Although it’s been more than a decade since the change in sovereignty, this small enclave of seven million people remains a world apart from the rest of China. When established as a British colony in 1842, the area was just a collection of small fishing villages around a magnificent harbor. Today, with a large foreign working population and an "East meets West" way of life, Hong Kong's people have a unique society that borrows from both worlds. With a degree of political and legal autonomy under the "one country, two systems" policy, and as one of the world's leading financial centers with it's own currency, they enjoy a generally high level of civil liberties. At the same time the city, as part of China, is at the cutting edge of changes taking place across this vast and populous country; an important position in what is expected to be the world's most powerful economy, sometime within the next decade.
In many ways Hong Kong is already one of the most gay-friendly cities in Asia. British courts, using harsh laws against male homosexuality, could once impose sentences of life imprisonment, but that changed in 1991 when the Legislative Council decriminalized private, adult, non-commercial, consensual homosexual relations. The age of consent was set at 16 in 2006. While social conservatives, often evangelical Christians or Catholics, still view homosexuality as immoral, a majority of people aren't bothered. The history of same-sex relations in China, before negative Western viewpoints took hold, has been documented since ancient times; celebrated in the art and literature of many dynasties. Confucians did however consider having children (especially sons) to be an important family duty. See the Wiki article Homosexuality in China.
In today's gay scene, upscale cocktail lounges and rather dressy dance clubs contrast with the uncomplicated sex and nudity found at private men's saunas and the sensual touches at the many massage establishments. Otherwise, the sex and fetish clubs, erotic strippers and dark rooms so common in the West are absent here, but many attractive young men post online ads with none-too-subtle come-ons and a phone number, often with explicit photos of themselves. Chinese-only websites, far more numerous than those in English, provide a vast array of chat-lines and hook-ups for men. Although gay sex is legal in China, sex-for-pay is (technically) not.
There are gay business clusters in several districts, including around Hollywood Road area in Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island, and around Nathan Road in Kowloon across the harbor. See an overview of gay places of interest to visitors, with locations and website links, in our map & listings section. Pick up a copy of DS Magazine's Q Guide, with monthly-updated lists and maps, before heading out to explore. For a little networking while in town, check out the amusingly named Fruits in Suits, a business group that holds mixers once a month.
Many of the gayest events of the year take place at the end of the year, during Pink Season. Check out the November/December Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, one of the biggest gay events of the year, and the Hong Kong Pride Parade. There was also a Gay Day this past November at Hong Kong Disneyland. Other local events include the mid-October Mr. Gay Hong Kong contest -- the winner represents Hong Kong in the Mr. Gay World Pageant.
As one of the world's powerhouse cities of commerce, Hong Kong has few equals for shopping opportunities. A local penchant for bargaining and the lack of sales tax only add to the incentives at the vast selection of shops of all kinds. Canton Road is home to many upscale brand-name stores, and Harbour City has hundreds of shops. The nearby 1881 Heritage, a former colonial police station, is a luxury shopping center. Elements, above the Kowloon MTR Station, has five levels of stores, each representing one of the five elements of nature, plus a ice skating rink and huge cinema.
Big spenders might consider the new five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel which occupies the upper floors of the International Commerce Centre, towering above Kowloon MTR Station in the world's fourth tallest building by height. Their Ozone bar has tapas and great views of the city and Victoria Harbour from the top floor, but allows no sandals, teeshirts or shorts. For some other lodgings options see our map & listings section.
Noodles, dim sum, and other Cantonese favorites characterize traditional Hong Kong cuisine, but this international city also offers a wide variety of other foods from elsewhere in China, East Asia, and around the world. For gay-friendly restaurant listings, see the Dining Out section of Dim Sum Magazine. Other guides are listed under "media" below.
Hong Kong International Airport is the main international gateway. The MTR express train is the best and quickest way to get into the city, costing around US$12 each way. There are also buses and taxis.
Within such a densely packed area the public transportation of this city is highly developed, and has one of the highest levels of usage anywhere. Normal adult fares cost the equivalent of between 50 cents and US$2.50 for destinations throughout the system, except airport and checkpoint (China) terminuses. An Octopus rechargeable smart card can make per-trip costs even cheaper, and a Tourist Day Pass is available for unlimited rides for 1-3 days. A round-trip (return) tourist card, for the Airport Express, plus three consecutive days of unlimited travel on the MTR, Light Rail and MTR Bus routes, costs about US$36. Other passes, such as for trips to Hong Kong Disneyland, are also on offer.
The five subway lines are the speediest way to get around Hong Kong. On the surface there are double-decker trams, buses, and taxis. Wi-Fi coverage is available at 32 stations along the MTR network. For all public transportation info see the website of MTR.
Star Ferry carries passengers across Victoria Harbour, providing great views as well as transportation. They also offer harbor tours on their re-creation of a classic ferry of old Hong Kong, with cafe on board. A number of other ferry companies also provide connections around the harbor - see the ferry pages of Discover Hong Kong for more on these.
The Peak Tramway funicular railway carries tourists and residents to upper levels of Hong Kong Island, from Central district to Victoria Peak via the Mid-Levels. The Mid-Levels escalator, the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, is one of several escalators and moving pavements in the steep and hilly terrain of the Central and Western districts. Mid-Levels travel time is about 25 minutes for 800 metres, and a climb of 135 metres -- quicker if you walk at the same time. Note "SoHo" means "above Hollywood Road" in the escalator system landscape.
Unlike elsewhere in China, vehicles in Hong Kong and Macau are driven on the left-hand side of the road, as in Britain, Australia and Japan (among others). Pedestrians from elsewhere should look for cars and buses in unexpected places; but with jaywalking laws strictly enforced, few cross against the light.
Cantonese, the de facto official language spoken by most people here, is mutually unintelligible with other spoken Chinese varieties, but somewhat similar when written. Lessons in Mandarin, China's national language, are encouraged, but Cantonese lyrics in popular music make it fashionable far beyond the home area. English, another official language, is understood by about 35 percent of people in Hong Kong, mostly as a second language. Signs in both Chinese and English are commonplace, with many roads retaining their colonial names in English.
What to do
Main sights on your to-see list should include the Chi Lin Nunnery, a peaceful retreat in a sprawling suburb; the Hong Kong Museum of Art; and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Check out the skyline view seen on the postcards, from Victoria Peak, by way of the Peak Tramway. You’ll also want to see the Tian Tan Buddha, a 202-ton statue said to be the world’s largest, overlooking Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. For more suggestions see our activities listings.
Currency and Money
The local currency is the Hong Kong dollar, the ninth most traded currency in the world. Credit cards are accepted everywhere in this cosmopolitan city. ATMs can be found all over, and some HSBC machines provide 24-hour HK$ cash withdrawals for Visa and Mastercard holders. Consult your home bank before departure for more details. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has a useful section at Money.
Media and resources
DS Magazine is Hong Kong's free gay lifestyle magazine. Their pocket-size monthly Q Guide has detailed maps of gay Hong Kong and Kowloon that can be downloaded in pdf format.
For updates on special gay parties/events, see HX Production. Fruits & Suits, or FinS, is an LGBT informal monthly professional networking event in its 8th year. Check their website for venue of the month and times.
Utopia, the gay guide to Asia, also has listings for Hong Kong. Travel Gay Asia also has listings for SE Asia, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Sydney Australia, with good coverage of the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong.
GayHK is a local website portal for saunas, and massage services, in Chinese and English. Many have out-services only - some good 24/7 options include: A For Adam (phone 852-9037-9797); Hong Kong Boysclub (phone 852-5801-0069); and Supermodel (phone 852-5173-2999). East Palace League (852-6874-0122) is part of a large group with services in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhuo, and Shenzhen, among others.
Discover Hong Kong is the website of the HK Tourism Board. For information about public swimming pools and beaches, museums, libraries and parks, see the Leisure & Cultural Services or the Public Museums website.
For map locations and website links to the businesses below, and more, see our gay Hong Kong listings pages.
Going Out, bars
Bauhinia Beach Club (South Bay Rd, Middle Bay Beach) popular gay beach refreshments, WiFi.
Boo Bar (225 Nathan Rd, Jordan), karaoke bar, early crowd of bears, DJs until 4am on weekends.
Deja Vu (41 Staunton St, Central), chic gay/mixed cocktail lounge, balcony, outdoor courtyard.
Lab (468 Jaffe Rd, Causeway Bay), longtime gay locals' music & karaoke bar.
Midnight & Co (behind 79 Wyndham, Central), small underground electronic music club, mixed crowd, 24-hour license.
New Wally Matt Lounge (152 Austin Rd, Kowloon), gay bar/lounge, restaurant, internet WiFi, happy hours, mixed international older crowd.
T:me (65 Hollywood Rd, Central), trendy, gay-friendly Soho mixed bar, soft jazz, quality wines.
Tony's Bar (5A, Chatham Rd, South, Kowloon), international expat & local mix, karaoke, darts, booth seating.
Volume HEAT (83-85 Hollywood Rd, Central), noon-midnight gay bistro and tapas bar, magazines, art, live music, WiFi.
X Bar (50 Jardine's Bazaar, Causeway Bay) large karaoke song selection, theme nights, shows and contests, was Explode.
Going Out, clubs
Club 97 (9 Lan Kwai Fong, Central), late-night mixed dancing, gayest on Fridays, drag shows.
Propaganda (1 Hollywood Rd, Central), long-time popular gay club, conversation bar, weekend dancing, late mixed crowd.
Volar (38-44 D'Aguilar St, Central), serious dance club, mixed crowd, guest DJs from around the world.
Volume BEAT (62 Jervois St, Sheung Wan), gay nightclub dancing, go-gos, theme parties.
Zoo (33 Jervois St, Sheung Wan), jungle decor, mixed dance crowd, jazz & Latin music nights.
Hong Kong has a lot of gay saunas; places where gay men go for "release" and relaxation, as opposed to the clubs, where they go to socialize, dress up, see-and-be-seen. We list the establishements that are most accessible to visitors on our map & listings/saunas page.
Most have all the amenities you'd expect: dry sauna, steam room, Jacuzzis, cabins, video lounges and dark room cruising; some also have pools, bars, karaoke nights and/or cafes. Some are favored by bears, others by younger crowds, with varying proportions of East/West mix. Others we don't list, mostly locals' bathhouses, can be found by those adventurous enough (and Cantonese speaking) in the local listings.
For our sampling of massage spas see services - again there are many more if you look around, and/or speak the language. For a more complete local online guide to saunas, and massage services, mostly in Chinese but with many in English too, see GayHK.
Accommodations & restaurants
You can find lodgings most anywhere in the city, at rates from cheap and basic to world-class luxury suites with fantastic city views and regal pampering, if price isn't an issue.
We list a sample ranging from the Y-Loft Hostel to the Ritz-Carlton atop the ICC Tower (the world's highest hotel rooms), in Kowloon, Central and nearby areas. The Butterfly group of hotels, along with Mini Hotel Central are each well-located and full-service, at affordable prices.
See these and more, along with some restaurant suggestions, each with location and most with a website link, at our map & listings/hotels page.