Gay Cambodia Travel Guide : Gay Khmer Between Pride and Hide

Naked and muscular gay Khmer - Cambodian peasant feeding his cows with hay on the field, photograph created for calendar Men of Cambodia 2018/2019 by Space Hair Salon and Bar

Gay Cambodia was not what you expected it to be! At Arthur & Paul, named after French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine who were much more than just friends, I took a naked dive. Clothing was optional at this men-only hotel, but I got impressed by something else. In densely built Phnom Penh, it was not typical to find swimming pools that were 1,80 m in depth. A young gay Khmer got into the water and started drowning just in front of me! I jumped to the rescue and, after he stopped coughing, the flirting started! I’ve heard about various seducing tactics. But I didn’t yet have the chance to experience someone endangering his life only to draw attention. Like many Cambodians, this one didn’t know how to swim. But, following the irresistible gay pride, he jumped into the deep water anyway!

Sex is not a family affair

Exterior of Arthur & Paul hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia,, with swimming pool, sun loungers, tropical plants and beautiful architecture, photo by Ivan Kralj
In the evening, A&P premises host dozens of men looking for other men

Arthur & Paul functioned both as a hotel for private guests and as a gay spa for everyone else. Supposedly, many young gay Khmers visited it in the hope of finding their very own expat, possibly a future husband. Interracial love in Cambodia was sometimes rooted in the economic exchange as well.

“The wedding in Cambodia is a business arrangement”, one expat living in the capital of Cambodia tried to assure me. “The whole family sleeps in the same room, together with a car and a motorbike. For sex, one needs to go to the guesthouse. The woman keeps the money in the house, and she gives it to a man if he wants to have sex. Ninety percent of older than 14 go to the prostitute”, he claimed.

Gay Khmer living in discretion and denial

Locals park their motorbikes dozens of meters away and then walk towards the gay spa with helmets and surgical masks still on

While these observations were hard to confirm, the popularity of Arthur & Paul spa, the meeting point of younger Khmers and older expats, was evident. The place where locals circulated not only because it had a steam bath, but because it had a VERY DARK steam bath, was a safe gay oasis in the heart of the capital. Or so they thought, while they discretely parked their motorbikes dozens of meters away, and then walked towards the reception with helmets and surgical masks still on. They had them not as a guarding shield from the traffic accidents or Phnom Penh pollution, but to protect their anonymity.

To disconnect their sexual identity with the feeling of blame, there was another intriguing phenomenon present. A significant portion of Cambodian gays defined themselves not as gay, but as MSM – men having sex with men. The physical exchange of passion was not considered as stigmatizing, as long as one didn’t label it as homosexual.

To see how Thailand treats its LGBTIQ+ community, read my coverage of the resurrected Chiang Mai Pride!

Drama at the gay spa

Exterior of Arthur & Paul hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia,, with swimming pool, sun loungers, tropical plants and beautiful architecture, photo by Ivan Kralj
Mural on the wall told him to relax but didn’t mention that his brother would come too

A skinny 21-year-old chatted me up on the terrace of the hotel, while I browsed through the pages of “The Big Penis Book”. His English was not the best, but he clearly understood I had a room here. And he would like me to show him the bed area.

But suddenly his face turned pale! With a gaze slain by fear, he sank in between his shoulder blades, like a snail that suddenly felt better in its shell.

“That is my brother!”, he stuttered in disbelief.

A larger man wrapped in a towel was sitting by the pool and did not look as if he felt comfortable or entertained.

“Your brother is gay, too?”, I asked.

“No, he has a girlfriend! He came here to look for me! Oh my, what will I do now?”, the youngster was shaking while hiding behind a thick piece of curtain, dressed only in a white towel.

It was not easy to leave the premises with his older brother on the ground level. And this boy went through a drama that felt apocalyptic to him.

Gay Khmer coming out

Two models hugging at the edge of the A&P swimming pool, for the purpose of Space Hair Salon and Bar's calendar Men of Cambodia 2018/2019
Display of male affection is acceptable in places such as the gay spa, or the yearly calendar produced by Space Hair Salon and Bar

“Coming out is a struggle in this country”, Pros Nix told me. This 27-year-old is one of the driving forces behind the country’s Gay Pride campaign “I Am What I Am”. “Cambodian mindset is that gay people are useless. I’m an openly gay guy here. I never hide! I wanted to provide this opportunity to others. But if you are not ready, take your time! Some people cannot handle the heat.”

The heat he is talking about is genuine. He knows it because he has been there. Several times!

I wanted to kill myself. You feel like there is no one to talk to. I wanted to be done! Pros Nix

“I wanted to kill myself”, he confessed unexpectedly. “I had a crisis when I was 16, 18, 22… People are telling you it’s wrong and that you should change! You feel lonely, and like you don’t have anyone to talk to. Everything made me think I want to be done. But after I opened up and started to talk, I had many friends supporting. It helped me a lot! I have a lot of friends who are drowning in depression. Now, I have the opportunity to talk openly about it!”

Many of his friends were still in the closet. Sometimes a family would force them to get married to the person of the opposite sex. “Last month, Prime Minister said there would be no gay marriages soon in Cambodia. But he asked parents not to discriminate their children! I try to promote self-love to people, to be happy with who we are. You are not alone; join us! There is a community that will support everything you do!”

Gay tourism in Cambodia

Muscular waiters' staff holding one of them in the air and laughing, at Space Hair Salon and Bar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Sopheak Chuk left the provincial town of Battambang where he was bullied for being gay and then opened Space in Phnom Penh, where nobody can bully his muscular staff

While local members of the LGBTQ community in Cambodia, especially in the provinces, could still be victims of discrimination, bullying, and harassment, the country was surprisingly welcoming to gay travelers! Even if consensual homosexuality was legal (age of consent was 15), public display of affection was not advised, no matter what one’s sexual orientation might be! But gay points of interests were blooming, especially in Cambodian biggest centers – Phnom Penh and Siem Reap!

For the entire list of the most relevant Cambodian gay resources, scroll down! For the list of the events at Gay Pride, scroll even more down!

Rambutan Resort, for instance, was an example of a gay-friendly hotel that proved how the issue of non-discrimination could easily be imported into the mainstream hotel business market. Rambutan’s properties in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were not just relaxing places to stay. They were also places that would not label you in any way. Defining themselves as gay-friendly establishments in Siem Reap, even if they did have gay owners and managers, Rambutans opened their business to all guests tired of labels. So prepare to see straight couples there as well! Entering these hotels required much less bravery and no disguising accessories!

Night or day, the program is gay

Cambodian tourism has many things to offer during the daytime. After you had enough of Angkor temples, Killing Fields, shopping local products or exploring country’s evolving art scene, you might want to know that you could refill your energy by eating at gay-owned/managed places such as The Little Red Fox Espresso or Blue Pumpkin, or enjoy a relaxing massage at one of the country’s many spas!

Drag queens preparing for the performance in the backstage of Barcode Bar in Siem Reap, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Gay tourism in Cambodia provides the jobs for the drag queens, such as these performing daily in Barcode Bar in Siem Reap

Gay nightlife in Cambodia might surprise you! Whether you opted for Blue Chilli in Phnom Penh or Barcode Bar in Siem Reap, proper entertainment was guaranteed! The drag shows in these places were of particularly high quality, but Cambodian gay nightlife propelled in respectful variety! Whether you started your night with a glass of rosé in Balthazar Wine Bar, or by sipping a cocktail surrounded by the muscular hunks of Space Hair Salon and Bar, you could count on an adventurous and less predictable itinerary. Follow the flow, and it would take you bar hopping to various establishments that were either openly gay or made gay people feel at home.

The spa drama unfolds

Two models sitting in the stone bath tub at Rambutan Resort, for the purpose of Space Hair Salon and Bar's calendar Men of Cambodia 2018/2019
If Rambutan’s stone baths could talk, who knows what kind of stories they would tell us!

Still, home for many gay Khmers was not a relaxing place. They were running from that homey feeling into the dark cruising places where their identity seemed more protected. That was unless they met their brother in the same space.

The 21-year old was trembling behind that massive curtain at Arthur & Paul spa, not knowing how to deal with the fact that the family lie successfully constructed for two decades could be exposed in a second. His homophobic brother, as he presented him, was sitting by the pool in a towel neatly wrapped around his waist.

I took the key of the young Khmer’s locker and brought him his belongings, so he could quickly dress up and disappear when the opportunity occurred. But the big bro was just sitting, tightly wrapped in his towel, at the best viewing point and waited. We knew we had to get him moving.

Empathizing with young gay Khmer’s situation, I jumped into another rescue. I approached the pool and dropped my towel in front of the big brother. Now in my birthday suit, I jumped into the refreshing water. The trick of flashing my belongings in front of the homophobe worked! The big brother felt uncomfortable in my nude presence, so he ran away into the bathroom. But the young gay Khmer was not paying attention, so I quickly went out of the pool to instruct him to leave. Too late. The brother was back again!

Completely tangled in this family drama, now I accepted to play a patrol for the 21-year-old. I installed myself on one seat, where I hoped I could monitor the situation the best, and signal the youngster when the runway became clear.

Saved by manspreading

Pointing his finger to the darker areas of the spa, and even exposing his crotch at one moment, he wasn’t subtle at all

There he was! The homophobic big brother was standing behind the corner, at the entrance to the lockers area. He seemed different, openly eating me with his straight eyes. Not in a hostile way, but in a way that was not homophobic at all. Au contraire. Pointing his finger to the darker areas of the spa, and even exposing his crotch at one moment, the big bro was not subtle at all.

While the young gay Khmer pulled his cap tight over his head and was ready to run, I loosened my towel and started manspreading, hoping that the view could be distractive enough. And sure it was! The big brother was not in the spa to find his little brother. The big brother was in the gay bath to seek some MSM action for himself!

Did they live happily ever after?

Young man getting out of the swimming pool, while the other one is sitting naked in the chair, a photograph for the Space Hair Salon and Bar's calendar Men of Cambodia 2018/2019
The naked truth about coming out is that one should do it only when ready

The 21-year-old knew I saved his night, so he gave me his Facebook contact before he fleed. Later, on Messenger, I informed him that his stalking sibling was gay too, but he had a hard time to accept that his big bro would lead a double life. Did he think that double life was reserved just for little brothers?

While I felt proud of playing Mata Hari for the night, and using my charms to save this boy’s gay closet, I wasn’t sure if I indeed helped or extended his struggles even further. Obviously, Cambodians can live in their lies for a long time. Boy’s big brother constructed this inquisitive homophobic identity, backed-up with a girlfriend. It scared the younger one daily, continuing the hardship of living in lies and fears that the big bro probably knew all about.

The other day, the 21-year-old reached out over Facebook again and asked if he could come living with me. Even if I tried to explain that he didn’t even know me, he was convinced he wanted to be, I quote, “a love of my life”.

Gay Khmer vocabulary of denial: Real-men raping non-real men, to prove their manhood 

The Khmer language recognizes two dominant genders, male (pros) and female (srey), but also gender in between the two – kteuy (the person that looks like pros or srey but behaves opposite to it). Kteuy can be sak klay (short hair), which are men looking and identifying as men, but having sex with "real men", or sak veng (long hair), who look and identify as female. Both subgroups desire real men (pros pith brakat), who typically have sex with women, but could have male partners too. Some real men are violent against non-real men and may attack them or even rape them. 

If you ask me, they are all gay. But it's fascinating how we can rely on a language to be able to accept our non-conforming sexual identity. Men raping men to prove they are real men? How are they even different than non-real men having sex with real men?

Gay Cambodia guide

Boys playing pool at the Toolbox bar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the player is wearing a T-shirt saying "Is it Gay in here or is it just me?", photo by Ivan Kralj
When you visit Toolbox in Phnom Penh, guys over there might already be busy playing with their balls

Whether you are visiting Gay Pride or just want to spend your Cambodia holidays in LGBT-friendly environment, this travel guide will hopefully be useful. It maps out the essential points of gay interest in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap!

While there are other resources about gay Cambodia online (such as Utopia), I found that they are not always reliable. They show even the places that are closed or with wrong info. Also, some crucial members of the gay scene are not listed there, as they publish only those who pay for the advertising.

So here’s your free gay guide to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, with the most important LGBT sites of interest. You’re welcome!

Siem Reap Gay Guide

Accommodation

Rambutan Hotel & Resort
View from above at the swimming pool in the center of Rambutan Hotel that was recently renovated, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
After the renovation, Rambutan Hotel attracts even more guests than Rambutan Resort

When in Siem Reap, there’s no need to think about it – Rambutan is the gay place to stay! Just 30 meters away from each other, Rambutan Hotel and Rambutan Resort are located in the center of the town. You can reach the Old Market and Pub Street in five minutes on foot!

When I visited two years ago, Rambutan Hotel (formerly known as Golden Banana) was under reconstruction. What excellent work they did in the meantime! Cozy split-level 3-star villas overlooking the saltwater swimming pool are now overgrowing the Resort’s popularity. Make sure to book in time!

Check the best prices at Rambutan Hotel through this link!
View of the swimming pool at Rambutan Resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Greenery everywhere at Rambutan Resort makes you believe it’s really a nest

Rambutan Resort, on the other side, is also getting a facelift these days. But even during my stay in April 2019, I could see that this 4-star resort was continually being improved and refreshed, even if it meant just changing a color scheme of the furniture. Resort’s advantage is a greater feeling of space in this tropical garden setting centered around the pool, as well as alfresco stone bathtubs on balconies/terraces, which can surely provide many romantic moments. With its breakfast-until-noon policy and free foot massage for all guests, Rambutan enables you to surrender to Siem Reap touristic offer stress-free!

For the best prices at Rambutan Resort, check this link!

Besides the hotel and the resort, there is an option of staying at the new Urban Residences building that directly connects with the resort. These stylishly designed and well-equipped flats are an upgraded version of home you would never want to leave.

Find the best deals for Urban Residences at this link!

Food & Drinks

The Little Red Fox Espresso
Dragonfruit Smoothie Bowl and Pink Hipster Latter, as served in the Little Red Fox Espresso, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Your brunch can hardly get pinkier than this one!

Run by Australian gay couple Adam Rodwell and David Anderson Stirling, The Little Red Fox Espresso is one of the most popular cafés among gay people in Siem Reap. The place opened in late 2004. Today, it has another outlet, Little Red Fox Bar and Café, in Lub d, a massive, also gay-friendly hostel.

The menu’s focus is on coffee (single origin beans) and the whole food concept. Most of it is healthy (salads, raw smoothie bowls…), but there are also bountiful bagels, chocolate bites and all-day breakfast options. I opted for the pinkiest option in the menu – the Dragonfruit Smoothie Bowl accompanied by a Pink Hipster Latte (beetroot). You can order yours in any other color (as long as that color is blue, yellow or green). For coffee, The Little Red Fox Espresso uses the Feel Good Coffee ‘House Blend’ which comes straight from the organic farms in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos!

Inspired by the Plastic Free Cambodia movement, the café uses biodegradable packaging. They also surcharge the takeaway coffee, as well as give a discount if you bring your own cup, all to make you think twice when creating unnecessary garbage.

If you need a haircut, the upper floor also serves as a hair salon. Only David works there, so make your appointment for a zen one-on-one experience in time!

Balthazar Wine Bar

Balthazar Wine Bar at Street 24 is a relatively new addition to Siem Reap’s bar scene. Andrew Mittell and Nick Gorgoglione opened it in June 2018, just a stone throw away from the beautiful Treeline Hotel, an environment and art-friendly hotel you should consider booking too! The guys were visiting Siem Reap on several occasions. They fell in love with its vibrant food and drinks scene and decided to add their passion into it.

Today, Balthazar is an atmospheric place, with exposed brick walls, wooden furniture, and chandeliers made of wine bottles. Nick and Andrew wanted to make it a home of great wines. While their wines arrive from places as far as France, Argentina, South Africa or New Zealand, they try to source the meats and cheeses for their charcuterie platters locally. Add to this home-made dips and patés, and Balthazar will be hard to resist!

This wine bar also works towards increasing its sustainability, by using biodegradable straws and compostable rubbish bags.

Blue Pumpkin
Ice-cream fondue with 14 flavors, in Blue Pumpkin, restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Look at this gorgeous rainbow on the platter!

Blue Pumpkin is a famous bakery and ice cream parlor in Siem Reap, that expanded throughout Cambodia. Besides 13 outlets nationwide, they also supply other businesses with their products.

This is a great place to grab a sandwich, such as Ham & Cheese Croissant, or Nompang with Braised Pork and Mushroom, as an upgrade to the French baguette sandwich. You can add Iced Matcha with Red Bean to your meal, as I did, or choose any other latte, fruit shake, or even draft beer!

The real flamboyant star of Blue Pumpkin’s menu is an Ice Cream Fondue! It comes with 14 flavors of your choice! You read it right, 14! Don’t even try to drown in this rainbow extravaganza all by yourself, bring friends along!

Blue Pumpkin is a big family-owned company. While not a gay business per se, they do have LGBT personnel in their managing positions.

Nightlife

Barcode Club
Drag queen performer lip syncing in a red gown on the stage of Barcode, in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Somewhere over the rainbow…

Barcode Lounge Gay Bar is the flagship of Siem Reap’s nightlife. With French managers Philippe and Pascal, the place became an institution, even if it’s just four years old! As an extension to overcrowded Pub Street, this secluded spot is often the ideal meeting point for both Khmer gays and expats.

Every night, Barcode delivers free cabaret shows on one of the smallest glamorous stages one could imagine. From 9:30 till 11:30 pm, local lip sync divas and dancers will entertain you with their sexy, funny and sometimes strange performances. You will not find a better drag show until you reach gay Phnom Penh!

Barcode’s extensive drinks menu consists of classic cocktails, mocktails, fine wine, champagne, and beer. If that doesn’t help you dance, Barcode’s DJ will!

Heaven & Dreamboys Siem Reap
Performers impersonating Backstreet Boys at Heaven & Dreamboys bar in Siem Reap, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
“I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love me” – Backstreet Boys lyrics could once become an official motto of Gay Pride

Heaven & Dreamboys is a club with a much bigger stage than the Barcode one. It also has some 20-ish dancers performing on it. Every night, from 10:30 pm till 0:30 am, shirtless boys and dressed-up ladyboys deliver a show that reaches out into some old school charm. It can be entertaining to see youngsters performing “As Long as You Love Me”. Most of them were not even born when Backstreet Boys skyrocketed in fame!

The shows might be lost in the big space, especially if not many visitors, but maybe that’s not the point. A stage is just an exhibition place for the dreamboys that can show you heaven later. The doors to paradise lead through the backstage, where rooms with king size beds await for customers. A massage by a boy of your choice costs 15 US dollars. If see the oil rubbing treatment as a foreplay to the “real thing”, the real thing will cost you extra. Prepare to negotiate it directly with the dreamboy!

Unless you come to Heaven & Dreamboys for a massage & extra, I would treat it as a place one can have fun in if accompanied by a group of friends. Otherwise, be prepared to be approached by boys who want to earn their per diem.

Phare Circus
Shirtless circus performers on the stage of Phare, Cambodian circus in Siem Reap, photo by Ivan Kralj
Siem Reap’s circus shows a fair amount of skin in their performances

Phare Circus technically does not belong to Siem Reap gay scene, but it provides enough eye-candy entertainment! If you are into seeing muscular boys (and girls) doing some fantastic physical stunts, this is the place to go!

Circus artists have trained in the association Phare Ponleu Selpak. Nine young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime. They founded a free art school for poor, socially deprived and troubled young Cambodians! The results are awesome!

Shows in the program change weekly. But if you are looking for LGBT thematic, try to catch the one called “Eclipse”! It follows a story of a young Cambodian experiencing bullying in his village. The gods help him by transforming him into a beautiful girl so that the bullies would learn their lesson.

Phare Circus tent brings some of the most popular shows in Siem Reap, so book ahead! The ticket costs 18 US dollars, and you can book it through the Backstreet Academy, the platform that enables meaningful travel experiences!

Daytime Fun

Men’s Spa

Men’s Spa is a part of the Men’s Resort that caters for gay guests. If you are staying in the resort, the visit to the spa is free of charge.

For 5 US dollars, day guests can access the gym, the 18-meter long pool, and the spa area that consists of a dry and wet sauna, big jacuzzi and a dozen of small rooms for private encounters.

Performers from Heaven & Dreamboys in Siem Reap, Cambodia, posing on the bed in the backstage, photo by Ivan Kralj
Heaven and Dreamboys staff can dance, sing and – give massages! Extra is extra.

If you don’t get lucky while gay cruising in the probably naughtiest Siem Reap spa, you can opt for a massage. Have in mind that online reviews of its quality are quite divided.

Massage

If you are looking for a good and professional massage, and not “extra service” disguised behind some amateur oil rubbing (that will always be an additional cost), you better try the spa of some local hotels.

One of the recommendable places I got excellent massages was Sokhak Spa – River Side. If you are a guest at Jaya House River Park, you’ll get one free massage for every day of your stay in this beautiful, environment-friendly 5-star hotel.

Transportation

Gold Tuk-Tuk

If you are looking for a gay driver, who can bring you safely from one place to another, contact Sovan (Gold Tuk-Tuk). Besides tuk-tuk, Sovan serves even destinations out of town, with his air-conditioned car. His phone number is +855 92 501 691, or you can reach him by e-mail at [email protected].

Phnom Penh Gay Guide

Accommodation

Arthur and Paul
Breakfast in bed with a photograph of a nude man above the bed, in Arthur & Paul hotel in Phnom Penh, photo by Ivan Kralj
Breakfast in bed, dessert above the bed

Arthur and Paul is Phnom Penh’s first gay hotel! It is also a men-only hotel, accepting exclusively male guests and male staff. The only exception is the small girl adopted by the French owners who runs through the restaurant on her way back from her kindergarten.
Built in 2013, the hotel offers ten rooms exuberant in gay decadence. From nude male photos above the bedhead, do-not-disturb signs in a phallus shape, animal rags on the floor and eclectic furniture mixing the 70s with contemporary forms, this boldness is only for special guests. Throughout the hotel, in which they named the rooms after the famous gay couples, you will find gay-themed books and magazines, for the moments when you just want to relax.

For the moments of interaction, stay in the hotel in the evening hours, when its pool and spa become a favorite hangout of local gays. If you prefer some private relaxation, book one of the hotel’s masseurs!

Before night time, a surprise cake will welcome you in your room. But do not worry! There is also a scale so that you can keep that fit body shape under control!

For the best prices of stay in Arthur and Paul, check this link!
Rambutan Resort
Bed in the room of Rambutan Resort in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with contemporary art on the wall, photo by Ivan Kralj
Art in Rambutan is also contemporary but doesn’t play nude

Just next door to A&P, Rambutan Resort is a gay-friendly accommodation in Phnom Penh. While it’s much less gay-in-your-face than their neighbor, it is still a hotel where you can be yourself, regardless of your sexuality. Have in mind that it is quite a beautiful boutique property too and, because of its non-discrimination policy, it also attracts straight couples and even families.

Just like in Siem Reap, the central feature of the hotel is a lovely outdoor pool with salt water. It connects to a restaurant where they freshly prepare both Western and Eastern dishes. Breakfast options are a la carte and offer from eggs and sweet dishes to Bor Bor, Bai Cha or Banh Shung.

They have restyled the rooms in Phnom Penh’s Rambutan recently as well. They are a pleasant space, whether you want to sleep in the bed (alone or not), relax in the tub on the balcony (alone or not), or just spend a lazy day reading a book on the day bed (alone, I guess?).

Open your eyes to the works of contemporary art when visiting this hotel! Rambutan is a gallery worth visiting, but as one cannot stay in all the rooms, I’d be happier if the paintings would rotate throughout the hotel, which is now not the case. While I loved the artworks on the ground floor even when I visited two years ago, in 2019, I would have preferred to see something new from their well-hidden collection!

For the best available prices of Rambutan Resort in Phnom Penh, check this link!

Nightlife

Blue Chilli
Drag queen performer in Blue Chilli, the oldest bar catering for the needs of gay Khmer, photo by Ivan Kralj
Blue Chilli’s drag queens are some of the best in the business

Khem Sokha opened Blue Chilli in 2006. Located in Street 178, it quickly made the area an LGBT epicenter of Cambodia. Today, this is the country’s longest-running gay bar!

Things can sometimes wear off with time, but not this place! In its second decade, the backbone of Phnom Penh gay scene is still very much alive and kicking! Out of all the Cambodian gay bars I visited, this one felt hard to leave. Simply said: they put on some of the best drag shows!

From Wednesday till Saturday, at 11 pm, their small stage welcomes some of the fiercest local queens. They are fun, they are fabulous, and they are fantastic! They are the generators of extremely fun atmosphere, with that rough-around-the-edges, underground feel. If I’d be living in Phnom Penh, I feel I could become an addicted fan of this lip-syncing carnival!

POC (Pride of Cambodia)
Ladyboy performer sitting on the legs of her male dancers, at Pride of Cambodia bar, photo by Ivan Kralj
It’s hard to lip sync in heels all night. Sometimes, a girl just needs to sit down and rest!

Blue Chilli’s biggest town competitor in staging weekend drag shows is POC, or Pride of Cambodia. It opened in 2015, as Pride of Phnom Penh, but due to expansion plans, changed its name.

With some fun drag queens and go-go dancers, it might not be on the level of the iconic Blue Chilli, but some audiences might prefer it. This place seems to be more mainstream (if we can say that about any gay bar) and more popular with the younger crowd. I visited when they had a White Night on, which meant most of the audience dressed up in white shirts and trousers.

Toolbox Bar
Male performers on the stage of Toolbox, sensually touching each other, photo by Ivan Kralj
Boys, boys, boys

If you are not into ladyboy aesthetics, head to Toolbox Bar. No drag here, just your regular Cambodian gay men. Every night at 10 pm, expect a lot of skin exposure, lascivious play, and energetic dance!

The Canadian owner Doug Shakels proudly mentions that, out of 14 members of his staff, only two are straight. So come and play along! The boys working there are quite open-minded, if they wear T-shirts, usually they include some fun message, and they generally seem friendly in providing a good time for everyone. If you don’t want to hang out at the long bar, there is a pool table, so you can always join the boys playing with balls!

Space Hair Salon and Bar
Muscular shirtless waiter staff at Space Hair Studio and Bar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Getting these boys out of their shirts is not so difficult

If you want to see real muscles, then Space Hair Salon and Bar may outdo the Toolbox. Testosterone-packed, yet full of sweet and smiling faces, this place is a hair salon by day and a bar by night. Do not expect shows, however!

From 7 pm, they remove the hair products, and twelve beefy boys (and a few equally cute dogs) start to mingle in the tiny bar. Often dressed up according to the theme of the night, they come in tight shirts and shorts that their pumped muscles could make burst. One day they could be Superheroes, the other day they could serve you as policemen or James Bond characters.

The bar owner Sopheak Chuk finds these sexy hunks in local gyms and clubs, and since 2013 uses them as the selling point for his cocktails.

If you want to take the boys home, buy the Space calendar! The country’s heritage never looked sexier until Cambodian gay boys stepped into the picture.

Heart of Darkness

People dancing under the light show in the Heart of Darkness, Phnom Penh's iconic night club, Cambodia, photo by Ivan KraljOpened in 1993, The Heart of Darkness is a sizeable gay-friendly night club on two floors, and the place where many gay bar hoppers end up in, dancing their night away. Even some Blue Chilli queens are notoriously known for running through Phnom Penh streets in full drag attire and heels, to make it for the midnight show at HoD.

Personally, I didn’t like the atmosphere profoundly affected by visitors overindulging in alcohol, but they did seem to have fun dancing after the official show numbers were over. I had much more fun at places packed so much that one couldn’t even dance, and where security does not need to protect the queens from the audience “showing love”.

Daytime fun

Arthur and Paul spa
Doors of the private cabins in Arthur & Paul spa in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, marked with the words "bottom" and "top"
Pick the door that suits you best!

After 5 pm, the spa at Arthur and Paul Hotel opens for non-hotel guests too. For six dollars (or 3,75 after 8 pm), meet dozens of Khmer gays looking for relaxation. The busiest gay spa in Phnom Penh includes a steam room, sensual showers, large Jacuzzi, and three tiny rooms where a group of men could still squeeze in, in moments of lust.

Hatha Khmer Massage

While you can order your spa treatment at hotels such as Arthur and Paul or Rambutan, the famous place for male massage in Phnom Penh is Hatha Khmer Spa. You can hand pick your favorite among more than twenty masseurs, and for 10 US dollars, get a professional experience. At least, that’s what they say, those who tried it. They also say that for 20 dollars extra, your masseur will properly massage your inner muscles as well, or vice versa, depending on your idea of MSM relaxation (MSM here stands for men seeking massage ;)).

6 significant facts on gay life in Cambodia

1. The former king of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk, as well as his successor king Norodom Sihamoni, both advocated for LGBT rights in Cambodia and expressed their support for gay marriage. However, the king has no executive power in Cambodia.

2. According to Cambodian law, only married couples may adopt children. However, local authorities are not too strict about it and have permitted adoption to same-sex couples too. LGBT individuals are also allowed to take a child.

3. Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen adopted a girl, but when he found out she was lesbian in 2007, he publically disowned her.

4. In 2009, „Who Am I?“ (director Phoan Phuong Bopha), the first Cambodian film featuring a gay relationship, became a blockbuster.

5. In 2015, Cambodia Q Cambodia, the country's first LGBT magazine started publishing.

6. In 2018, sex education that covers topics such as sexual health, gender-based violence, gender identity or combating discrimination against the LGBT community, became a part of the curriculum in all schools in Cambodia.

Cambodia Gay Pride 2019 guide

Lego figurines of men and heart at A Place To Be Yourself, resource center in Siem Reap, Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
A Place To Be Yourself in Siem Reap is in the focus of this year’s action Friends with Benefits. Spend some money in various places in town and support the work of this local resource center!

In the period of Gay Pride, all leading establishments upgrade their program to a new level. Gay Pride Siem Reap (10th-12th May) is a sort of a kick off for Gay Pride Phnom Penh (15th-20th May). The younger Pride started only in 2018, putting an accent on I am what I am initiative. While this year’s focus is on strengthening the community, the hope is to bring in more Khmer gays in the following years as, at the moment, Siem Reap Pride is organized mainly by expats. On the other hand, Phnom Penh Pride started in 2003 and is more balanced in terms of Khmer vs. expats inclusion.

Siem Reap Gay Pride (10.-12.5.2019.)

Siem Reap’s Pride weekend kicks off with Friday cocktail party at Miss Wong and continues at Barcode’s Unbeweareable Party. This wig-crazy event will award anyone wearing a wig with a free vodka caramel shot!

A guest is laying on a flamingo floatee in the swimming pool of Rambutan Resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia, filled out with various balloons, for Gay Pride party
Rambutan Resort is again hosting Gay Pride pool party

If you’re still on your feet on Saturday morning, you may want to join the Fabulous Flow Yoga at Yoga Space Siem Reap. However, the highlight of the day is the GayMazing Tuk Tuk Race. This fun but competitive 3-hour scavenger hunt involves solving clues and challenges at every destination! Besides the apparent reward of completing the tasks, there will be prizes for the best-dressed teams, best-dressed tuk-tuks and so on! Racing through the tropical Siem Reap may be exhausting, but Rambutan Hotel and Resort is welcoming the Rainbows and Unicorns Pool Party afterward. Hit the pool, and win the prize for the best Rainbow Unicorn Fantasy costume!

On Sunday morning, A Place To Be Yourself is having an open doors day. Come and learn how this drop-in/resource center, led by another Aussie Jason Argenta, supports the local LGBTIQ community with advice, education and even free condoms. Do it especially as they are the main star of the Friends with Benefits campaign! Local businesses have given up on the percentage of their income and will transfer it as a donation to this organization!

See how the support scheme works immediately after – visit Rambutan and Wild Splash & Chill afternoon! Enjoy snacks and drinks at the food stalls from Pou Kitchen and Café, Marum, The Balthazar, The Little Red Fox Espresso, Rambutan, and Wild – Creative Bar & Eatery! The same afternoon, Sugar Beauty Boutique welcomes Sugar Talks with six LGBTIQ+ community members, from 66-year-old transman Sanh Pheng to established Khmer artist Channy Chhoeun. Sokkhak River Lounge hosts the Siem Reap Pride Closing Party.

Phnom Penh Gay Pride (15.-20.5.2019.)

Even if some of the events, such as talk shows on radio, Facebook live and at The Factory, start from May 9th, the majority of Pride events in Phnom Penh is in the period between 15th and 20th of May.

Drag queens performing on the stage of Blue Chilli, Phnom Penh's oldest gay bar, photo by Ivan Kralj
I loved Blue Chilli’s regular party. I can’t imagine what kind of drag chaos they create for the Pride, but if you are there, don’t miss them!

The list of parties at Gay Pride Phnom Penh is as follows: POC on 15th, Space Hair Bar on 16th, Blue Chilli on 17th, Toolbox and Heart of Darkness on 18th, and Cool Down Pool Party at Rambutan and A&P on 19th.

Phnom Penh Pride also has its Amazingly Fabulous Pride Tuk Tuk Race on 18th. If you are still in the competitive spirit by 19th, join Pride Volleyball Tournament. Hosted by Feck Hard, this event is a fundraiser for enabling access of inner-city LGBTI to volleyball, badminton and other sports.

Officially, Pride ends at The Factory on 20th of May, with Nerd Night LGBTQI Special.

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Being gay Khmer is not easy. Many members of Cambodian LGBTIQ community can still not live freely their sexual identity. Can events such as Gay Pride and creativity of the scene and establishments remove the stigma and provide better future for gay Cambodia?

Disclosure: My stays at Rambutan and Arthur & Paul were complimentary, as well as meals at the Little Red Fox Espresso, Balthazar and Blur Pumpkin, but all opinions are my own.

Also, this post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on them and make a purchase, Pipeaway might make a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our work!
Ivan Kralj

Editor

Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

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