Vietnam is a very conservative country, something like the West was before the 1960s. Marriage is a child-bearing operation that happens early in life, with generations of a family living together. Imagine Hillary Clinton's proverbial "village" (as in "It takes a village"), but here, there's little leeway for anything short of providing for the next generation and no tolerance of alternative lifestyles. Attitudes toward homosexuality, despite growing notions that people are "born" so, are archaic and discriminatory.
In fact, there are laws against homosexuality in Vietnam, and any gay activity or nightclub is watched closely for "aberrant behavior" of what is officially considered a great "social evil." Police have been known to raid men's clubs, massage parlors, and saunas, imposing fines and "re-education courses" on Vietnamese offenders. Sadly, police often target foreign gay visitors in the big cities and sometimes work with dangerous gay touts and escorts to set up gay travelers (and sex tourists) for blackmail and scams.
The efforts of local and international NGOs to educate about condom use has met with some success, as there is a low reportage of HIV infections among gay males (though statistics are unreliable). In general, an increase in sex tourism in Vietnam has been reported, including gay sex tourism -- the sad truth is that many of these visitors have pointedly forgotten what they know about HIV and AIDS prevention.
You won't find any parades or openly gay-friendly destinations in Vietnam because all gay nightlife is underground, but there is a gay scene in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, as well as at some beach destinations. Check the regional Utopia Asia website (www.utopia-asia.com) for information about nightspots and gay-friendly accommodations, or try the international sources below.
The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA; tel. 800/448-8550 or 954/776-2626; www.iglta.org) is the trade association for the gay and lesbian travel industry, and offers an online directory of gay- and lesbian-friendly travel businesses and tour operators.
Many agencies offer tours and travel itineraries specifically for gay and lesbian travelers. San Francisco-based Now, Voyager (tel. 800/255-6951; www.nowvoyager.com) offers worldwide trips and cruises, and Olivia (tel. 800/631-6277; www.olivia.com) offers lesbian cruises and resort vacations.
Gay.com Travel (tel. 800/929-2268 or 415/644-8044; www.gay.com/travel or www.outandabout.com) is an excellent online successor to the popular Out & About print magazine. It provides regularly updated information about gay-owned, gay-oriented, and gay-friendly lodging, dining, sightseeing, nightlife, and shopping establishments in every important destination worldwide. British travelers should click on the "Travel" link at www.uk.gay.com for advice and gay-friendly trip ideas.
The Canadian website GayTraveler (www.gaytraveler.ca) offers ideas and advice for gay travel all over the world.
The following travel guides are available at many bookstores, or you can order them from any online bookseller: Spartacus International Gay Guide, 35th Edition (Bruno Gmünder Verlag; www.spartacusworld.com/gayguide); Odysseus: The International Gay Travel Planner, 17th Edition (Odysseus Enterprises, Ltd.); and the Damron guides (www.damron.com), with separate annual books for gay men and lesbians.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.