2 min

Road Warrior: Hong Kong saunas

Matthew Link recounts the kindness of a stranger

Sun Hot Spring Sauna. (PJ Sounders, Flickr)

Saunas in Hong Kong are worlds unto themselves. What the former British colony lacks in gay bars and clubs, it makes up for in cozy, apartment-sized bathhouses, where young patrons find sweet refuge from homes crowded with nosey family members. 

Hong Kong’s saunas are intimate and personal, with full bars where towel-clad patrons sit and chat and bond and get sloshed — when they aren’t ducking into ubiquitous karaoke rooms to warble local Canto-pop tunes. No one walks around naked, and dirty business is reserved for the anonymity of the dark rooms.

It was at one of these establishments that I met Edward, floating down a hallway with a smile planted on his face. He was young, and he clearly liked me. He was what I learned the locals referred to as a “potato queen,” meaning a Chinese guy who was into Westerners. After being rejected by many Hong Kongers who weren’t attracted to gweilos, Edward was a welcome relief to my bruised ego. He spoke good English and we exchanged phone numbers, and he made a concerted effort to come out and visit me at my flat.

I lived out in the New Territories, away from the hustle and bustle of the city proper, in a rural area where verdant hills cascaded into lonely bays punctuated by rocky islets. Lightning storms rocked the area often, with earthquake-like shaking that would send my two dogs squealing under my small bed for cover. A public mini-van was the only way to get to my hillside flat, and to get there you had to walk past a quiet prison where the inhabitants would change their clothes directly in front of the barred windows. 

“I like your kitten,” Edward told me as he scooped up my gray cat from the tiled floor. Most Hong Kongers don’t have a tender spot for cats, and this endeared me to Edward even more. He kissed her head then gently placed her down before crossing the room and kissing me firmly on the lips. We lay down on the bed, his hairless body under mine, our mouths locked without breathing. The thunder roared and exploded outside the wet windows, and the dogs’ whimpers mixed with the sounds of our lips. 

“When can I come over again?” Edward implored over the phone the next day. 

“Soon.” I wasn’t sure if he was glomming on to me, or if I liked the fact that he might be.

“I miss you” he began to tell me, and then I heard a splash in the bathtub and horrible meows. 

I rushed to the tub and tried to fish the flapping kitten out of the boiling water. The animal ran under the couch, and I chased after it. I grabbed at its body and watched as white welts and blisters began to form on its face and paws. 

“I’ll have to call you back, Edward. The cat fell into some super hot water.”

Edward gasped. “I’m coming over.”

When he entered, he found the shaking kitten wrapped in a blanket and scooped it up once again. I watched as he gently cradled the cat and tears began to work their way down his smooth cheeks. I had rarely seen a grown man show emotion so effortlessly. He cried for some time before the creature finally, quietly died.

Edward and I spent the evening in bed, naked, pressing against each other. The rain kept falling without relief. But it was okay. His tenderness was overwhelming and all-encompassing, and to this day I don’t think a total stranger in an unknown land has ever given himself so fluently and selflessly to me.

Read more about Hong Kong’s bars and saunas.

The Road Warrior series of columns first appeared in The Guide, our print edition that was the predecessor to


For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Hong Kong, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.


Matthew Link is an award-winning travel writer, documentary filmmaker and frequent TV guest/commentator. The founding editor of Out Traveler and Sherman’s Travel magazines, Matthew has served as an editor at Frommer's Budget Travel magazine, and contributed articles to Newsweek, Time, Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, among many others.His numerous TV appearances include a regular guest spot on NBC’s Early Today. Among books, his writing is included in The Best Travel Writing 2008: True Stories From Around The World. Check out his author page on

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