travel in Malaysia

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Interested in being a part of the travel misconceptions series? Make sure to contact me with an idea for your story, I’d love to have you on board! 

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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  1. I love this whole theme – I think it’s great! And to hear from Stefan & Sebastien is super neat! I love getting other’s point of view on travel – especially in lifestyles that differ than mine. Being a married, white woman, with kids; surely my experience will be plenty different than a variety of other people’s experiences and I love hearing about that!

  2. Wow! It never occurred to me that even traveling for homosexuals can be problematic. I think it’s great locals in Malaysia have found their own niche, but it breaks my heart to think that they must live in fear of their lives if they are caught. This is a brilliant series and a fascinating take on travel!

    1. Right!? I thought this piece from Stefan and Sebastien was so enlightening – the realities (and sometimes over exaggerations) of how difficult gay travel is in certain parts of the world is something people may not think about all that much, but it’s an important subject and perspective to know more about!

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