It was clear after the first day in Sihanoukville that if I wanted to fully enjoy my planned week in Cambodia’s beach resort, then I’d have to switch into conventional-tourist mode, at least part of the time. Clearly, the nightlife alone wasn’t going to be worth it.
So, during the days, I did my best soak up the beach, go snorkeling and scuba diving, hit the local market, eat, sleep, watch too much TV and try to relax after a stressful, uninterrupted four months of work. But when night fell on my second night, I set out on an aggressive plan to see what fun I could find off the beach.
According to the scarce amount of information about Snooky’s naughtly nightlife available online, most the action was around the Golden Lions roundabout, in the small downtown strip and on Victory Hill, on the other side of Sihanoukville from where I was staying on Serendipity Beach. While there were apparently a number of beer bars near the traffic circle, the one that seemed to get the most hype was a hostess club/disco called Pocoloco. The bar’s website showed a nice selection of about 25 hostesses, a big air-conditioned disco and a front pool-bar area. The reality was much different, however.
If It’s on the Web, It Must Be True, Right?
The first warning bell was sounded by my moto driver, who questioned my decision to go there and tried to persuade me I’d be much better off going to some dark alley for servicing by some undoubtedly too young Vietnamese girls. I insisted and when he dropped me off at Pocoloco’s door, I knew I’d made a mistake.
Inside the large bar were two service girls, two freelancers, three customers, no hostesses, a closed disco and a very depressed pair of bar owners. Gary, who started Pocoloco after previously owning the unfortunately-named Tsunami Bar in Pattaya in 2005, said the whole hostess concept was dropped due both to a lack of customers and a lack of willingness of the hostesses to get off their fat butts to service the few customers they did have. The next plan was to have it be a freelance joint, but the beach bars and Freedom Bar near the bus station covered that market. The new plan was to close for low season, as it was cheaper than staying open.
Gary was good enough, however, to ring a moto driver he trusted to show me around town, thus avoiding the motos-on-commission scams. Taa pulled up about 10 minutes later and, in between dropping off yaba to customers and picking up money from yaba dealers who worked for him, did a fine job of doing just that.
The obvious next stop was Victory Hill, a section of Snooky near the port. Once we arrived I realized that, again, one should never believe bar websites.
We pulled off the paved road onto a small rocky side street that instantly transported me back to Soi 6, only with more mud. Small groups of old, fat and badly made up bargirls streamed out from their open-front drinking holes to surround the taxi before I even got off. I saw the signs for the bars I read about on the website, but their online personas were much more refined than what I found in person.
The Tropicana Bar website, for example, says:
The Tropicana Bar on Victory Hill in Sihanoukville has a long reputation for great service and is a place to meet good friends and listen to a big selection of music until the sun comes up. Our friendly hostess girls care for all your needs all night long.
What I found was an empty bar, Khmer music and two fat hostesses who, when swinging by 30 minutes later, also had departed leaving the bar entirely empty.
Faced with dire and desperate options, I made the best choice I could and had a drink in Safari Bar, whose website claimed was “one of the most popular girl bars on Victory Hill.” I was the only customer inside. I was escorted inside by a hostess who then promptly left and had to be beckoned back in to sit in a chair next to mine. (No sofas, sorry.)
My hostess confirmed what I’d suspected: Most of the girls had gone home for Khmer New Year. The girl seemed pleasant enough and was certainly the best-looking of the staff on hand, but seemed utterly uninterested in doing anything else than drinking $3 lady drinks. She got one. I had two $1.50 draft beers and fled to find something with a pulse.
Snakes and Freedom
Now around 11 p.m., that was not going to happen. I called Taa to come rescue me and off we went to the newest, and supposedly best, spot, The Snake Pit.
The bar attached to the Snake House hotel, the closest thing Snooky has to a go-go bar is located only about a five-minute drive from the other bars, but is down a long, dark jungle road that, according to legend, will cost you an absolute fortune to go to if you just pick up any moto. I’m told it’s best to have the moto take you to the top of the road if he wants to charge any more than $1 to take you to the bar’s door.
When Taa dropped me at the door, I quickly turned and told him to stay put. This was undoubtedly going to be a short trip. I walked in and found no women and no customers; only three bored Khmer guys who told me all the women had, you guessed it, gone home for New Year’s.
That was it. I give up on exploring and adventure. Taa, I said, take me to the only sure thing this town has: The Freedom Bar.
Freedom is to Sihanoukville what Walkabout is to Phnom Penh. Big, hot and filled with broken-down expats and hardcore whores, it’s the place long-time working girls spend their evenings before happy hour kicks in at Dolphin Shack. But the beer is cheap: I ordered a 75-cent Angkor draft and sat back to check out the scene.
There’s a big center bar, big-screen playing dinosaur-rock videos and three pool tables, worked almost exclusively by the working girls. At the bar I saw some familiar faces, including Mr. Infatuation from last night, guys missing limbs and some too large to fit on one stool.
As with most freelance pool halls, you can quickly figure out the social hierarchy and one particular girl – the one who’s every move was being watched by Mr. Infatuation – was clearly The Queen. Tall, thin and in what seemed to be her uniform of white levis, mid-drift top and a Clara Bow flapper hat, she fluttered around the bar playing pretty much wherever she wanted, flirting with all the guys and collecting or handing out the odd dollar to other girls. She was more interesting than sexy and had a presence that rewarded her with at least one customer a night.
The pretender to the throne was a shorter, more shapely girl with long blonde hair, short, tight and revealing dress and high heels who was cordial to The Queen but was not really a friend. She spent more time scowling than flirting, but was considerably better at pool. Very hot, actually, but if you took her, you could never have The Queen, and vice versa.
Truthfully, by this point, I was more interested in people watching and drinking than pulling. The Queen soon left a young buck, Mr. Infatuation looked even more glum, the bar was emptying and I called Taa to take me to the place everyone was heading: The Dolphin Shack on the beach.
Well intoxicated on cheap local draft by this point I continued to embalm myself on the same bar bench as last night. The bar was busier at the midnight hour than last night with a higher percentage of Khmer girls. The Aussie couples were still throwing powder and water around (to the point that, twice, the DJ had to stop the music and the idiots to knock it off inside the bar) and the Khmer girls were on the hunt.
One particular shark in this dolphin tank ended up making short work of me. Obviously celebrating her New Year hard, she walked up, placed her tongue down my mouth and her hand on my crotch and said “let’s go.” With such a sales pitch, who was I to argue?
As expected, the tryst didn’t last long and, $10 later, she was out of the room again, probably back to Dolphin Shack. I never did get her name, but I saw her do the same thing to a guy sitting next to me two nights later.
Hitting the sack alone, I realized I’d failed miserably in my quest to improve upon the previous night. New Year’s was proving a daunting obstacle to fun. The Victory Hill slut houses were almost empty, the Snake Pit was entirely empty and Freedom Bar was down to a handful of the hardest-core girls. And if you wanted to get laid, you needed to work the beach bars after 1 a.m.
It was at this point I began questioning whether I’d stick to my planned one week in Snooky. Tomorrow would be the make-or-break day. That, and final thoughts and notes on Sihanoukville, are in the final Part 5.