For the Tourist –
Cambodia is fun, famously friendly and extremely gay-friendly. Being gay in Cambodia isn’t an issue for the tourist and this country is a breath of fresh air for LGBT people. Men show affection with their male friends publicly, sitting with arms and legs draped across each other, heads in laps and walking with arms around each other is a common sight. This is the culture and doesn’t necessarily mean that this affection equals homosexuality and showing intimacy publicly is a no-no which you can read more about below. Whether you meet straight or gay people, you can make fantastic and genuine friends without prejudice regarding your orientation. Facebook is the chat forum of choice and is absolutely crammed with gay groups and pages; the more popular ones having enormous memberships. ‘Line’ is also a popular mobile app for chatting, but to meet people for dates etc. the most popular app is Grindr. If you prefer to meet people in real life, don’t forget that Cambodia has a vibrant gay scene with bars clubs and saunas everywhere!
About the Khmer –
The Khmer are a remarkably relaxed and enlightened people with a live and let live ideology and being gay only seems to be a real issue within the family. The families here tend to be extremely close and family loyalty and duties are expected. This makes the average Cambodian family very conservative and one of the most important expectations is that everyone should get married. This presents obvious problems for many LGBT Cambodians, creating many secret lives and a fear of being outed which prevents so many from being open about their orientation.
A Changing Culture –
That said, attitudes are changing fast, with the younger generations accepting gay people as “same, same” and same, and more and more families respecting and even celebrating their LGBT family members. Gay awareness and acceptance is now being taught in schools and universities and the reports back from these initiatives are extremely positive, with one teacher telling me that he has never met a generation, Western or Asian, that is so open-minded and free from prejudice.
Cultural Awareness and the Law
Cambodia at first sight may appear to be a very open country, but it is in fact rather reserved, especially regarding the family and public behavior. People here are tactile by nature, but there are boundaries, and publicly displayed affection is frowned upon. This is the same for gay and straight people whether they are Khmer or Western. Showing too much of your body in public can also be an issue and it has been known for people to have been arrested at nightclubs for taking their shirts off. This tough stance seems to have been relaxed in 2015 and we are not aware of anymore reports these types of arrests. You may also find this idea that the country is reserved as pretty hard to take as on the streets you will see girls wandering round in the shortest possible shorts, as well as many men with their shirts off or even walking about in their pants – usually within the boundaries of their house and front drive or course! Maybe the law used to be enforced because westerners are held in pretty high regard here and they don’t like to see us letting ourselves down. Who knows, but you’ll be pleased to know that western culture is fully understood at places like swimming pools and beaches. Also, affection shown publicly between men should not be confused as it is seen as a normal and natural show of affection between friends that you may think has been lost somewhere along the way in the west. Pink is not a gay color and is worn by many Khmer – some even spray their motorbikes pink. In Cambodia, smiles and politeness are a must. As long as you keep smiling, you can get your point across; show an angry face and you will be ignored. The people are generally reserved, but of course, people do argue, but when they do you will see a crowd quickly gather: it is unusual. Similar to the English saying, ‘Don’t do your washing in public’, the Khmer say, ‘To argue outside is to run naked’. I did meet a very grumpy Khmer mechanic once, and I must admit that my smile eventually fell from my face. He was quite an old man, and his wife smiled and said, “He doesn’t mean it. He has never been able to smile.” I smiled and I’m sure his lips rose a little . . . The Khmer also don’t like being humiliated in front of people. So, if you have an issue with someone, don’t react. If that someone is someone special and you don’t want them to leave you, then save the argument for when you are at home. The minimum age of consent in Cambodia is 15, but like Thailand, if a visitor takes someone home under the age of 18, they can expect arrest and prison. Offenders can spend up to 20 years in prison.
Money, Bartering and Tips
When it comes to money, like most developing countries, there is a visitor’s price and a local price. This is especially true with the tuk-tuk drivers who may try to charge you a $5 dollar fare which for a local may only be $1. If you have the money, then why not pay it? It will almost definitely be going towards the cost of education, and etc., for the driver’s hard-up family. However, not all travelers can afford to be so generous, and so here are some tips on bartering: 1: learn some language – Sok-sa-by means hello and is a good start (if someone says ‘Sok-sa-by’ to you, you can always say the same back, or for fun, say ‘By-sa-sok’. This is extremely funny for some reason!). “Pon Man” means ‘How much’ and will indirectly trick the driver into thinking you have some local knowledge. Use this even if they speak to you in English. If they still give you an inflated price you can say ‘klein’ as in Calvin Klein which means “expensive” and then repeat, “Pon Man”. If you haven’t learnt your numbers yet, don’t worry. Most tuk-tuk drivers in the tourist destinations will speak English, but otherwise you can always use your fingers to work it out. Remember to ask them the price in Khmer and find out how much your journey will cost beforehand. Basic numbers are easy to learn as they step up in groups of five. However, you will find it almost impossible to understand the Khmer when they use numbers as they speak very fast and use a short-hand vocabulary, but don’t despair, if they want the fare you will work it out. 2: Take a local – if you have met a local Khmer person then it is a great idea to take him shopping with you and etc. If they see you, you will still get probably get an inflated price, but a much reduced one. 3: Supermarkets and ‘Marts’ always give the same price, and for smaller things, you will get the same local price at most street vendors. 4: Just like any tourist spot anywhere in the world, you will pay more. So, if you can, stay away from those and see and mix with the Khmer – enjoy a beer and dinner for $1. 5: Clothes are cheap but expensive if you are bigger than the average Asian. But you can still bargain at clothes shops, even cutting the bill in half. Remember – “Pon Man”? 6: Tips – if you come to an arrangement that is not satisfactory, make it a little better by saying, “Yes, but the tip is included, OK?” This could save you a dollar, if you are a friendly tipper. 7: Remember, if you have to pay too much, don’t get upset. Just think of it as helping a family have a decent meal tonight and give yourself a pat on the back. A smile goes a long way in Cambodia, and if they think you are friendly, they might even reduce the price by the time money changes hands. In conclusion, most Cambodians are incredibly honest, so whatever price you negotiate will be honored. Having been routinely returned money after already paying too much (it is easy to get confused by the dual currency of Dollars and Riels).
Gay Phnom Penh:
Phnom Penh has official population statistics set at around 1 million, whereas the real figure is generally accepted as nearer 4 million. This is probably because of the disparity between the people who are and are not registered as living here. Phnom Penh is a sprawling city and the population is diverse, or it is if you scratch the surface. There are ‘secret’ cruising areas (the gay Khmer meet at stadium steps at the Olympic Stadium, at the park to the left of the Independence Monument, and both Khmer and visitors can meet at the Riverside Walk by Sisowath Quay and etc.) On the surface are many gay bars clubs cafes restaurants and saunas which are gay owned and friendly. There is a stylish gay-only hotel (Arthur & Paul’s), which also opens to the public as a bar sauna/spa and swimming pool. As a visitor you can use its facilities for $5 a day, or its bar for free. There is also Manor House which is a gay-owned and friendly hotel which encourages gay people to use its café/bar and swimming pool during the day. While many Khmer are rather shy to be seen at these ‘gay’ venues, there is definitely a change taking place as more Khmer are literally “coming out” on the gay scene. Phnom Penh is a fun place to visit with many things to do and see and shouldn’t be missed if you are visiting Cambodia. Apart from all the gay things to do, it also hosts the Royal Palace, famous Pagodas, art galleries, boat trips along the Mekong, cooling walks along the riverside and museums. The most famous museum in Phnom Penh is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This, and the Killing Fields Museum just outside of Phnom Penh is a tragic reminder of the devastating affects Cambodia suffered under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. However, while this should never be forgotten, the topic is rarely talked about by the Khmer, and especially by the younger Khmer who appear to view this history with the same distance and acknowledgement as a westerner would remember WW2.
Gay Siem Reap
Siem Reap is usually the first stop after the border for people visiting Cambodia. It is, of course, home to the ancient city that houses the famous Angkor Wat temple. But Siem Reap offers much more than that to the gay traveler. Like Phnom Penh it has two gay-only hotels (The 3 Monkey’s and Men’s), although the sauna/spa and maze area at Men’s is somewhat raunchier than that of Arthur & Paul’s in Phnon Penh. Here, if you are on a budget (their rooms start at $59 in the low season), you can still enjoy their facilities for $5 a day. Although there are no dedicated gay clubs in Siem Reap, there are mixed clubs and also many gay bars in Siem Reap, the oldest of which is the Linga Bar which has been revamped into a very successful gay lounge bar, most of which provide drag shows to entertain. There are also an array of other gay-friendly hotels as well as excellent spa and saunas which you can find via our menu at the top of this page. The city does have a cruising area where you can pick up, but this is rather precarious and sometimes intimidating as the walk along the riverside is also frequented by occasional drunks and undesirables at night. As with all Cambodia, Siem Reap is a very friendly place to visit and full of fun.
Sihanoukville is everything to everyone depending on where you are. Serendipity is a favorite for backpackers and there are loud open air parties on the beach with cheap beer, fireworks, lots of very friendly ladies and quite a few men that will try to meet your eye. Otres is more sedate and relaxing and you can stay in this area in a beach bungalow from as little as $15 to $30 a night with AC and upwards. There are parties in some of the bars along here which range from throwbacks to the hippy era to the extremely chic and luxurious. Sihanoukville has also just got its first two dedicated gay bars which can be found in the town – see our Sihanoukville page for details, reviews and maps. These bars are really making a mark and becoming very successful in putting Sihanoukville on the gay tourist map. With beautiful beaches, nearby island retreats, and the new bars and gay-owned and great value hotels on Otres, Sihanoukville is always on my list.
GCN gives you all the latest gay events and listings from bars to saunas, hotels, exhibitions, travel, jobs and more. We were the official website for LGBT Pride Cambodia 2015 and we are set to continue that role as the forum and center for information for the up-coming LGBT Pride Cambodia 2016. After last year’s monumental success we are really looking forward to the next Gay Cambodia Pride 2016 which will be in May from the 17th through to the 22nd. Contrary to some rumors, there is unfortunately no Pride this year in Siem Reap. While Cambodia is sadly remembered for its traumatic history under the Khmer Rouge, it is now mostly known as a tourist destination for its beautiful temples and the world heritage site of Anchor Watt. This is the main reason why millions of tourists visit every year, but Cambodia is much more than that! On our travel page (under construction at the moment) we will get around this amazing country and find all the best locations in this somewhat overlooked paradise that is home to the biggest waterfall in the world, paradisaical beaches and islands, mountain ranges and picturesque landscapes. As you can see, our pages are not just listings and static information, we give you up-to-the-minute news on cultural events, as well as Gay Pride, and on every venue page you will find a Facebook link on the right-hand side where you will find the latest events offers and promotions from all the gay bars clubs, saunas spas and hotels guesthouses who update our Facebook pages as soon as they are ready to launch an event. No other gay guide provides such comprehensive and current news. With our Facebook group and pages you can now really save money with the latest discounted rooms from hotels which offer everything from seasonal deals to the last minute business of filling empty rooms – and if you mention our website you will get extra discount via our book direct buttons! For the first time, GCN provides a forum where all the venues can promote themselves in one place to give you the best possible choice on where to go and spend your time, whether on holiday working or living in Cambodia. Also, there is a forum for you on our Facebook group. Here you can add your experiences and comments about your experience in Cambodia and share these with the thousands of people who visit us every week. Another new page coming to this site is the jobs page, listing all the jobs which are gay or gay friendly in Cambodia. We will be ringing round to find out what’s being offered and pass it directly on to you. An important community page also offers health advice to tell you all about the STD clinics and resources right here in Cambodia. These provide many free facilities and we are pleased to support them in every way that we can. Currently, in Phnom Penh, M-Style provides free checks for HIV and Syphilis for gay Cambodia as well as advice, counseling and also a place to relax. There is no stigma with getting a test nowadays, and even if a negative result is received, it’s not the end of the world. With modern HIV antiviral medication people can now live normal lives without the risk of infecting others. Because of these NGO’s and clinics, HIV transmissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, but this is no time to be complacent. People are still dying unnecessarily from HIV, and with Syphilis also on the rise, we hope that our page can help people find the help the need.