Bali is generally considered to be one of the most queer-friendly places in Southeast Asia, perhaps almost as queer-friendly as Bangkok, and that’s saying quite a lot.
Most people find this to be surprising since Indonesia — the country at large — is notorious for its anti-gay laws. In fact, Aceh Province in Indonesia even enforces Sharia Law under which gay men have been getting publicly whipped.
Amidst all that, Bali exists as a paradise bubble that thrives on pink tourism. And with the advent of tourism comes some blanket security from the right-wing excesses of the rest of the country.
Over the 4 months I spent in Bali, I explored almost every corner of the island. While all of Bali is pretty queer in general, its focal point lies in one city and one street in particular — Jalan Camplung Tanduk in Seminyak.
Seminyak is perhaps the most “touristy” part of Bali. And Jalan Camplung Tanduk is a long street lined with charming roadside cafes, restaurants, and bars. And what would you know, smack right in the middle of this strip lies 3 gay bars, squeezed side-to-side, clamoring for attention soon as the clock strikes 9.
These gay bars have such a vital presence that the whole street has been locally dubbed “DhyanaPura” i.e., “rainbow”.
It’s pretty impossible to miss these bars. If you’re walking down the street past 9 o’ clock, chances are you’ll be accosted by several bar staff and drag queens who’ll try to persuade — sometimes even coerce — you into entering their bars.
Below is a brief description of the three bars in the ‘Rainbow’ street — MIXWELL, Bali Joe, and Bottoms Up.
MIXWELL is perhaps the longest standing and most popular gay bar in Bali. They have a lineup of stellar drag shows interspersed with a few GoGo dancer shows.
This is the largest of all the gay bars and has a comfy lounge area if you wanna’ catch some sweet snuggles. What fascinated me most about this bar was that the drag queens performed a bunch of “alternative” numbers as well, ones I haven’t really seen in drag shows in Bangkok, Siem Reap, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
Sure, they do the prime gay staples like Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande, but they also do other surprising stuff. One of the queens performed Evanescence’ seminal “Bring me Back to Life” dressed like X-Men’s Storm, all while stomping around the stage like RuPaul’s Pearl!
The GoGo shows are pretty meh, if you ask me. The dancers seem to have two moves — touching themselves on tabletops, and dry humping awkward token women that they drag onstage. But some people enjoy that, so, to each their own I guess!
Bali Joe is right next to MIXWELL and even though it doesn’t attract as many people, it still feels a LOT more crowded cause it doesn’t have as much space. If you wanna’ shed your inhibitions and dance like a maniac you should stick to MIXWELL. In Bali Joe, it’s hard enough not to knock over other people.
In terms of performance, Bali Joe is pretty much the same as MIXWELL. It features a number of drag shows interspersed with GoGo dancer shows. But I suppose because the space is so tight, the drag queens interact more with the audience as they move across the bar. One of their go-to moves here seems to be to invite a cute boy on stage and use him as a flirtatious prop for their performance. The crowd goes nuts whenever that happens.
Finally, the last bar in this strip is Bottoms Up. Even though it looks just like Bali Joe, it doesn’t get the kind of love that the other bars get. In fact, it doesn’t get any love at all.
The only time I’ve seen people in it was during New Year’s Eve when the other bars were full to bursting. On most days, it’s completely desolate. I did go there once with a friend to check it out and we had the liberty of dancing around in a completely empty bar. But if you’re looking for a lively place this most certainly isn’t it. In fact, I’m surprised it’s still staying afloat.
Where there’s gay bars, there’s gay guys. And where there’s gay guys, there’s gay hotels. In this case, the region in and around the Rainbow Street has several hotels that have unofficially become “gay hotels”, or at least “gay-friendly.”
During my month-long stay at Jalan Camplung Tanduk, I found that most of the guys who ever showed up in my Grindr stayed in one of two hotels — Courtyard By Marriott or HARRIS. The latter is the more budget-friendly option amongst them. Both of them are just a 5-minute walk from the gay bars.
If you’re a backpacker, you should stay at a hostel called Karisa Pods, which costs just about $10 a night for a bed in a dorm, and it’s just 2-3 minutes from the gay bars.
However, if you want to stay in an exclusively-gay hotel, you should try Spartacvs. It’s a short drive away from the gay bars and is a beautiful hotel that just happens to be clothing-optional. So if you like sunbathing in the nude or skinny dipping in the pool, you should definitely check it out. Don’t expect orgies though, it’s not that kind of a hotel.
For a detailed review of all the gay-friendly hotels and resorts in Bali, you can check out my Queer Guide to Bali.
Well, that’s all I have to say about exploring the Rainbow street of Bali! I’m sure you can do the rest of the work and exploration on your own, have a fabulous gay ol’ time!
Rohan is a Queer Travel Blogger and Digital Nomad. He writes from the perspective of a queer Indian guy who isn’t always 100% over-the-moon about traveling but loves the adventure with all of its highs and lows. You can follow his travels in his personal blog 50 First Steps.
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