Songkran Escape: Phnom Penh, Part 2

Only a fortuitous, last-minute hookup had saved my first-ever day in Phnom Penh, so crawling out of bed around 1 p.m. the next day, I was determined to explore more of what Cambodia’s capital has to offer the single male traveler.

After an hour or so of studying a copy of After Dark, a handy (and free) quarterly nightlife guide, and watching CNN to see the Red Shirts destroy what was left of this year’s high season, I finally emerged from the hotel in search of … food. (Hey, a man’s got to have his priorities straight…) There was a dual motive to the food quest, however, as I was seeing what daytime action might be found on Street 104 where, amongst other things, The Rose Bar was said to be well known for its grub. Little I was to realize I was making my first PP Newbie mistake.

Rule 1: Never go to a girly bar for food.

The Rose, which also doubles as a $20-per-night guesthouse, does indeed cook up a fine burger, but when the bill for said sandwich, fries and two Diet Cokes was presented, I was on the hook for $12.50! Adding insult to injury, paying with the $100 bill I had (my only currency in my pocket) was a painful process. At one point the woman in charge said my 2001-vintage bill was too old and thus I’d have to pay an $8 surcharge. After many protests, I was charged only $1 to break it. Needless to say, The Rose is permanently off the tour.

TIP: Come to Cambo with as many $20 bills or smaller as possible. Changing fifties or larger is a real pain.

The Rose, by the way, may be the only thing open on 104 daytime, but the women aren’t worth making the trip for. So, it was back to the hotel, some rest and then, around 4 p.m., the tour continued.

The Strip

One of the best-known male playgrounds is Street 51. It’s often called “The Strip,” but the name makes this few blocks of bars between Street 174 and 154 sound a lot grander than it is. Or maybe that was simply because I was visiting during the day, rather than late at night, when it’s most popular.

My first stop was the well-known Walkabout Hotel & Bar. The rooms go for as little as $10, but the bar — open 24 hours — is supposedly the real draw. A friend who lives in the capital disagrees, saying he’d visited the Walkabout just once and would never go back. His description was basically of a place with girls on the wrong side of 18 swarming around expats that would make Pattaya’s low-brow tourists look like world-class citizens.

I, however, was apparently experiencing the effects of the New Year’s exodus. There were only a half-dozen women in the bar, none even under 20, pretty much being ignored by an small, but still odd, collection of miscreants, including a guy with a long, white, two-pointed beard and a bloke who actually introduced himself as “Kangaroo John.” G’day mate, I’m outta here.

Other than Walkabout, the strip was pretty quiet. Chili’s, opposite Walkabout, appeared to have gone bust, as it was locked up after 5 p.m. when the sign says it opens at 4. Perhaps it was simply closed for New Year’s. The only other thing open, with people inside, was Shanghai, a nicely appointed hostess bar with good aircon and a collection of the best-looking hostesses I was to find in Phnom Penh. There were only about 10 working at this hour, but I was told many more would come in after 7 p.m.

One lass, in a black top with a plunging neckline and spaghetti string shoulder straps has a lovely set of milky white love pillows. We shared some chit-chat, but the two Koreans buying rounds of drinks pulled her away before I could tell her I was dying to see what she looked like naked. Another lonely beer later, I headed back to the hotel for dinner and a change of clothing, after which, came the eagerly anticipated Street 136.

Street 136

After Dark writes that “136 has become something of a must-go destination, rather like 104 a few street to the north.” In the two blocks from the river, there are nearly two dozen bars, eateries and guesthouses and, in two visits to the street I found it to have the most-enjoyable nightspots.

All the 136 (and 104) bars follow the same format: There’s a front area comprised of the bar, some uncomfortable barstolls, some tall wooden tables with tall, uncomfortable wooden stools and a back “VIP” section, with low lights, comfy sofas and varying levels of privacy. Some VIP sections are open for all to see, while a few bars hid them behind partitions or even a closed door.

While they have attractively dressed hostesses and dark areas with low music, don’t go thinking these bars operate like the Soi 6 spots they so closely resemble: Khmer working girls, I found at least, to be much more reserved than their Thai cousins. While you can cuddle and kiss in the VIP, no further hanky panky occurred in any of the 104/136 bars I visited (with one exception.) Perhaps with more girls in more drunken states it gets wilder, but I doubt it.

Also be warned that while you can indeed barfine the girls ($5-$10 depending upon time of night), taking them out does not necessarily mean they’re going to sleep with you. Expats warned me that many girls see themselves only as party companions and that, if you want something more intimate, you need to explicitly state your intentions before paying the barfine.

Drink prices are reasonable, considering the setting, with local draft or canned beer running $1.50, mixed drinks around $2.50 but lady drinks at $3.25. The bars themselves looked a lot better than similar Soi 6 businesses and most girls spoke much better English than their Siamese Sisters.

On Street 136, the best bars, in my opinion, were 69 Bar, 136 Bar, Oasis and Flora Bar. Pussycat gets some buzz in print, but in two visits (before and after New Year) I found it empty and desperate. UpDown bar is more of an indoor beer bar, but was host to the best-looking woman I saw in Cambodia. With curly blonde hair extensions, beautiful fake boobs and fashion style that was hard to find in Kampuchea, I knew it was too good to be true: When I asked the 22-year-old vixen to join me, she declined, noting she was the (well-sponsored) girlfriend of the 58-year-old bar owner. Just my luck.

As for the “exception” noted above? I’m truly sorry to say I cannot remember the name of the bar. But if you stumble into one with a VIP area behind the pool table and a closed door along with a chubby girl with an huge set of naturals, then you’re in the right place. After a beer, the two of us adjourned to the VIP where my hostess became a lot less reserved. The fun ended prematurely, however, was a group of Khmer guys came into the bar and my attendant suddenly became very self-conscious of having some of the locals see her head bobbing in my lap.

Finally, a special note about Candy Bar. Half-hostess bar, half restaurant, Candy is open 24 hours a day with three shifts of girls. The nighttime girlls are dressed a bit more scantily and are the least-shy of any women I met working the hostess bars. Not the best-looking lot, but fun. And the food is good day or night and, contrary to the rule about buying food in girly bars, it’s very reasonably priced, especially daytime. I made four visits in all there.

Street 104

Almost identical in nature to 136, Street 104 was the first riverfront street of hostess bars. Layout, prices and format are the same as the 136 bars, so, based on one pre- and one post-New Year tour, here are my picks for the best of the street:

  • Bunny Bar – Truth be told, on my first visit to 104 (Day 3 in PP), I didn’t make it past the Bunny Bar. Quite a few hotties, including one who I paid a $10 barfine for because I didn’t want to wait another hour for the price to drop to $5. Twenty years old, no children, great rack and smooth, dark chocolate skin, she cuddled up with me naked after Round 1 and watched an English-language movie with no subtitles until “Ghost Jr.” was ready for Round 2. After that, she promptly cleaned up, dressed and left with a $10 bill in her hand and a kiss on my cheek.
  • Shang Music Club – Totally unique on 104/136, the hostess staff here is 100% Filipina. The Chinese-Khmer owner and his Filipina wife will soon renovate the place, however, so there were only six women working after New Year’s. Once refitted, more Pinoy imports will be on hand. As you’d expect, language skills are not a problem here.
  • Zanzibar – Last call on my second tour of the street and my second 104 barfine. While she had a bit of a fuller figure, no one would call this sweet girl fat. And, like my Bunny from the previous night, she refused to state her going rate. Actually, any time I pressed a hostess bar girl for how much a short- or long-time would cost me, I was told “up to you.” There were no complaints for a $10 short time with the bunny girl and my Zanzibar lady got $20 long-time. And talk about value for money: In twelve hours we went six rounds (pretty close to a personal best), with two of those occurring after she woke me up for more. My kind of girl.

The Late Night Heart of Darkness

In case you didn’t notice, I interrupted my chronological report of Day 2 after 136. But the night continued into the wee hours at the place Bangkok Bad Boy was too scared to visit: The Heart of Darkness. After my unfavorable view of Martini’s, I figured I’d take a walk on the wild side and hit Phnom Penh’s late-night, and ill-reputed, disco. It actually went so well, I went back after New Year’s and, at the same time, gave Sharky’s one last try.

The Heart as the girls simply call it, has a not-undeserved reputation for being a late-night disco frequented by some unsavory characters. Big “no guns” signs can be seen at the doors and I was frisked each so thoroughly I thought an strip-search was next. No worries, though, if it keeps the place safe.

Inside was jumping both past-midnight visits. There’s a main bar (a tall local draft is $2 and Tiger bottles $3) and a medium-sized dance floor with standing room and seating on the sides. Tons of women. After the hostess bars close and Sharky’s and Martini’s empty out, this is where they come to. Landing a woman of your choice here is like shooting fish in a barrel. Think Pattaya’s Insomnia on a much smaller scale.

The Heart, however, also earns the dubious honor of being only one of two bars that I visited in 10 days (Sharky’s being the other) where I was actually asked for a drink. The girls may be banned from doing so at their employer, but are much more aggressive here.

By the time I hit The Heart on Day 2, I was pretty drunk from starting the day at Walkabout and piling on the beer on 136. Had plenty of chances, but by 2:30 a.m., sleeping sounded more fun than shagging and I took a moto back. So, if you’re keeping score, it was two days in Phnom Penh and I had one long-time to show for it.

Things got stranger on my return visit to The Heart, Sunday the 19th and my last night in Cambodia: I passed up at least two hot Street 136 barfines, missed out on a absolute angel at Shaky’s (more on that in a second) and snubbed a big-titty slut on the dance floor because I didn’t want to buy her a drink. But I did get laid. With whom you ask? A very petitle Khmer minx who, once the deed was done, I discovered was missing two front teeth.

A classic beer goggle moment if I ever had one. Making it all the worse, 10 minutes in my room and she was packing to go. Less than thrilled I passed up Top Totty for a flat-chested crack whore, I slipped her a $5 bill and she was one her way without complaint. So, I may not be proud of what I shagged, but the fact I did it for the equivalent of 175 baht left me with a warm fuzzy feeling.

Post-New Year’s Bounce and Sharky’s (Again)

Three days of Phnom Penh and I was off to Sihanoukville and, upon leaving, I was thinking the Khmer capital wasn’t all that, when it came to the ladies. But after five days at the beach, I felt I’d seen enough and decided to give PP another try, post New Year, to see if it was better.

I’m glad I did. Things were much better on the weekend and, I was told, the bars and girls were still not back to 100%. The most obvious proof of this came the last night, when I gave Sharky’s a third try.

I actually arrived early with food the priority. And, damn, the grub is actually very good. And huge. I saw a burrito go by the size of a small car. My pulled-pork BBQ sandwhich was a foot high and tastier than anything like it I’ve had outside the U.S.

By 9 p.m, the girls were flooding in. Sure, I saw the same old tired Viet girls that had been there the weekend before. But there were lots of fresh Khmer faces including one that made me choke on my beer when she came over waving her hands in a flurry, pointing at her ears and mouth.

Yes, it was the Deaf Mute from Bad Boy’s trip report.

One of the girls present was a deaf-mute, who I must admit appealed on a certain level. How many of our problems with bargirls could have been averted if only they had been incapable of speech? Terry was interested on an entirely different level, in that he wanted to know whether she squeaked or not when having sex. Perhaps next time we’ll find out – for now, she just wasn’t pretty enough.

Truthfully, she had a pretty decent body, although the face was unfortunate. So, I too, did not find out if she squeaks. But I did learn the sign-language for “since you’re not going to buy me a drink, I’m outta here.”

And also, I’m sad to say, that in three visits I saw no girl with a coconut.

Sitting at the bar, I literally had to shoo away a steady stream of hookers both staring at me while I ate (I hate that) and then begging for a drink afterward. It figures then that the one girl I truly found stunning in the bar had to be cajoled into sitting next to me, showed little interest in chatting and then departed before I could buy her a drink. She was a Khmer vision in a long backless black gown, lightened hair, small, but well-displayed bustline, and a lovely face. I sent a friend of hers to pull her back but she’d already left for a short-time with some other guy. Maybe next time.

The hostess bars were much better as well. Pre-New Year, the 104/136 bars had as few as four girls on hand and even fewer lookers. Numbers doubled by the weekend and I’m told most bars carry 25-35 girls in normal times. Even The Heart was better post-Songkran.

Final Notes on Phnom Penh … and Food

Man can not live on beer and beauty alone, so a quick word on food. As BBB noted, there’s lots of good farang food in PP, but I found a lot of it quite expensive, by Thai standards. It was hard to find a breakfast for under $5 and dinners were normally $8-$12. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but that strikes me as U.S. prices. So, although they’re not the cheapest, here’s a list of where I ate that I enjoyed:

  • Green Vespa – (Sisowath Quay near Street 104). Excellent British and decent American food at reasonable prices.
  • Huxley’s – (Corner of Streets 136 and 5) – English pub with solid Sunday roast. A bit over-priced, though, with the Sunday bit at $12.50 with soup.
  • Candy Bar – (Across Street 5 from Huxley’s) – Huge menu of American and Khmer food at good prices. Daytime any burger, pizza or sandwich is $4. Breakfast is $3.
  • Hope & Anchor – (Street 136 & Sisowath Quay) – You gotta sit at an uncomfortable bar seat, but their $5 steak and eggs breakfast is terrific. And BBB said the full English was tasty as well.

Finally, I’ve been asked what did I think overall? I found Phnom Penh to be a great change of pace from Thailand. The place has a much more leisurely feel, the Khmer people are quieter and more polite than their Thai counterparts and you don’t spend all your time feeling like a local is trying to scam you, unlike Bangkok and Pattaya.

The dollar-based economy is a bit of a two-edged sword, though: Sometimes are much cheaper (women and beer) while other things are stupidly overpriced, such as Diet Coke and a bottle of water at $1-$2.

The bars themselves are interesting, but if you prefer your nightlife wilder, then a few days of hostess bars will make you appreciate the Walking Street lesbian shows once you return.

Overall, I certainly would go again, but I would not go during Songkran again. I didn’t see water or powder in the capital, but there were simply too few women about to make the trip worthwhile.

Next up: Sihanoukville.

30 thoughts on “Songkran Escape: Phnom Penh, Part 2

  1. nice write up

    maybe i missed it but did you make it to the soriya mall ?

    walking distance from flamingo .

    has this fast food place called BB World next to the ground floor supermarket which is the bomb and maybe why i eat there basically everyday when i go to PP (not that i go anymore but hit it hard there for awhile ).

    plus at the supermarket next door u can buy diet cokes for .60 cents i think and , r u sitting down , actual fritos to go with your burger / fish burger / fried chicken / whatever at BB World .

    not that i would do this but good girl , i mean people , watching from BB too…

    ps kinda miss martini and those under 5 feet khmers / apsaras

  2. The mute in Sharkys is actually a Viet and has been there for many years. Western food is expensive, but it is of better quality than can be found in Thailand. No mention of the newly reopened Mikados or of Lecyrcee. Rose bar does have some beauties, but it is a nighttime bar. Freebird has excellent breakfasts and food. My biggest disappointment, having travelled to Phnom Penh since 2001, is the lack of wildness. The 5 dollar places in Toul Kok are almost gone, along with the feeling of the wild west.

  3. “It was hard to find a breakfast for under $5 and dinners were normally $8-$12. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but that strikes me as U.S. prices.”

    Good Lord, son, it sounds like you haven’t been in the States since Eisenhower was president. If you think these are US prices, you better brace yourself should you ever decide to pay a return visit.

  4. Hello fellow Ghost. Lots of good information in the post.

    Given all that drinking and 6 pops in 12 hours, vitamin V must have been a staple on this holiday adventure?

    While reading this I wouldn’t help but wonder that your attraction to well made up girls with fake tits combined with the dreadful story of beer goggles enabling you to bang a toothless crack whore…there’s a 90% chance you’ve unknowingly banged a post-op ladyboy at some point in your years of living in SEA.

  5. Ghost, you are a talented writer with a great eye. Enjoy reading all of your stuff and encourage you to do more with your gift.

    As for Phnom Penh, I stopped going there a few years ago because the girls were the same from years before. No new faces and PP starts to lose its appeal, especially if the Viets are in decline.

    So, next year back to Angeles and trying to hide from the Pattaya Pond Scum on Parade?

  6. On the currency front, I paid for the hotel with the $100 bills, and kept the 10s and 20s for everything else. They examined the $100s very closely and didn’t look happy, but accepted them without complaint.

    On the Heart of Darkness, I visited in 2006 and felt distinctly uncomfortable with the stares I was getting from the local grunts, as well as unimpressed with the quality/number of girls. So I wasn’t “too scared” to visit last year, just didn’t see any reason to return.

    The metal detector outside the front door is to reassure tourists – the local grunts are said to use the back door to gain entrance… That said, the Heart is apparently a much friendlier place to visit these days, and I’ll certainly check it out next trip.

  7. Jack & Grundy — I think what this story (and the comments to it) show is that there’s still a lot of PP I haven’t seen. Never hard of BB Mall and not even sure where it would be. Didn’t get to his Cyrcee, not Sonya (don’t know it), nor did I find the Manhattan’s talked about in the comments section of BBB’s write-ups last year.

    Freebird I knew of, but it’s out at 240, which is further than I got. Hadn’t heard of Flamingo, etc. This list can go on.

    I certainly plan to return, hopefully with a mate or two in tow, and we’ll get to explore further away from the river.

    Grundy — Didn’t consider the food in Sharky’s expensive due to the portion size and quality. Yummy.

    OAH — Been about a year and a half….

    little Ghost — No LBs, though I did see one in PP, but I do have a taste for higher-end showgirls and do like the enhanced looks. So maybe that’s it. Plain Jane country bumpkins just don’t do it for me. And, for the record, I’m proud to say no Vitamin V or C was needed.

    Professor — Thanks. I’d definatley go back to Cambo (both locales) but not at Songkran. We’ll see about next year…

    BBB — Just messin’ with you bro. Heart is definately worth doing now, at least. But don’t remember a metal detector at all. Maybe they took it out. As for the currency? Hotel didn’t even have change for a $100 the first time I tried. 🙁

  8. Missing two front teeth…that’s classic. One would have to be mighty pissed not to notice that..I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it was really, really dark when you met her and she never smiled..more of a shit-eating grin, I guess.

    I do enjoy your stories, Ghost…thanks.

  9. PG, my total hotel bill was more than $100, so wasn’t splitting them – just paying with them. I paid for my pal’s room too, and he got me back in $20s and $10s, as he’d been actually paying attention when he ordered his dollars…

    The girl missing two front teeth is definitely the highlight though. Congrats, I wish I could get that drunk 😉

  10. Good note to place attention on is the quality of your US currency! I forgot about how that can be an absolute F%@#ing pain in the ass. So make sure your bills, and it may be a big wad but consider skipping $100’s all together, have all 4 corners, un-torn, and don’t appear to be worn!
    Also I haven’t checked but if the guide doesn’t include PP, maybe a map could be created?
    Great read and miss your work dude, thanks!

  11. @ OAH/Ghost – I pay $3 for an iced tea in the morning on the way to work, but this is NYC after all. Still, those prices sound flat out dreamy to me.

    That said, if you’re a local, even NYC has bars with $3 drink happy hours often with free/cheap grub, they just are a little trickier to find.

  12. Ghost, I been following you since your blog and I just wanted to tell you that i enjoy your write ups so much that i want to punch you in the face with love!!!

    This write up has given my brother and I to head back to PP again. Thanks brother.

    BTW: We’re going to be in BKK and Patts in 48 hrs. Let me know where and when i can buy you a bevey of your choice…. ill let you punch me in the face.

    Thanks

  13. Do they still charge the 25$ airport departure tax after check-in at PP airport? There were talks last year about “hiding” it in airline fares.

  14. I remember the days fondly when Thailand used to charge a depature tax as well…what a pain in the ass that was…

  15. @mart: They certainly did 6 months ago. PG can answer better whether they still do.

    @IW: It’s still charged, but now included in ticket price. But yeah, it was a pain in the ass…

    I might head back next month, seems there’s a lot of places I need to check out…

  16. Yes, there’s still a $25 departure tax. Be sure to figure a long line into your departure plans. Quite a few backpackers were sweating that they’d miss their flights. Cash or credit card accepted.

    Why they don’t just roll it into the ticket, I don’t know.

    Canuk — Can’t say the whole “punch you in the face” thing wants to make me run out and meet ya. But have a good time in Patts.

    JB — ATMs I saw did $20, $50 and $100.

    Mart — Buses suck.

  17. Before I flew to Cambodia, I was in the US. Went to my bank and took out a few hundred dollars in $1’s and $5’s to get some small change. The female teller looked at me like I was going to go to a strip club or something.

    She gave me a cold stare so I told her I was going overseas to Cambodia and that small bills are recommended. The stare only grew icier!

    -Jeezo

  18. Goeff — Yes, indeed, that’s Sharky’s. I didn’t have the code BBB uses for his snazzy captions and felt too lazy to write new code!

  19. lol… punxh ya in the face is an expression that means your way to cool that ya’ need one in the nose.

    LOL… don’t take it litteral.

    nothing but love.

  20. Going to Phnom Penh next week for a few days, so this guide comes in real handy. Thanks, Ghost.
    I’ll be sure to report any worthwhile experiences to add my two cents.

  21. IL: I was in Phnom Penh last week and had a good time in 69 and Candy bars (both on Street 136) and Bunny bar on Street 104. 69 is the nearest thing to a gogo I found there, with girls dancing on the bar and tables and lots of hands-on action.
    When you need to top up your energy levels, I can highly recommend these three restaurants:

    SHER-E-PUNJAB
    Street 130
    Tasty Indian food at very reasonable prices.

    LA MARMITE
    Street 108
    French home cooking at sensible prices. Carafe of house wine $8. Three hostess bars next to it.

    RESTAURANT 112
    Street 112, near US embassy, inside Colonial Mansion
    Fantastic French/Cambodian lunch buffet for $10, with glasses of house wine at $2.

  22. @On Nutter – On your travels across PP, did you happen to stumble across and protein/juice bars, or healthy BBQ joints? I know you’d of frequented some of the gymnasiums there, so your input and recommendations would be gratefully appreciated.

  23. @ On Nutter

    I will be sure to stop by all those places. What hotel/guesthouse do you recommend and did where you stay have an in-room safe?
    Thanks a ton for the info. Cheers!

  24. IL: I stayed at Flamingos Hotel, which I strongly recommend. $25 for a standard room with an in-room safe. The rate includes a small breakfast, airport pick-up and wifi.
    It is on Street 172, near the famous Walkabout freelance joint and some decent bars including Shanghai and Heart of Darkness, and about a 15-minute walk or $1 motorbike ride from the riverfront.
    Check out the hotel’s website for more details, but book by email and not the online reservation system, which rarely works.

    http://www.flamingos.com.kh/

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