There is no need to go looking for sex in Phnom Penh – it comes knocking on your door. In my first 15 hours in the Cambodian capital, I was laid twice without leaving my hotel room. This town makes Bangkok seem like the Bible Belt.
I was gagging for it, it has to be said. I had not had any horizontal activity in Bangkok for three weeks (yes, that is possible) as I headed to the airport with my travelling companion Big Mike, a veteran Californian sexpat. My agitated state was not helped when all three Thai AirAsia stewardesses were porn stars, as they always are. By the time we landed in Phhom Penh, I was a danger to stray dogs.
It was 8.30am when we checked into the Walkabout Hotel and we were tired after our early start. We decided to have a sleep and meet up at 1pm to explore the scene. Shortly after noon, I was woken by a loud banging on my door. I assumed it would be Big Mike. I was wrong. Instead of a 300-pound Bill Clinton lookalike, I was confronted by a very cute Cambodian girl. She was about 21, dark-skinned and with an appealing look of untamed beauty. She brushed past me, checked the room and said: ‒You no have lady. You want short time?”
It was a VERY short time. She looked even better when she stripped off, with beautiful pert breasts. I knew this wasn’t going to be the girlfriend experience. Our union was brutal and brief, but oh so needed. She asked for 20 US dollars (about 680 baht at current, very favourable exchange rates) and I happily handed over the greenbacks.
Later, talking to the old hands in the downstairs bar, I learned the short-time rate was $10 to $15, with long time starting at $20. Even those rates are negotiable. While I had undoubtedly been ripped off, who cares at those prices? I mentally applauded the girl for taking advantage of a newbie.
With my animal urges sated, Big Mike and I set off on a marathon bar crawl that saw us drunkenly retiring to bed by 11pm. I wasn’t alone for long. Although I engaged the security chain on my door, I forgot to lock it and at 1am I was woken by what appeared to be a burglar forcing his way into the room. I put the light on and nervously made my way to the door. It was the same girl returning for a second round. I obliged for $15.
The next day, I told the hotel’s Australian owner what had happened. ‒I am very sorry, sir,” he apologised. ‒The security door must have been left open. It won’t happen again.”
I wasn’t actually complaining.
Cambodia is a seriously messed-up place. A sign outside one of Phnom Penh’s riverfront bars reads: ‒No knives, guns or hand-grenades allowed inside.” It is not a joke. For a flavour of Cambodia’s violent crime, follow this link :
While the Cambodian capital might no longer be the lawless cesspit described so graphically by Bangkok-based author Amit Gilboa in his book ‒Off the rails in Phnom Penh”, it still has a Third World edge that will hit you as soon as you leave the airport. That book examined Cambodia’s situation in the 1990s as it attempted to recover from Pol Pot’s murderous regime. Hedonists and misfits from all over the world smoked ganja in cheap guesthouses and had sex with under-age girls for $2 in wooden shacks. United Nations personnel sent to help Cambodia’s recovery were so keen to join in the fun that they were instructed not to leave UN vehicles parked outside brothels.
Despite still being regarded as a paedophiles’ haven, Cambodia is cleaning up its act. Severe penalties for foreigners engaging in under-age sex have led to the closure of many unlicensed bordellos. Every hotel room has a sign warning guests that they will be reported to police if they invite back girls under 18. But you sense that this poverty-stricken nation still has some way to go. Walking around the city, Big Mike and I were often approached by tuk-tuk drivers offering to take us to see ‒small ladies”. I might be wrong but I got the impression they weren’t referring to physical stature.
Stick to the main tourist area near the river and you won’t get into trouble unless you look for it.
Cambodians are friendly, hospitable people who seem genuinely grateful for the millions of tourist dollars fuelling their country’s regeneration. Hordes of motorcyle, rickshaw and tuk-tuk drivers wait patiently outside every bar and hotel. They harass you with a smile and it is hard to be annoyed. Besides, they offer good value. $1 (4,000 Cambodian riel) will generally be enough to take you to most places within central Phnom Penh. Short motorbike journeys are only 2,000 riel. Hire a motorbike taxi driver for the evening for $5 and he will wait for you outside every bar and be your friend for life.
Despite not having go-go bars – perhaps a good thing – Phnom Penh has vibrant nightlife, with a great variety of bars and restaurants scattered around its compact centre. A beer is $1 in most places. The Walkabout Hotel on Street 51 is on a busy strip of about 10 bars. This mid-range establishment has rooms ranging from $10 singles to $30 jacuzzi rooms. Its downstairs bar and restaurant has the same feel as Bangkok’s Soi 7 biergarten. It operates 24/7 and has a large freelance clientele, many of Vietnamese origin. Upstairs is a bar called the Whale ’N’ Hoe (say that aloud a few times and you will understand the clever reference).
The nearby Chilli’s Bar and Shanghai Bar are decent pubs with good food and decent music. They have lots of attractive girls but they are not as pushy for drinks as their Bangkok sisters. Some, but not all, can be bar-fined.
A quick stumble away is The Heart of Darkness, a very trendy club popular with locals and tourists that does not really get going until after midnight. This place’s chequered history includes several shootings involving gangsters and it even closed for a while after a murder in 2005. It seemed unthreatening enough on our visit – after we were frisked for guns.
The action tends to come to you in Phnom Penh. On our second night, I was drinking late in the Walkabout when an attractive Vietnamese girl ambled over and offered to warm my bed for the night. I was up for it. The next morning, she said she planned to move to Bangkok to be a go-go dancer. ‒I don’t know anyone in Bangkok, so I want to stay with you while I look for a flat,” she said. “You can boom-boom me for free while I am there.” I gave her my email address.
My next encounter was a curious one. Mike and I had started drinking in the afternoons at a lobby bar of a nearby hotel. A cute girl was always hanging around, but she said she was married and unavailable. As we were sitting with her on Day Three, she suddenly started speaking in Khmer to the hotel manager. He told me she wanted to go with me right now. It would have been impolite to refuse, so I took her to the Walkabout for a memorable $20 short-time.
Day Four brought more rich pickings. In the afternoon I short-timed a perfect-10 Khmer girl who was in the Walkabout bar. She asked if I would see her in what sounded like ‒Saki Bar” that evening. Her English pronunciation confused me here but all became clear when we went into Sharky Bar and she came bounding over. She looked so good that my butterfly instincts disappeared and I agreed to take her back overnight. Sharky, on Street 130, is something of a Phnom Penh institution and is a rock pub with great ambience and excellent Tex-Mex food.
For a change of pace, we took a tuk-tuk the next day to Boeung Kak Lake, the backpackers’ area. I was immediately approached by a man in a baseball cap who asked if I would like some ‒super skunk”. A smelly mammal held no attraction at that time of the day; in any case, there were plenty lying around in hammocks reading their Lonely Planets with glazed expressions.
Later we headed to Martini Pub, launched in 1992 during the UN days and the most famous of all Phnom Penh’s bars. Although it has a relatively new location on Street 95, it still lives up to its advertising slogan: ‒Bored, lonely, hungry? We have everything you need.”
Indeed it does. A large open area with several bars also offers a wide range of food. There is also an air-conditioned disco. And everywhere there are freelance hostesses without a hint of reserve. I was approached by a nice-looking Vietnamese girl who claimed to be 21 but looked about 16. The red flag came up when she said she had a problem with the Walkabout security guard and I might have to bung him $10 to get her inside. I returned her to the herd.
It was time to move on. Mike took me to La Cyrcee, a French-owned brothel on Street 49 he had previously visited. A drop-dead gorgeous 22-year-old Cambodian-Thai girl sat by me. I fell in love and wanted to marry her and have children. After our $15 union in an upstairs room, I swear we had some moments of real tenderness.
When things are going so well, the experienced sexpat knows that the situation will go tits-up any time.
And so it did on our final evening – big time. Many people had mentioned Sophie’s Bar as a must-visit attraction, so we set off through the mean streets with our faithful motorbike guides. Phnom Penh is an edgy enough place anyway after dark, but as the motorbikes weaved through the dirty streets we seemed to be entering an extremely rundown area. Eventually, we arrived at an unlit street and stopped at what appeared to be a derelict building. We walked past two security guards and went up two crumbling flights of stairs. There seemed to be no signs of life.
A small sign pointed at two rickety doors. This was Sophie’s. I tried to open the doors but they were locked. After some time, a woman let us in to what could generously be described as a bar with minimalist decor. There were eight ‒women” inside. One was a bored-looking barmaid and the others were hookers. None was remotely attractive. In fact, it was probably the ugliest line-up I have ever encountered in Asia.
They certainly weren’t shy. Three grabbed me before I had even sat down. One immediately pulled her top down to reveal very large tits and started pulling at my zip. Before I could even order a beer, she was giving me a blow-job – or ‒yum yum” as she described it. I looked at my other two hostesses. One was almost certainly a ladyboy, the other seemed to be in that strange nowhere-land between the male and female genders. To my horror, these two creatures then started to go to work on my uninterested appendage. I felt physically sick. It was now fight or flight. I threw down $5 to pay for my beer and the unwanted oral services as the trio shouted for more money. I fled outside and told my man to take me away fast.
So there you have it: six days in Phnom Penh, five hotties, three awful but mercifully brief blow-jobs, no bar fines, no pushy mamasans, no Cola addicts and all within reach on a return flight costing 3,300 baht – less than the demands of a Rainbow IV chrome-pole hugger with a bad attitude.
The Walkabout Hotel