Is there Gay life in Cambodia?

5 Jan
A typical Cambodian new year...?

A typical Cambodian new year...?

What happens if you release two gays in their ‘mid-life crisis’ in the middle of Cambodia…? Indeed, they go and explore what’s happening on the gay scene (amongst many other cultural and not so cultural things of course) and secretly hope to find the two arms they’ve always been longing for…

So it was that we booked ourselves into a gay guest house (for which they then ask double the price) Manor House, but the advantage being that they wouldn’t make a fuzz in case you want to be comfortable in those two lovely arms in your own room. Also the gay guesthouses are a good way into the local gay scene, to start off the exploration of the other side of Cambodian society… hermetically hidden from many.

THE bar that was recommended in PP (Phnom Penhp) was the Blue Chilli bar, so we went to check it out. It only took one moto and one dollar to move into the underwold. Just off one of the main boulevards in 178 street (the streets in PP and Cambodia have numbers rather than names, and they ‘usually’ are ordered in that way, the house numbers inside the street are given more chronologically, when the houses were built, so don’t expect number 3 being next to 4 or 5… as we discovered many times).

Cheerful crowd at Blue Chilli...

Cheerful crowd at Blue Chilli...

Blue Chilli is basically a bar with a terrace (comfy chairs outside, and inside), not too dark but certainly with the occasional dark corner (not dark rooms though!) – I would describe it more as ‘cozy’ and of course decorated for the tourists with Xmas tree and balls – see also the new year in Cambodia story. The audience that goes there is about half Barang (foreigners) and half local (Cambodians). A fair share of those are staff working in the bar (about 5-7 waiters for a bar that has at max 30 customers at the same time-exception was new year). The biggest part of the locals were most likely money boys… Only a few Cambodians that came there for non-paid fun.

The waiters are actually more of ‘entertainers’ because they don’t just serve drinks and wash glasses. When we arrived on our virgin night at the Blue Chilli bar, we were immediately greeted (by the moto & tuk tuk drivers waiting outside as they of course would want to carry us back home) by most of the staff with the traditional ‘wai’, as in Thailand, putting both hands together in front of their chest or chin, and with a loud ‘Welcome’ or ‘hellooOOH’ (there’s always a stress on the last syllables in Khmer). As we became more and more ‘regulars’ they switched to ‘ToneeEEY’ or ‘helloh darLING’ as only the waiters there can bring forward. And the Wai made place for kisses, hugs, jumping in your arms and what not. During the whole evening the waiters would flutter around like butterflies from flower to flower, having a chat here, a little dance there, a joke interspersed with some naughty comments… A trade apart.

Funny bunch of waiters...

Funny bunch of waiters...

My friend PH had been for a few weeks in Siem Reap (up country) so he knew the basics of fooling around (meaning having fun, joking, having a good time) with the staff or money boys without letting them get too close or getting into compromising situations. I was probably doing my best imitation of a wall-flower the first evening, but it was good practice for me to loosen up, to go with the flow and get over my shyness. By night 3 I would actually manage to go there on my own and even have a good time talking to different people, making jokes, not feeling conscious about being there alone.

But when going there with people we met along the road, they complained that I was competition for them. They noticed that when I was there, that the guys would have less attention for them. That was definitely something new for me – never considered myself a boy-magnet, nor will ever be, I guess (or it must be that Cambodian (Asian??) taste is in my favour… And where does that leave me? What should I do with such a conclusion??)

Drag performance... Asian style...

Drag performance... Asian style...

On Fridays and Saturdays (and new year’s eve) there were drag shows, either on the bar or on the stage. I don’t think they are much different from drag shows anywhere else in the world: over the top outfits, taking the piss of the whole cross dressing issue, the most horrible wigs and make-up first, and incredibly bad lipping – the only thing being different is the songs: here they had Khmer and Chinese songs and some English…

We also tried out the odd other bar such as Salt Lounge near the tourist area, but that was nothing much as a bad imitation of Blue Chilli (even though it was the first gay bar in PP)– as the staff were beginners and had lots less flair than the guys down at Blue Chilli. They also tried to bitch to each other (to entertain) but more in an embarrassing way… So bitching between gays is also universal? And calling each other girl? So is being gay ‘enough’ to be part of this community? Is there enough in common? Hm??

What I did notice is that guys were giving lots more attention to PH, my travel buddy, rather than to me. First of all, since we always showed up they all invariably thought we were boyfriends (so obviously male friends dont usually travel together??), but that didn’t keep them from approaching PH, but not me. PH thought it was because he was older and looked more classic- meaning richer… But at some point I was too puzzled by that and asked one of the guys, why oh why???

  • And he told me that I seem more serious (less smiling, less open) or keep people more at a distance because of my look/posture. Now that is something that’s worrying me! (even though probably a good survival skill in gay bars in Cambodia, with all the money boys that you don’t want to be approaching you).

There also seems to be another more local gay bar, where the young Cambodian crowd goes and dances. Some people we came across told me that I would go down a treat and would have people dancing around me one for every finger, and two for every toe… It would also be the place where the lady-boys hang out. Another one of those funny Asian concepts: the third gender…

Siem Reap bliss by the pool...

Siem Reap bliss by the pool...

When moving to Siem Reap, I thought the gay life would be more basic, less developed. But actually the bars are bigger, more expensive and more developed, as all the tourists, when coming to Cambodia, definitely go through Siem Reap to see the Angkor world heritage temples… But there are only one or two. Somehow the atmosphere is not there – and also half of the people there are ‘lost straight people’ (who sat down by mistake and didn’t have a clue what that rainbow at the entrance is…). But we’re all about inclusion ;-)

Gay life for the Cambodians is a bit difficult – at least the Cambodian people I got to know – because they prefer white (as many Westerners around here would prefer yellow I suppose). Or the westerners around here are more ‘rice-queens’ and the Asians are the so-called ‘potato-queens’ – very few consider themselves ‘sticky-rice’ (Asian that sticks to Asian). This leaves the Asians down here to the only thing there is left to do: jump on the Western passers-by, which certainly is not very ‘sustainable’ unless there is the ambition to be imported to the West. Some do it for the money (or free food, a night in a fancy hotel, etc), others because of the difference-preference, some seek the key to Europe (between someone’s legs)

Besides the bars and internet, there is also ‘sauna’ where you can meet people. ‘Romantic’ is the so-called ‘biggest sauna/spa’ in Cambodia (as all the adds say in the on the-surface-straight men’s magazines) – true. But that is just because there is nothing else bigger or better. First of all there is no sauna in Romantic (even though they say so on their website – or it was broken). Anyway inside the building (as outside) the temperatures are already tropical enough. There is a steam bath, but this one is then too cold (or not functioning well enough). And everywhere it is dark, veeeery dark. So not too inviting to meet people (opinions might differ on this obviously ;-). And half of the people walk around fully clothed anyway, because they are either staff or the customers that don’t feel like wearing the towel…

The nicest part of this ‘sauna’ was the gym where I worked out a bit (I need to move after one full week of party only). There were disappointingly few people in the Spa – on a Friday evening. Maybe one other foreigner and about 5 other Cambodians (half of them money boys probably).When talking to the staff at the bar, he turned out to be straight and about the marry in a few months time – he had loose hands though (or was that just part of the job description…?)

And the approach of one of the guys was asking if I’d had had sex already – while touching my crotch – meaning whether I still had anything on offer… Not the most ‘romantic’ or exciting. So we just went for dinner instead then – and were happy to revert to the fun waiters in the Blue Chilli.

The guys behind the Blue Chilli bar seemed to be all quite out and about. Their parents knew they were gay, so that didn’t seem such a taboo as I might have thought. I also saw them kissing or holding hands in public. But then one of the local guys hanging out at the bar: K, he is better off, studied in Australia, works in a bank, etc – he on the contrary was not out at all. And when asking, he said that it is probably normal, as the higher class you are, the more you have to loose…

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6 Responses to “Is there Gay life in Cambodia?”

  1. sonia 5 January 2009 at 20:54 #

    Hi Tony, I just passed your diary and want to wish you a strong health to travel and to describe everything for us. It seems you have a lot of experiences, special with Gays ? Don´t forget for us married people… Enjoy and let us know… hug from Sonia

  2. Queer Cambodia 6 January 2009 at 12:28 #

    Glad that you liked Blue Chilli. And hopefully you really liked your stay in Cambodia.

    Cheers!

    QueerCambodia
    http://queercambodia.blogspot.com

  3. Srorn 1 September 2009 at 09:08 #

    Hi,

    I am great to see the information about the Cambodia pride.

    It is very good for gay to know this. This event provides gay communities to speak out and tell to their friends.

    Chheers,
    Srorn

  4. Hao 7 December 2009 at 11:02 #

    I mean there must be a cultural difference in terms of attractiveness in Cambodia,hence many southeast Asian countries. In most western countries when an old fat white bloke goes into a gay pub, no head is gonna turn, while attention is gained in these sort of south east Asian countries where perhaps people have some degree of inferior complex towards Europeans, is it the legacy of white colonies past? I am not sure, but it’s certainly not an equal mating process, since most of these countries are rather poor.

  5. travelony 8 December 2009 at 03:50 #

    3 comments:

    – the grass is always greener on the other side: we often want what we dont have (what is less common to us) I would like smooth guys, whereas some S-E-Asian friends I met go wild for hairy chests. Asians use all kind of skin whitening products, while I lie in the sun to get a tan to look ‘healthier’, I would dream of a smaller nose, whereasI never had as many ‘wow-comments on my (too) long nose as on my Asia trip…. Opposites attract.

    – indeed and unfortunately there are Asian guys that are looking for ‘a ticket to Europe’ (or a free meal or so). However dating through the internet puts a filter on that. Because people who have a computer and internet connection are already not the ‘poorest’ of people. Or maybe I was lucky to meet friends who had a (good) job and a nice life, not necessarily looking for a golden pasture to graze on. Or maybe it was also age. I prefer guys of my age, background and life-experience – whereas it’s maybe the younger ones that are still looking for their way (abroad) in life?

    – about the colonies? Belgium certainly didn’t have any Asian colonies. And even though Belgium had an African colony, that ‘long forgotten history class’ definitely doesn’t play in my mind when I’m dating… Would it play in Asian’s heads? For me the basis of a relationship is equality…

  6. Marcus 3 May 2013 at 09:42 #

    Sad truth, some Asians eye westerners because they think they are their passport to greener pasteur. But, not all have that kind of thinking. There are gays who really look for love and they’ve luckily find it on those Caucasians.

    On a more lighter note, it’s nice to know that there are gay scenes in PP. I think, after the King made a public announcement on his website that gay relationship and marriage are allowed in Cambodia as part of liberal democracy, people became more loud and proud about their relationship. Getting out of the box couldn’t be more of an air breather. It’s like resolving one of your biggest problem in life and winning a big battle. It just makes me happy that there’s an increased number of countries who accepts gay relationship.

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