Things have really changed in Phnom Penh. It’s still a dusty and dirty city without a working sewage system but the skies are now clouded with sky scrapers and condos and people are actually starting to stop at traffic lights!
I first traveled to Phnom Penh back in 2010. Around seven years have passed since then. That doesn’t sound like much time but in today’s Asia days are like years. Back in America it takes a road crew a decade to fix a mile of freeway but in Asia they build massive dams and train networks in a matter of months.
That’s not the reason I spend most of my time in Asia but it’s something I can’t help but notice. Every time I go back home things look stagnant if not worse. Over here things are developing quickly. This is just a general observation. When you start looking closer at things you see that’s it’s not all pure progress all across Asia. Thailand looks the same now as it did when I first traveled there a decade ago and the Philippines has real trouble just trying to put together an airport that won’t be considered the worst in the world.
I don’t spend a ton of time looking at economic development but sometimes I can’t help but see what’s going on. Especially when it’s going on in the realm of sexy time.
In the shadow of the many new apartment towers going up in Phnom Penh there are also a lot of new hostess bars. If I had to guess I would say that the number of girlie bars in Phnom Penh has doubled since I first visited seven years ago. It might even have tripled.
The really wild west style days were already gone by the time I arrived in Phnom Penh in 2010, but things were still pretty loose and free. At the same time the hostess bars scene was rather limited. Back then you basically had four streets with hostess bars and a few other scattered remnants.
The main area was still Street 51 in front of Sorya Mall. There were a lot of bars there plus freelancer haunts like the mall itself and the notorious Walkabout. Back then you could easily find a chick to screw for under twenty bucks. In fact you can still find lots of chicks who will bang guys for that amount of money but most of them are off the beaten barang trail.
The other three areas for hostess bars back then were Street 104, Street 118 and Street 136, all near the Riverside. I guess Rose Bar was the first bar on Street 104 and others followed. Nearly every spot on the short 104 strip filled up with bars and it’s still that way now. They even claim to be building a Hooters at the end of the road. I don’t know who started the scenes on Street 118 or Street 136.
Street 118 was filled with sleepy bars that looked like you might imagine Cambodia to be. They’re all still there. There are even a few new ones. They’re usually empty and only have a few chicks working. These are the kind of places that turn off lights and the air conditioner to save money until a customer walks in and says “it’s fucking hot in here.”
I can’t disparage Street 118 too much. Somehow I wandered into a bar there once with six chicks working who agreed to suck my cock for a lady drink which at that time were $2.50 each. Every time their cups were empty they would each line up and give me a short suck. The other chicks would cheer them on and even push their heads down hard on my knob. It went on for about two hours and it was great fun.
Of course that event was a bit surprising. Cambodia isn’t exactly known as a blowjob hot spot. I have never had too much trouble getting my dick sucked in Phnom Penh but you will see lots of guys whining online claiming it’s impossible. In my experience it’s not universal anywhere in Southeast Asia but it’s hardly a white wale either. I can remember at least three places off hand where chicks pulled me out right in the bar and popped it in their mouths.
There were a few other bars around in the old days but none of them mattered all that much, at least to me. Cathouse was some kind of weird bar that closed early and didn’t have barfines. What’s the point of a bar like that? I don’t know and apparently no one else did either since it’s gone now.
You also had two bars on Street 108 way away from the rest of the action. Golden Vine and Zapata I think. They’re still there. I stop in once a year or so and it’s the same old thing. Mostly old and dusty chicks cavorting with a bunch of drunk expats. There’s a pool table in the back of the one bar that’s probably as old as most of the chicks themselves.
Street 51 still has its bars too, plus Pontoon, which is the most popular club for foreigners but not for locals. Some of the old bars are gone and some newer ones have opened. I haven’t seen anything too special anywhere on the road.
The real scene today is flourishing and overflowing around the Street 136 bar row. Back in the day the bars on 136 were limited to the block closest to the riverside. They were almost all on the north side of the street too. Four were owned by one lady: Candy, Butterfly and two more.
Now the bars have really spilled over. They not only sit on both sides of the street but they have gone on to other parts of the roads around there too. So you now have bars stretching back three blocks from the riverside on Street 136. Two new bars just opened next to the Sun and Moon Hotel there. One block from the river Street 130 has become a real bar hotspot. I think half of the bars are owned by the same Australian guy but there are others there too including a place next to Angry Birds Bar called Intoxica where all the chicks wear the same color tight dressed every night.
You also have bars all along Street 5 all the way from Street 118 to Street 136. Back in the day that street was dominated by locals and their businesses. Now it’s totally filled with bars and small businesses catering to bar girls like street hair salons and sexy dress sellers.
There are some new bars on Street 110 and Street 172 too and some others in places where I would have never expected a bar to open. Things have really changed.
With so many bars opening you have to wonder how they make money. I don’t know if some of them do. In fact I am sure they don’t. You don’t see any customers inside most of the time and the rents are pretty hefty. That would explain why there are so many bars for sale in Phnom Penh all the time.
It wouldn’t explain why so many bars have opened in the last few months though. I don’t really have an answer for that. Some people say it’s the common practice in Asia of people seeing one business and copying it with a similar place nearby. That may be true but it seems too simple. Why wouldn’t the same thing have happened earlier? The bars aren’t a new thing.
Some of the bars are getting pretty sexy too, at least for local standards. Street 136 is the leader there. Bar 69 always let chicks dance on the bar from time to time even though I think it is officially banned. In any case more places are going that route with some even installing dancing poles and stages. A new place called Crazy Dog on Street 136 has an elevated stage with a metal pole in the middle of it on top of some steps. I don’t know if it gets used though. I stopped in twice and both times the music was so fucking loud that I had to leave before I could even order a drink. I’ve been to some loud clubs and concerts but I’ve never experienced audio torture like that anywhere.
Some places are still dirty and dingy but they’re still getting more sexualized. Things like chicks with no bras, tits coming out for customers, hands going down shirts and pants and even more is now pretty regular at some bars. I don’t know how long that will last.
Another thing that is becoming more common is ladyboys in the bars and the street around them. I know Cambodia has ladyboys. The Thai word for ladyboys even comes from Khmer. I never saw many around before though. They were like one or two who go from bar to bar and some other guys in dressed who would stand around Wat Phnom. Now a lot of the bars on Street 136 have at least one ladyboy working. Some have four or five.
There must be a market for it. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Either that or they work for free and the bosses just don’t give a shit. I don’t know and I don’t care enough to find out.
Some things change but some things stay the same. Barfines are 10 to 12 bucks everywhere I have checked. More chicks will barfine now than I ever saw in the past but there are still lots who wont. It depends where you are and how you get on with the chick, plus a bunch of other stuff. One factor that a lot of people forget about is that there are a high number of virgins working in the bars. They aren’t marked with cherry girl cards like in Angeles City but they are there.