Phnom Penh Nightlife 1991-2003, A Nostalgic Look Back
My 1st visit was in fall of 1990, one of the very first Europeans to come for business after the end of the killings. The Khmer Rouge was still fighting in the jungle, the Vietnamese occupation was in full swing. They saved the Khmer from extinction but still were considered a foe and never got thanked. Also the UN considered Pol Pot as the legal ruler. Shows how crazy the cold war and politics in general are.
In 1990 PNP was the most depressing place on earth. Hundreds of cripples – thanks to landmines – begging. Rubbish burning on every corner. Curfew was strict and police shot to kill after 8 PM. My 1st day I bought a bottle of gin and some tonic and just downed it lukewarm (there was no fridge as there was no power) as fast as possible. Being in a happy new relationship I didn't check out the P4P scene. By 1993 the city was cleaned up and the place looked and smelled much better so it was fun to walk around. My daily dose is some 10 – 15 km.
In the years before 2003 Cambodia was a paradise for P4P: easy to find, cheap at $3 – 5. Most girls were beautiful if you liked small & slim, and more importantly, nice. All hotels except the Cambodiana were GF-friendly and safe as reception called to ask "Can she leave?"
PNP didn't know HIV until the UN peacekeepers came in 1991/92 for "nation- building". Many countries – India, some African nations etc – considered this mission as dangerous so sent their scum. The daily salary was $150, more than most soldiers made in half a year at home and 2-3 ladies a day was a normal diet. At that times condoms were hardly used. The mission did not have a real success besides burning billions of dollars (Hun Sen never accepted the outcome and still today is the blood-thirsty dictator) but spread HIV in large numbers, making Cambodia a HIV hot-spot overnight.
In 1992 I met some doctors of the German army-hospital which was open for UN troops and civilians. They were the best part of the whole troop. They told me about crazy patients who had to be stationed with 2 or 3 different VDs. Soon after being cured they came back with another one, imagine how many ladies they passed it on to…
For funny reading about wild expat life in PNP in the early days, check out the book "Girls, Guns and Ganja", a really good book widely available in Phnom Penh for a few $. When I came back in 1991 the drugs were banned already except ganja as a herb for cooking. Many places along the river offered "happy pizza" ( = ganja instead of oregano. 3 sizes, plus a choice of happy, very happy and extra happy. Very relaxing and the best cure for jet-lag). Guns I never saw but the girls, OMG! If you don't enjoy this book and don't become extremely jealous maybe you should look for a nice monastery or cave to live a holy life!
There were many choices:
1) Brothels in virtually every 2nd street in town: PNP actually was one giant $3 – 5 brothel. Easy to recognize as always some ladies or pimp waiting outside calling, "Hey you, yumyum boom boom 5$. No good no pay money." The usual rate often included some kind of token massage and it was $20 – 30 for all night. Hundreds of ladies for each and every taste. Mostly Vietnamese girls up to some 25 years. Most pretty and nice. Nice guests did get a nice girlfriend experience service in most cases. Many customers treated them like dirt so they rewarded a nice guy. They loved all night to have a decent bed and air-con and feeling safe, different from Thai bargirls of today. Many non- air-con barbershops had "massage" room upstairs at $5-10.
2) Massage parlours: some 30 – 50 scattered all over town, each had around 10 – 35 ladies, Khmer and / or Vietnamese. Very few went just for massage but if you liked that you got it for $5 with no angry face on the lady. Usually guests took the full package of 1 hour for $10 – 15 all inclusive. These places had a kind of fish tank, not as elaborate as in Bangkok, but who goes for the setting? Often also ladies walked around for a better look and contact. I only took ladies who chose me instead of vice versa and therefore never had a dull one. Again, ladies nice and friendly, giving great service and grateful for a tip.
3) Dancing halls: mostly Khmer, dark and noisy, you rent a girl for talk and dance and all ladies were available to join you at your hotel if they liked you. I don't have any experience there.
4) Designated brothel – areas of which the most famous & best was K11, the 2nd best Tuol Kok at the outskirts. More places for local clientele, $2 – 3. By chance I passed a very poor looking slum near Hotel Cambodiana with many ladies, but didn't look very inviting when I just passed once. No chance to check it out as the next visit it was gone. The government wanted to develop this area – casino etc – so they just torched the whole slum without warning. People lost their home and life's possessions. This was repeated in other slums over the next few years. As compensation, people were offered a new place some 20-30 km from town = no way to make any money.
K11 was a small village 11 km out of town comprising some 20 houses. You passed by and the ladies – 10 – 30 in each house – lined up on the street or waited in a room to be picked, only nice Vietnamese girls. The rate again was $4 – 5. The only sad thing about this place was that many girls were slaves. Their parents got $500 and she had to work 6 months for free, except tips. Also there were many underage, down to 10 years which is really crazy as even an 18-year old Vietnamese girl has the body & look of a child. The whole place was closed thanks to some US missionaries. Officially to stop child-sex but actually to boost their hypocritical egos. The end of the story is that K11 was closed around 2004 for good; ironically except a few places for kiddie-lovers, which stayed open some time to come.
What a shame….many times I wasted a Saturday afternoon with my standard routine: lady, a beer, lady, a beer and so on. Thanks to driving a motorbike after 4 beers I had to go back to town, tired but happy, all for some $30 – 40 including decent tips. How I miss this place. Luckily most ladies were generous with photo & video so at least I have some lasting memories.
Every now and then a police truck stopped at a house, some 10-15 police jumped in to "check the place" and when they left the stock of beer was gone and all the ladies were tired after many freebees.
Tuol Sleng was a long street on the outskirts with many whorehouses / shacks either side. It was a poor choice compared to K11. Mostly Khmer ladies from very pretty to really ugly. I still remember my worst ever encounter: going by motorbike (rented for 250 cc $7/day). Suddenly the sky turned black within minutes and a very strong tornado-like storm came out of nowhere, dust and plastic floating around and hurting the eyes so I had to find a shelter. The nearest place was Tuol Sleng so I sped to the first shack and asked for a dry place, not without some afterthoughts. Seconds later the rain poured down like it was being emptied from buckets. The ladies prepared themselves for the shift. All had dead eyes, not even the slightest effort to make me change my plans to get horizontal, I felt like I was in a zombie movie. When the rain stopped I paid $1 and thanked the gods.
About 2004 was the end of the wild-west in Cambodia. All of the above except the local dancing halls are history, 5-7 still available but a shadow of its former glory.
5) Streetwalkers ply many places at night. Lots around Wat Phnom and near Sorya shopping centre. Never tried as I am too scared. Many ladies are drug addicts.
6) Pick- up bars. Most famous : Round-About Hotel, Sharky, Martini and the all-night rate again was $20 – 30. Today, for sure it is higher.
– RAH : open ground floor, pool table and many freelancers. Convenient: s/t- rooms upstairs. Still in full swing 24/7. I never liked this place so no experience.
– Sharky at that time was simply a perfect pub. It felt like in Coyote Ugly, home away from home. Great vibe, superb play list and good Thai awa bar food, my best onion rings ever. 3 pool tables. Beer as usual cheap, large draft 1 – 1.5 $. Plenty of Khmer waitresses (not available) and Vietnamese freelancers (very available), mostly nice ladies. If you wanted to be left alone by hookers you just had to befriend a waitress as the Khmer & Viets hated each other. For perhaps 10 years Sharky has been a shadow of its former glory, the manager is said to have fired the whole crew thanks to a fight with a waitress, the others sided with her and all had to go. They never found good replacements. Also the Vietnamese hookers are gone, now mostly Khmer, also not too bad but fewer of them.
– Martini was a large open air beer garden cum disco cum restaurant. They moved a couple of times. Many Vietnamese & Khmer freelancers including amateurs who came every now and than for fun. Had some nice surprises but was no real regular thanks to Sharky.
7) Beer bars: usually at least one hostess per guest. Girls available only exceptionally after some visits and if they liked you. All spoke some English. Never pushing for lady-drinks. Fun to waste an evening with some $1.50 drafts. Some freelancers stopping by. Most famous at that time: Shanghai, Cathouse and Heart of Darkness. Many bars near the river and the side alleys. Shanghai may still have a superb BBQ once a month including free Angkor draft which is pretty good. If you see the BBQ don't miss it.
P4P now very dull and the government was serious to clean it up. Most Vietnamese ladies have been sent back to Vietnam. Choices went down and prices went up. Before there was no way to avoid sex, now you have to make an effort to find something.
I'm still full of nice memories and have met many very nice ladies. I often feel sad about their fate. Their tales are much worse than Thai ladies and there is no BS. A friend told me about one very charming 17-year old Vietnamese lady who saw her mother exactly twice a year for 3 or 4 years: to collect another $500 so the girl had to stay another 6 months again and again.
I first I thought of the mothers as devils but mostly they did not have another choice to feed the other siblings. Once I witnessed a mother selling her sweet 14-year old (looked like 11) to a pimp in a coffee shop. He read the sales contract loud not knowing I spoke some Vietnamese: 6 months, no payment except for the 500$ and so on. Than he added off the line, looking at the girl: it will hurt very much. Her mother cashed in and went away without any bye-bye, the girl just started to cry like a waterfall. I had to fight hard not to join her. This memory still haunts me some 15 years later but there is / was no way to have saved her and all the others. It's a cruel world and it's very hard not to become a cynic.
My most funny encounter in 37 years was with a lady I took from one of the hundreds of short-time places. In the hotel I started DATY, making her happy 3 or 4 times. Each time she nearly crushed my jaw so for sure she was not faking. I loved her taste so only after an hour or so I told her: now it's my turn. She just replied sorry I am tired, wait 'til tomorrow, rolled over and fell asleep in my arms within 1 or 2 minutes. Anyhow, I was sleepy too thanks to a nice extra happy pizza so didn’t mind and in morning she really delivered, very enthusiastic. Priceless night…
How I miss the good old days…