Goodbye Thailand, Hello Cambodia
Goodbye Thailand, Hello Cambodia
I have just got back from a week in Cambodia and I bring with me the enthusiasm of the new convert. Perhaps it was just beginner’s luck, but in my admittedly limited experience, the attitude of the girls I met was simply light years ahead of the current crop in Thailand.
There is a dearth of up-to-date information about Cambodia, especially when compared to Thailand – though, of course, a few of the contributors to this site are old Cambodia hands. My apologies to them for what will seem like statements of the obvious. What I want to offer is the kind of information I wish I had had before I set out, so this submission will be a combination of specific information about places to go, places to stay, prices, etc., plus some subjective comments.
The cheapest flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh is by Thai Air Asia. My return flight, plus taxes, came to 4118 baht. The downside is that the flight leaves Bangkok at 7.00 AM, which meant I had to leave my hotel at 5.00 AM. It was a close call as to whether it was worth going to bed at all. In the event, I ended the evening at the Thermae at about 3 PM, and got back to the hotel in time to start packing.
A visa is provided on arrival in Phnom Penh. It speeds things up if you bring a passport photograph. Cost is $20. US dollars are used alongside Cambodian riel. I changed some dollars at the airport, but found out later that this was not necessary, as I was given riel as change. In terms of budget, I took $1000 for the week (in small denominations, including a good supply of $1 notes). I spent $210 on the hotel, and $522 on ‘entertainment’. Compared to Thailand, the hotel costs are about the same, but I find it hard to get by on less than 5,000 baht (c. $150) per night for entertainment. These days that will buy you a few drinks, a barfine and a tip – and not much else. Push the boat out a bit, and you’re looking at twice that amount. I reckon that if I had had a week of similar experiences in Thailand, it would have cost at least $1600.
Phnom Penh night life is spread out around the city, but Street 51 and Street 104 have the greatest concentration of bars. I considered staying at the Pickled Parrot on Street 104, or at the Walkabout on Street 51. Then I read on a forum a recommendation for Flamingos on Street 172 just around the corner from Street 51. This is quieter than the Walkabout, which has its own bar. Flamingos also offers free airport transfer, breakfast, and internet access for a room price of $25 – $30. I went for the $30 room because it included a bathtub, and there is nothing I like better after a gruelling journey than a long, hot soak. Useful maps of Phnom Penh, including the location of bars, can be found at C anbypublications.com.
Before arriving in Phnom Penh I had some concerns about how safe it would be. In fact, despite the lack of street lighting, I never felt uncomfortable at any time in the central areas of the city. Sadly, I actually feel less safe in the cities of England, where it is all too easy to stumble into binge drinkers whose idea of a good time is to beat some innocent passer-by to a pulp, and where knife and gun crime is increasing year on year.
I was impressed with Phnom Penh. It consists of low-rise French colonial style buildings set out on spacious boulevards with a surprising amount of greenery. Some areas, such as the waterfront area, look quite sophisticated. The traffic, which consists mainly of mopeds, is chaotic, but less dangerous than I had been led to believe, mainly because traffic density is low. A Swiss guy whom I met in Sharky summed up the ‘feel’ of the place well. He said: ‘There’s space to live and breathe here.’ I commented that, compared with Switzerland, the place must seem like a dump. He said there were too many rules and regulations in Switzerland. I told him that the same is true with the ‘nanny state’ we now suffer in the UK.
Getting around Phnom Penh is very difficult or very easy depending how you look at it. My internet research had thrown up lots of horror stories about the chaotic traffic, and the dangers of being mugged while on the back of a motor cycle taxi – which is why I planned to stay in one of the nightlife centres – Street 51 or Street 104 – both of which have several bars in walking distance. However, after finding that some of the smaller bars were empty during the early evening, I overcame my fears and took a motodop to Sharky’s. The Motodops can be a pain in the neck as they are always touting for business, and very reluctant to take you for a single ride – they want to be your driver for the evening – or preferably the entire length of your stay. In the end I gave in to this, and it worked out quite well. However, it was worth holding out for a bit until I got a feel for things. My first motodop wanted $50 a day, but by the time I actually did adopt one, I agreed on a whole evening for $6. OK, old Cambodia hands may still say I paid too much – but it was a lot better than the first offer! Once I had overcome my fear of the traffic, the unorthodox driving style (on wide roads and major junctions they often drive on the left – i.e., against the traffic – as it’s easier than crossing to the correct side), I began to appreciate the benefits of having a regular motodop. If he’s any good, he’ll take you where you want to go, wait outside for you, and generally look after you. He will also suggest places – admittedly he probably gets a kickback, but my motodop took me to some good bars I wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
I’m not much of a tourist. I’m not there for temples and shopping. The only sight I want to see is a pretty girl, and the only bargain I want to strike is a good price for the night. That said, I thought it would be worth a quick look at some of the sights in Phnom Penh, so I visited the National Museum and the Royal Palace. The National Museum was not what I expected. I was thinking in terms of pottery from the Angkor period and antique Buddha statues, but it is actually a genocide museum. It is a former school that was turned into a prison by the Khmer Rouge regime. You can see the cells, the instruments of torture and photographs (and a few skulls) of the people who were imprisoned there. The Royal Palace is similar to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, and did more than anything else to impress on me the close connection between these two cultures.
Now a word about the girls. Of course, what I have to say is purely my personal opinion and based on a very small sample. Khmer girls are similar to Thai girls, but with a stronger ‘ethnic’ appearance. They are generally better endowed in the breast department, though somewhat smaller of stature. Their faces seem more ‘squashed up’ and lack the elegant lines of the classic Thai face. However, a minority were real beauties – far more beautiful than any girl I have met in the bars in Thailand in recent years. Every single girl I met seemed eager to please, even if it was just to give me a back massage while I had a drink. Not once did I come across the disdainful attitude that seems to affect an increasing proportion of Thai bar girls. There are a few Vietnamese girls around, but they were noticeably cooler, and as a result, I had very little to do with them. As for underage girls, I can safely say that, since the clean up, they are nowhere in evidence. All the bars employ girls of legal age, and the freelancer bars I went to had doormen checking identity cards.
There are several types of bars, though no Thailand-style gogo bars. Hostess bars are bars where the girls are employed by the bar to entertain customers with chat, back massage, pool, etc. You repay the girl for her time by buying her a lady drink and/or giving her a tip. $1 was suggested to me as the right amount for a tip, but I am happy to stand corrected by any of the old Cambodia hands out there. Some of the girls will go with customers and some will not. If a girl agrees to go with you, you pay a barfine of $5 – $10 (depending on the bar) and pay the girl separately. Some girls negotiated, but some said ‘up to you’. I gathered that around $25 is the going rate for all night, and that’s what I paid – again, I am happy to stand corrected.
Another type of bar is the freelancer bar – Sharky and Walkabout are good examples. In these bars the girls are not employed by the bar, so there is no barfine to pay. On the other hand, it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’, because the girls vary in quality and attitude, and you’ve no comeback on the bar if things go wrong. I’d read horror stories of pushy girls forcing themselves on customers, guys who were robbed, or who paid for a whole night only for the girl to do a runner at the earliest opportunity – but I experienced none of that. Not many girls tried to push themselves on me – indeed, I found it quite difficult to catch the girls’ eyes on some occasions, and the girls I did hook up with were the sweetest girls imaginable. Maybe it’s because it was low season, maybe it was beginner’s luck – or more probably, the reality of Phnom Penh is not as wild and woolly as some pundits make it out to be.
There is a third type of bar. These are just brothels really. These consist of a bar area with short time rooms above. I only visited two. One was sublime – the other, ridiculous.
You can also find freelancers in discos of which Heart of Darkness (Street 51) is probably the best known. However, I’d read some negative reports about violence involving guns at this place, so I decided to give it a miss.
Now for a list of some of the bars I visited:
Shanghai, Street 51
This is a sophisticated hostess bar. Sophisticated because the hostesses, of whom there were about 20, wore little black dresses – which looked great against their golden brown skin, and showed off their curves to perfection. I got talking to one of the most beautiful girls I have every seen anywhere: beautiful face with elegant features, large brown eyes, slender waist, wonderful poise, excellent English. I was actually trembling with excitement at the idea of taking her back to my hotel. However, when I asked her, she said she didn’t go with customers (doh!).
One of the problems with hostess bars is that a hostess (or 2, or 3!) will pounce on you as soon as you walk through the door. This is fine as long as you like her, but I found out later on that the one you fancy is usually somewhere else. I later developed a strategy for dealing with this. It may sound a bit crude, but it worked, and I’ll carry on using it until someone can tell me a better one. Basically, you go into a bar, get pounced on, order a drink and take a look around. When you see the girl you like, make your apologies and go to the toilet. When you come out of the toilet, go over to the girl you like.
Walkabout, Street 51
Walkabout is a freelance bar. The girls there have the reputation for being a bit hardened and pushy. This was the only place where a freelancer actually approached me. She sat down at the table beside me, and though I ignored her, it took some time for the message to get through. I saw nothing I liked there, but it was low season, and early in the evening.
Sharky, Street 130
Sharky is a Phnom Penh institution, being the oldest westerner-orientated bar (it opened in 1995). It was here that I met up with the Swiss guy. He had a couple of girls in tow. One was his ‘girlfriend’ (i.e., a Khmer girl he was spending a few days with) and the other was her friend. She wasn’t that attractive but she was very sweet, and after a few drinks I got to like her enough to proposition her. To my surprise, she turned me down. There did not seem to be much else available there that night, but it was low season, and still early. I went to Sharky on another occasion. It was a bit later and a bit livelier, but I was with my Swiss friend, and we both had a girl that time, so I still didn’t get a chance to sample the Sharky freelancers. I liked the atmosphere there, though – and I’ll be back!
Martini’s, Street 95
Martini’s is a freelancer bar cum restaurant and disco with an interesting mixture of Khmer and Vietnamese girls. I met a very sweet Khmer girl here – though she didn’t speak a word of English. I was touched when I noticed later on how threadbare her clothes were – particularly her underwear. She also seemed more than usually grateful for the meal I bought her. Obviously an example of real poverty – very different from the well-fed, well-dressed, ‘poor’ girls from Isaan! When I reflect on it now, I wish I’d given her more than the standard $25 – though she seemed delighted enough with it.
Power Bar, just off Street 104
This was the motodop’s recommendation. It was a small bar with about 6 hostesses and a pool table. It was quiet, and I was the only customer – but it was early in the evening. I got chatting to a real beauty with a great body emphasised by a tight white top. She lured me into a game of pool by saying that she was ‘no good’, then thrashed me soundly. However, when I propositioned her, she said she didn’t go with customers.
Zanzibar, Street 104
As soon as I walked in I was struck by the lively atmosphere. There were three or four girls dancing (fully clothed) on the bar (the nearest you’ll get to a Thai gogo bar in Phnom Penh) and lots of pretty hostesses. I was mobbed by three of them before I could even get to the bar – one of them very pretty, but guess what – she didn’t go with customers. I was finding that the very pretty ones often don’t – maybe it’s because they get enough money from tips and lady drinks – or maybe they are just more selective and don’t fancy my aging features and fat gut. I chatted to her for a while and she told me that the barfine was $10 and the expected tip, $30.
Cyrcee Club, Street 49
As soon as I walked in – wow – the prettiest collection of girls I have seen under one roof in Phnom Penh! The downside is that Cyrcee is more of a brothel than a bar. It cost $25 to take a girl upstairs for an hour – more if you want to take one out for the night. The girls were pretty – but looked well worn – and not for me as I’m looking for the ‘girlfriend experience’.
Sophie Club, corner of Street 118 and Street 53
This is an offshoot of the Cyrcee Club, and some internet forums were very enthusiastic about it. All I can say is that it has slipped since then. The girls were so rough-looking that I took one look and went straight out. However, these places change quickly, and by next month, the Sophie Club might have all the pretty girls.
Rose Bar, Street 104
There was a good atmosphere in the bar and lots of pretty girls. I was lucky to be hit on by a sweet thing with large breasts. She massaged my back while I had a beer – which is about all she could do because she didn’t speak a syllable of English. A little later, her friend joined her, and her English was quite good. She told me that the first girl had only just started working and offered herself as an interpreter if I would like to barfine them both. It was interesting that she herself commented on some of the things I had observed – she was proud of her large breasts, and commented unfavourably on the endowments of her Thai sisters; and she compared the Khmer girls’ willingness to please with the Vietnamese girls’ mercenary attitude.
So back to where I began. Am I serious when I say ‘Goodbye Thailand, Hello Cambodia’? Well, yes and no. Yes, because – Cambodia offers what I used to find in Thailand – girls who are fun to be with at prices I can afford; no, because I can only get to Cambodia via Bangkok, and because it is still possible to meet girls in Thailand who are genuinely friendly and fun to be with – you just have to work harder to find them, and pay more to entertain them.
Interesting report. Many have made the move already.