Phnom Penh

A cute Khmer chick attacks my ballsA cute Khmer chick attacks my balls.
She’s never going to pot that yellow.

“Oh no”, say the Americans. “Our dollars are worth jack shit. Thailand should devalue the baht, or we won’t be able to afford to go long-time any more”. Of course, the dollar’s been depreciating against every other world currency too, which doesn’t help.

Anyway, it’s a bad time to be selling US dollars – as visiting Americans must, in order to purchase Thai Baht. Conversely, and rather obviously, it’s a fantastic time to be buying dollars. And, as luck would have it, the prevalent currency in already-cheap Cambodia is indeed the good ole’ greenback.

Just a year ago, US$10 was about ?400. Today, it’s a little over ?300. And you can pick up a cute Khmer or Vietnamese freelancer in Phnom Penh for US$10. That’s full sex for half the price of a Bangkok barfine. So if you’re earning baht (or just about any other world currency that isn’t tied to the dollar), it’s a great time to visit Phnom Penh.

Getting there from Bangkok is trivial by air, and is even doable by land if you’re saving those nickels and dimes – although I wouldn’t recommend it. I stayed in a hotel near the river, where simple but decent-enough rooms went for $10 to $15 per night. Draught beer is far more commonly available than in Bangkok, and generally sells for $1 a glass. At today’s exchange rate, that’s about ?30.

The Wild West of South East Asia

A friend once said that Thailand is a country for those of us who either can’t or won’t cope with life in the Real World. I’m inclined to agree with him, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. He goes on to add, however, that Cambodia is for those people who can’t even cope with life in Thailand. He’s got a point.

If you thought Thailand was a little cavalier when it comes to enforcing the law, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Cambodia isn’t exactly lawless, but it’s not far off. Head out to Thunder Ranch, a firing range run by Cambodia’s 911 Paratrooper Commandos, only a twenty minute drive from central Phnom Penh, and fire away with a variety of handguns (dollar a bullet), an AK-47 or an M-16 ($30 for 30 rounds, or ?900), or if you really need to blow away the cobwebs try an M79 launched grenade for $100 (?3,000), or a B40 rocket propelled grenade for $200 (?6,000).

Live animals are readily available, if those paper targets get a little dull – from $5 chickens (?150) for small arms fire, to goats and water buffalos for your grenades – these go for $100 to $300 (?3,000 – ?9,000).

Cold beer’s not on the menu, but it is available. What better way to relax than with an ice-cold Ankgor beer in one hand and a machine gun in the other?

Head out to the market later on for some shopping, and you’ll find the live hand grenades on sale between the bread and vegetable sections. Cambodia is seriously messed up. I saw a posting on a website recently where an ex-pat defended Phnom Penh as being much safer than it’s given credit for. “Bodyguards are cheap enough”, he said – “what’s your problem?”

Girls, girls, girls

I couldn’t live here. It’s insane. But a long weekend is perfect. Sharky’s bar is full of 8-ball and 9-ball pool tables (pictured above), cheap beer, and swarms of freelance girls (one pictured above). It’s maybe a 60/40 split between Khmer (Cambodian) girls and Vietnamese. The Vietnamese chicks find it much easier to work in Phnom Penh than in Vietnam, and the locals prefer their lighter skin. The Khmer girls are more familiar-looking to fans of Thailand’s own sisters of Issan.

Most girls were asking for US$20 for short-time, but expected $15 and would often settle for $10. Being “yung and handsum” may have helped here, but even if you pay the full $20, it’s only ?600 at today’s prices. ?300 if you get them for $10.

After the first round of the evening, move on to (relatively) nearby Martini’s, where there’s a disco, more pool tables, an outdoor restaurant, and a big projector screen for movies. And hordes more girls, of course. Motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks and songthaews are everywhere. Taxis are not. Most journeys cost a dollar, maybe two if you get ripped off.

The Unexplored

I only scratched the surface during my visit. The problem with freelancers in Phnom Penh, as in Bangkok, is that you’ve got no recourse if they steal your stuff. Be wary.

It’s a problem that can be avoided by visiting one of the karaoke clubs or hostess bars. But you’ll pay way more for the privilege. I didn’t see the point of doing so, so can’t report on them. There are no Bangkok-style gogo bars, but there’s apparently a BJ bar called Sophie’s Club. I didn’t find it.

The local brothels, catering to Cambodian men, are of course far cheaper than the western-targetted industry. As a tourist though, you’re never going to get away with paying local prices. The motorcycle taxi drivers will know the local scene, and their spoken English is usually way better than their Bangkok equivalents. They’ll be in for a cut, of course, but when it’s this cheap, who cares?

The Dark Side

With firearms so freely available, there’s always going to be trouble. The Heart of Darkness bar, where Westerners have indeed been killed by Khmer gangsters, now features a reassuring metal detector by the front door, where customers are frisked for weapons. The gangsters avoid the issue by entering via the side door, of course.

The two main freelancer hangouts, above, apparently check the girls’ ID, and are generally safe environments in which to pick up 18+ year-old girls. Other venues are not. The infamous Svay Pak area, also known as K11, was closed down after NGO pressure a few years ago. The effect has not been to stamp out underage prostitution though, but to move it from one easily-avoidable place to the inner city.

Secret brothels above shophouses abound, apparently. I saw a heavily dolled-up girl of maybe twelve years old being led down the street by a minder early one evening. I don’t think she was being taken to a beauty pageant. The touts will ask you if you want “young lady” or “small girl”. It’s here, it’s deeply unpleasant, and there is nothing you as a tourist can do about it. Make a fuss, and you’re likely to get into some very unpleasant trouble. Turning a blind eye can be difficult, but it’s the only safe option. Just say no, folks.

The Roundup

Phnom Penh can be fun. Drinks are so cheap that they’re effectively free. Even the girls aren’t that much more expensive. It’s a wild, wild place though, and you do need to watch your back. Life is cheap here, and the less pleasant members of society could quite easily get away with murdering you if they were so inclined. Don’t encourage them.

I couldn’t live here. Some people do, but then some people live in Hull too – there’s no accounting for taste. But for a long and dirty weekend, especially with the current exchange rates, it’s amazingly affordable hedonism.

31 thoughts on “Phnom Penh

  1. very nice summary.  i've only been to phnom penh a few times, but you've covered everything i've seen in your one trip.  i'm not sure if there's more to add unless you're willing to leave the beaten path – something i wouldn't recommend for the reasons you so astutely outlined.

    the various bars near the river are quite fun and the two or three i went to were run by expats who, amazingly enough, seemed to still have a good head on their shoulders.  the bars are far more informal than your typical bangkok go go bar.  they're more like a poor man's gentlemans club.  I'll be heading there next week for the long weekend and I'll try to remember some names of places this time.  I think a Phnom Penh branch of the Big Mango might do quite well.

  2. Do they still have "under the counter" hand guns readily available there the way they used to? That was, I feel, a large part of the problem. Guns are O.K. in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing, but get a tanked-up "hey that ho' just screwed me outta 5 bucks, I'm gonna get even with the bitch" fuckwit flapping one around, and the fun can really get out of hand.

  3. Very tacky indeed.  Your blog continues to plummet to new depths.  You claim to be young and handsome yet you estol the advantages of banging girls for as little as possible.  Those Vietnamese girls are indentured, asshole.

  4. C'mon BBB, no personal anecdotes of anything interesting that happened to you there? I think you're holding back on us.

  5. "it’s amazingly affordable hedonism".

    That's debatable.  As cheap as it is for beer, you'll be surprised at how much you can spend once you deviate from drinking said $1 beers (i.e. hit the spirits).

    But whatever, I personally love the place and can't wait to return (most notably for reasons of feeling 'free'.  Lest you forget I'm currently doing 'time' in Korea).

    Yes, there is a 'darker' side to Cambodia but that applies to pretty much any other country I've had the good fortune of visiting (although  Korean may  be an exception to the rule).

    Whatever. I booked my flight to PP this very evening and am due to touch down on the 7th of August (God help me).

    Care to elaborate on your personal experiences (i.e. share some stories) ?

  6. @Dark Dreams: Welcome to the site. Thanks for the feedback. I'm just reporting my own experience – and the Vietnamese chicks I met had all their own teeth…

    @gavinmac: More to come, rest assured.

    @total-spender: I don't drink spirits, but I'm sure you're right. There are darker sides to everywhere, but as a white tourist you're far less likely to come across such unpleasantness in eg. Bangkok.  I've lived in a lot of places, but Bangkok's probably the safest of the lot with regards to street crime – muggings, etc.  You have to watch your back a little more in PP, that's all. Enjoy.

  7. 3B — Glad to see you got around to blogging about PP.  I think your points are all well-taken.

    Martinis and Sharkeys are must-sees for the short time tourist, and I've pulled out some fine talent from both of them. 

    Rue 63 has plenty of brothels, small to medium size, where you can do the deed for as little as $5, but these are not always the cleanest of places, so caveat emptor

    It's not always easy to spot these Rue 63 joints, so if you are new in town.  I'd suggest having some drinks at a farang hangout like the FCC club or Walkabout.  Easy to meet Westerners and get the latest 411. 

    A lot of cities in the world have secret brothels, but sometimes in PP, since they're not much on signage, it's just knowing what to look for and where.  I remember being in one place where the girls were sitting on folding chairs that lined both walls of a long narrow room.  Customers sat next to the girls until they decided which one(s) they wanted.  Suddenly the front door to the street opened and two motorcycles driven by drunken Khmer guys roared into the room, nearly flattening several of the girls feet.  Talk about drive-up service!

    There was a newbie that night in street clothes.  The Papa-san asked me to take her uptairs and teach her how to give a BJ.  And no, she wasn't "indentured."  I declined the newbie and chose another, that cost me $4.

    Careful to ask their age – they will tell the truth — and never take one under 18.

    There are indentured sex workers all over the world, Dark Dreams.  But since I am sure you have lived in Cambodia, as I have, and that you have investigated this situation and written about it, as I have, then you know of the huge Vietnamese population in Cambo. 

    And since you know these things, then you also know that you misspoke, and that there are plenty of Vietnamese freelance hookers who go back and forth from PP to HCMC, and are beholding to no one but themselves.  I've drilled plenty of them, and on this site we talk about those kinds of things, and about how much sex costs where, and if you are morally outraged, feel free to click off to the next site.

    Calling 3B an 'asshole,' when you have no knowledge of who he spent his time with, tells us which orafice you are speaking out of.

    FYI, the biggest pigs, in terms of exploiting and trafficking in the girls and boys, are the Chinese and the Malaysians.

    Anyway, my favorite fishbowl was on Rue 282 and Monivong.  $30-40 for top talent, all in.  Cambodian big-wigs went there  — my apartment was down the street.

    I really liked the Lyon D'or Hotel right off the Tonle Sap River.  Cheap, clean, great food, and friendly, even though they speak French!

    "Watch your back" in PP is good advice.  I never had an ounce of trouble, which is more than I can say for my time in Bangkok.

  8. chicagobob Says:
    July 18th, 2007 at 5:14 pm Do they still have "under the counter" hand guns readily available there the way they used to? That was, I feel, a large part of the problem. Guns are O.K. in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing, but get a tanked-up "hey that ho' just screwed me outta 5 bucks, I'm gonna get even with the bitch" fuckwit flapping one around, and the fun can really get out of hand.

    Yes or no???????????

  9. you should try Sihanoukville, great place.  A not too painful bus ride from PP.  "Chicken Village" is about at wild west as you will see but it's good fun. 

  10. Interesting. I have not been to PP since 1994 when you could get laid for $1.

    Unfortunatly i now have to read this via WAPP on my N95 cos the powers that be (ie IT Dept) at work have decided this site is sexually explicit and have blocked it on our server.

    Oh well.

  11. @soi4rulz: Terrific info, thanks! What kind of trouble have you had in Bangkok? I honestly think it's the safest city I've been to, from a personal point of view. Obviously the Thais mug and beat each other up, but the draconian punishments on the books for anyone attacking tourists seem to dissuade them from doing the same to we farangs.

    @chicagobob: All manner of weapons seem to be available,  and were certainly offered by touts – I didn't attempt to buy any though, so can't confirm I'm afraid. Guns are bad.

    @RonBaltimore: I will get there eventually, although I've heard it described as "like Pattaya, but worse", which sounds like portents of doom to me.

    @MSB: I believe there are girls at the Khmer brothels available to the locals for not much more than US$1 – but that's without the white skin surcharge.  Tell your IT department I'm flattered.

  12. "Unfortunatly i now have to read this via WAPP on my N95 cos the powers that be (ie IT Dept) at work have decided this site is sexually explicit and have blocked it on our server."

    @BBB

    Now that  is what I call a dedicated readership !

  13. Guns aren't the problem, boys, amoral dirtbags with guns are the problem. 

    –Chicagobob:  If you're talking about black market weapons, they are everywhere, including, as 3B pointed out, hand grenades.

    Can't say I agree that a drunken farang with a weapon is the problem there.  Rather it's the Khmer boys, steeped in poverty, either looking to get ahead, or they already are ahead because they are connected and hence are immune from justice.  These are immature fellows who like to play Big Man With A Gun.  Or a grenade.

    The floating casino on the river has several signs at the entrance.  One is the icon of a hand grenade with a red circle around it and line going through it.  Same same with an icon of an AK-47 and a 9mm.  Please leave your heavy artillery in the car!!

    The rich Khmers I know there lead very low key lives.  They ride in older Japanese cars driven by a bodyguard; no new Ranger Rovers like the silly-ass NGO contract workers drive who live like kings on their 5 grand a month, but make big easy targets.

    RonBaltimore:  Ditto re Sihanoukville.  First time I went there I took a public minivan — no springs/shocks/air con.  My Khmai is nonexistant, and I took the wrong van and ended up in Kampong Cham.   Whenever we pulled into a village, female roadside vendors would approach selling things like very large deep fried spiders.  Mmmmm.  Tastes like chicken…not.
    Anyway, got turned around and made it to the ocean.  S-ville is chill.  Loved the beach but beware the raw sewage.Two major red light areas.  The one near the port is a kick.  Comparing it to the Wild West doesn't really do justice to the experience.  No high-end tourists here, but lots of sailors from all over the world.  Ran into more than a few Bangkok-based farangs who escape the crap of LOS for the freedom and cheap prices of Cambo.

    Hit the last brothel on the strip.  My girl was great, but the place had no running water.  A strong wind would have brought it down.  Friendly folks and cold beer, though.

    Bought her out for the night for something like ten bucks and we shared a moto back to my room.  Outstanding session, possibly due to the rack of beef ribs I had consumed earlier that evening, which brought out the carnivore in me.

    The full rack of ribs dinner and three beers cost me $5 at a Western owned joint, whose name escapes me, on the main drag in town. 

    There was a farang-owned cafe/bar down the street that everyone was avoiding.  Seems the owner had gotten upset with some luxury cars blocking his parking lot, so he stupidly slit their tires.

    Well, lux cars in Cambo often belong to those well-connected to Hun Sen.  The owner fled to Bangkok while trying to arrange financial amends.  The locals all expected the cafe to be firebombed any time.  Last I heard, the place only got ransacked, so the owner got off light.

    Ahh, life in Cambodia.

  14. Bangkok Bad Boy,

    How do you afford your laid-back lifestyle?  I know one could live very cheaply in Asia, but it's not free.  Just curious.

  15. BBB – Are you a teacher? good for you in having a job, it keeps you level headed I have seen so many washed out, drained after a comparative short time where they have not been able to keep a since of proportion. You must have very flexible hours, I know teachers that work two, three days a week and bought property and have been there for years make a far liveable living and still say it’s the best place to live. 

  16. 3B is, in spite of his "I've got a job, me" assertions, independently wealthy, and chooses to spend his inheritance in the way that his Great Aunt Bertha (who bequeathed him the money) would never have approved. After being his neighbour for a while, high above Bangkok's stylish Thong Lo, I got used to his hoarse cries of "One up the box for Bertha!" at moments of climax.
    Projecting his current overheads, he can only enjoy this lifestyle for another 639.3 years. Yok it up while you can, 3B!

  17. @Pants Elk, totally understand thank you for in lighting us, maybe he calls this page his job! when is 3B purchasing Soi Cowboy, cover over the road between the buildings then have out side bars and restaurants, gates at each end to keep the japes’ police out, have a tunnel straight to the underground and BTS, (a private underground to Nana which he will take over after Soi Cowboy) own taxis which are free with the tokens you receive from the beer you drink, beer at 60 baht, theme bars with the best girls in BKK, also open 24 hours. Oh and new toilets in every bar for B3 with showers where there is always a girl spreading soap, I am sure you can add a few other item! I think he needs some extra ideas we want him to get it right first time!!

  18. @Pants: Don't be dissin' Bertha. She was a forward-thinking post-feminist kind of bitch, I'm sure she'd have approved.

    @knight: The cheque's in the post. 60 baht beers are reality in some bars though! Tell me more about the toilets…

  19. The toliets:

    They are made of crystal. Clear enough so that you can see the red chilies and som-tom rolled into the loaf as it’s being pinched off and splashing into a cool pool of evian. The handles to flush are not brass, silver or gold. There are no handles. There is only one long chain which is adjoined to the hands of a beautiful Thai lass that is there waiting at your moments whim for you to bletch out the word ‘pull’, then comes the newly refreshed basin of evian to flush away the gruntful turd. Of course the lass is there with Kleenex in hand to wipe away any messes that may have attached themselves to the hair on the thing called your ‘ASS’…

  20. Okay its your money B3, all forgiven Ma sorry and all that did like 90% of it, the crystal toilets are in, will you be the project manager? I think all the basic work will take about six months.

  21. @dark: just because a woman is whoring for a living doesn't mean she should be precluded from taking a break from work to have fun with the rare young good looking man that comes along and really gets her fire stoked.  yes even BG's in PP have fun sometimes.   i once read a CBC interview with a former thai BG who looked back and admitted she sometimes had fun with the sex.   you can't stop a person from having some fun no matter how shitty their situation is.  sometimes us punters end up being used by BGs just for sex.  it's terrible.  makes me feel like an object.

  22. Pingback: Phnom Penh Again - Part One at The FARANG Speaks 2 Much

  23. A fun place and s little story a friend picked up a free lancer and he is smart and in the bathroom could see in the mirror a girl slip something under the mattress and did ST and the girl left the room. He finds her plant under mattress DRUGS and quickly flush down tolit. There is a knock on his door a cop says want to check room and goes straight to bed and lift to find stash none now is pissed and just leaves. The word is a common thing for shake down for tea money

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *