Taipei becomes the gayest place in Asia every fall, when Taiwan LGBT Pride draws visitors from all across the continent and beyond to take to the streets for a march, which breaks into three distinct, snaking routes. According to organizers, around 137,000 people attended 2018’s parade, and no doubt 2019's will be a joyous record-smasher thanks to this year's legalization of same-sex marriage. Politically, Taipei has been notably progressive over the past couple of decades: Ma Ying-jeou, Taipei’s ex-Mayor and, later, Taiwan’s President, was famously pro-gay and allocated funds to LGBTQ events. With the passage of legal same-sex marriage in May 2019, Taiwan officially became Asia’s most LGBTQ friendly destination.
Taipei's LGBT Scene
Taipei has a thriving LGBT scene and plenty of social opportunities throughout the year, with creative businesses owned by and catering to LGBTQ folks. One of the most obvious indicators of Taipei’s openness, and a compulsory stop for any LGBTQ visitor, is Red House, a multi-level complex of indoor and outdoor gay bars, clubs, and clothing and accessory shops located just a block or so from the Ximen MRT station.
During Pride weekend, Taipei's LGBTQ scene is even more vibrant. Spread over several days, the concurrent Formosa Pride festival features a handful of major parties including a WOOF bear tea dance, an evening at an outdoor hot spring, and an after-party. There are also circuit-style parties during the year from organizers G5, and events for bears, who are quite popular in Taiwan. For film fans, November’s Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival typically includes new LGBTQ-interest titles and filmmakers. The Pride march in October, needless to say, is destination of its own: a mix of outrageous exhibitionism, activism, and, perhaps because it's positioned so close to Halloween, lots of cosplay and colorful costumes.
The Best Things to Do
After taking in the “big” tourist sights—the shops and observation deck at skyscraper Taipei 101, The National Palace Museum, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and one of Taipei's many amazing night markets (the sprawling Shilin is a first timer's must-do)—head directly to Gin Gin, a gay, everything store in the Zhongzheng district. Packed with Asian and international LGBTQ books and magazines (including naughty ones), movies, clothing, lube and sex toys, clothing, and fun home items, it’s also a prime queer Taiwan souvenir stop. An LGBTQ coffee shop, H*ours Café, is a door or two away, while Love Boat is located just around the block. This trailblazing, 15-year-old, women’s business carved out a niche producing and selling men’s-style clothing and breast binders to Asia’s “Tomboy” population (lesbians who take on a masculine identity and appearance). Love Boat has more recently expanded to include a cafe salon as well as wellness and healing products. It’s a must for transgender male and non-binary visitors, too.
Taiwan is brimming with local creativity and arts. There are several popular “art parks” filled with studios, temporary exhibitions (some require entry fees), shops, and cafes, including Songshan, Huashan 1914, and the new Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab. Datong district’s tucked away, gay-owned Wild Flower Bookstore is chock full of locally made, small press photo books, graphic novels, quirky arts publications, and artwork. Keep an eye out for anything by Chinese queer photographer, No. 223. Ready to relax in a natural hot spring? Head to Beitou's Kawayu hot spring for a naked soak.
The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs
What began as a single gay watering hole called Bear Café in 2006 blossomed into the fully-fledged gay complex Red House. Today you have your pick of bars broken down by themes, crowds, drinks menus, and outdoor versus indoor seating. To name a few: bear and chubby favorite G-Paradise, Japan-themed Shibuya, Casa Bar (formerly known as G-Mixi, this completely revamped venue was a 2007 Red House pioneer) and Cafe Delida, where you can see lip-syncing drag queens.
Zhongshan’s two-level G*star Club gets jam-packed with 20 and 30-somethings ready to dance late into the weekend nights (or mornings). While Taiwan’s first leather and fetish bar, Commander D, may seem “vanilla” by Western standards (especially when contrasted against, Berlin, Amsterdam, or San Francisco’s establishments), this is your chance to wear that harness or latex outfit. Basement level bar Hunt also veers into fetish and frisky adult naughtiness with events like lube wrestling, underwear parties, and skimpy “towel night.” As the name indicates, Bear Junkies teems with Taiwanese bears, cubs, chubs, and the skinny “monkeys” who like them, socializing over cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, and snacks. Lesbians, meanwhile, flock to Taboo, which hosts theme nights ranging from dress code specific to international-friendly. For even more gay bar listings, including details on recent closures, changes in management, and openings, check GayTaipei4U.
The Best Places to Eat
Bubble tea is one of Taiwan’s best known culinary exports, and just a few minutes’ walk from Gin Gin and Love Boat you’ll find an exemplary brown sugar bubble tea at Chen San Ding. Mind you, there’s no actual tea in this concoction, just milk, which is shaken with freshly stewed tapioca pearls and caramelized brown sugar to form an addictive, creamy, chewy delight. Another Taipei must is the Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung, home of the best xiao long bao (soup dumplings) which has numerous, and perpetually busy, locations around the city.
Meanwhile, Taipei's modern fine dining scene has exploded over the past five years with tons of sustainability-minded chefs and venues that channel Taiwan’s earthy, seasonal local flavors and ingredients via French and Japanese techniques. Trailblazers that continue to epitomize this movement and offer visitors deeply local flavors they haven’t encountered before include RAW and MUME. Chef Kai Ho’s Tairroir was awarded two Michelin stars in 2019 for its New Taiwanese creations, and newcomer logy (sister to Tokyo’s mind-blowing Florilege) has also accrued serious buzz for memorable set menus.
The mixology movement has truly arrived, and some venues offer cocktails heavy on local fruit, herbs, spices, teas, as well as housemade infusions, with accompanying menus of tasty bites. Be sure to try East End at Hotel Proverbs, which also boasts sparkling glass-enclosed city views at night, and avant-garde speakeasy ROOM by Le Kief, which puts a molecular spin on its ever-changing nibbles and libations.
Where to Stay
Hands down, the chic W Taipei is the city’s gayest 5-star property, and hosts special Pride Week events like a LOVE is LOVE wedding fair, an LGBTQ speed dating mixer for singles age 25-45 (registration required), and an open-to-the-public Rainbow Market. The latter two events will take place on October 27, 2019. All year-round, one can activate gay social apps at the W and see that the immediate area is absolutely packed with gay visitors and locals, some of whom can be found lounging in W’s WOOBAR, its outdoor pool, and 31st floor Yen restaurant and bar (try the tea-based cocktails). Service is outstanding, and rooms are ultra-comfortable and functional, some of which have show-stopping floor-to-ceiling views of Taipei 101, and electric blackout shades when you desire total darkness. The W also boasts an enviable location just next to Xinyi’s 24-hour Eslite bookstore, an MRT and bus station, and some of the best and newest shopping centers in town, including stunningly designed, Japanese-themed, Breeze NanShan.
In nearby Songshan, the palatial 303-room Mandarin Oriental Taipei is another favorite for the luxury set, remixing Asian motifs and design through a 21st-century pastel and muted tone filter. There’s an outdoor pool, spa, and handful of incredible restaurants, while all manner of LGBTQ folk, including cosplayers, can be found savoring afternoon tea at MO’s glittery see-and-be-seen Café un Deux Trois.
Da’an’s striking, angular 42-room Hotel Proverbs is the work of Ray Chan, who blends wood, leather, and one-of-a-kind carpets (seriously—they can’t be replaced) to make rooms homey, classy, yet contemporary, and unstuffy. Perks include a free minibar, a Nespresso machine, and lightning speed Wi-Fi.
On the extremely budget-friendly side (think a step above hostel), the Songshan district’s G’s Gay Hotel is billed as Taiwan’s first men-only, gay boutique property and is located a short walk from the Raohe Night Market. Wanhua’s beautifully appointed InHouse Boutique Taipei and nearby sister property InHouse Heritage are fantastic, comfy, and reasonably priced options if proximity to the Red House complex and its nightlife is a priority.