I first mentioned the hostess bars of Phnom Penh in an early post on the commercial sex scene in Cambodia’s capital city way back in 2013. A lot http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/?action=click&contentCollection®ion=TopBar&WT.nav=searchWidget&module=SearchSubmit&pgtype=Homepage#/free chat of time has passed since then but truth be told the hostess bars continue to operate much in the same way they always have. Since they weren’t really covered in depth and that time it seems fair to spend more time examining the hostess bars now that they have become much more plentiful.
Hostess bars are basically bars with women on staff who are meant to make the place more pleasant for the mostly male and foreign clientele. The women tend to have their hair and makeup done and wear nice dresses. Some can speak English well while other can only speak a little. Some can’t speak any English at all though this is most common among the women just starting out in the field.
Hostess bars in Phnom Penh
A lot of hostess bars in Phnom Penh have pool tables. Although they are often of dubious quality there is almost never any charge to play. The Cathouse used to charge guys $1 USD to play pool if they lost but it has joined the lost bars of Phnom Penh. Women will often ask customers to buy them a drink if they win a game of pool.
Most bars also have games customers can play with women like Connect Four and Jackpot. Again women often ask for a drink if they win a game. It’s not a law that’s written in stone. And sometimes people just play for fun. But it does happen enough to merit a mention.
Inside the bars
Guys can also buy gals drinks if they sit together. Sometimes this involves talking or playing a game. At other times things can get very touchy feely. The drinks are reasonably priced at around $3.50 USD and the women get a cut of the money. For some this is the main source of income. Many others however go out with customers and get money for either spending time or offering sexual services.
bar girls in Phnom Penhbar girls in Phnom Penh
Some guys used to the more forward scenes of go go bars in Thailand express disappointment or even shock that they can’t simply walk up to any bar in Phnom Penh then grab a girl and go. There are brothel style massage parlors in Cambodia but the hostess bars operate in a manor more akin to the hostess bars of Ho Chi Minh City that they are most likely based on.
Barfines and short times
There are some women in the hostess bars who will go out with any guy who asks them. Others are more selective and will only go out with certain guys or in certain situations. Still other women in the hostess bars will never go out with a customer either because they are a virgin or for some other reason. Considering how conservative the country can be this should come as no surprise.
When women do agree to go out of the bar with a customer he must pay a bar fine of $6 to $10 USD to the bar. That customer will also have to come to some sort of financial arrangement with his hostess. While some people negotiate rates most guys instead simply pay the going rate of $30 to $40 USD for a short get together or $50 USD for an overnight stay at the conclusion of the session. The select few women who want much more money than the standard rates usually aren’t shy about about saying it up front when a guy first asks them if they’d like to go to his home.
While the hostess bars aren’t specifically organized around sex no one is shocked when a woman does go out with a guy. It happens every night of the week all over the city. Hotels are used to it too though some go out of their way to villainize guys who pay for sex and ban local women from the rooms. The best hotels in Phnom Penh still allow customers to bring guests to their rooms.
There are now dozens of hostess bars around the city. The number seems to increase by the month. The following is a basic rundown of the bars now in operation.
Street 104 is home to one of the largest concentrations of hostess bars in the city. One of the first hostess bars ever opened here many years ago and others joined after. Rose Bar is probably the most popular bar on the street and perhaps the most popular hostess bar in the country. It has plenty of good looking women and a pool table but it gets crowded at times and the music is very loud which makes conversation difficult.
Air Force Bar across the street is almost as popular. It take up the spaces of two bars and has dozens of mostly average looking women on staff though for some reason many of them tend to think very highly of themselves. Other bars on the short street include the old Colonial which is the only bar elevated above street level, Oscar bar which has an in house live band that the owner belongs to, One Zero Four, Cheers, Zanzibar, Matilda, Big Momma, Bunny Bar and Top Ten which is quiet but often staffed by a few real lookers.
Street 102 one block over was once home to Valhalla. That bar took the place of another bar and hotel with a naughty reputation a few years ago. Valhalla had a large bar and pool tables. Around six or seven women worked there. In the old bar the women would join customers in the rooms upstairs but that wasn’t the case in the new and improved version. Regardless both are a part of history now as a swanky bar aimed at young and affluent locals has taken the place over.
Street 108 is home to a strip of three bars located next to La Marmite restaurant. Zapata and Golden Vine are the two most popular with Golden Vine in particular having a reputation for employing some Vietnamese women along with several locals who are eager to go out of the bar with customers.
Street 110 houses several hostess bars in a small area near the old market. On one side sit older and more worn out bars like Nymph Lady, Pretty Lady, Red Lion, Happy Man, Star Light (which is definitely not to be confused with Star of Light in Bangkok), Ben’s Bar, and the Vietnamese City Bar. On the other side of the road sit Nary’s Bar and Liquor Store, Double D’s, and Happy Girls.
The decrepit Domino Bar sits around the corner on Street 5. It was once alone in its location but there are now several bars on the same street including Lin Honey and A One.
Street 118 is another road with a lot of bars packed together and a few more spread further apart. On one side there a very large and well decorated bar called The Office along with Heart Break and Cool N Cosy. On the other side there is Pasha, Smiling, the large but understaffed Dream Bar 2, and Island Bar which employs dozens of women and one or two ladyboys and has a reputation as being a place where nearly all the women will go out with customers without much effort required. There is also a bar further down called Classy Bar staffed by the middle aged owner and a few of her friends who absolutely refuse to leave the bar with anyone and seem to take pleasure in announcing that they are not prostitutes to all who enter.
Street 130 has quickly grown into a hostess bar center. A few years ago it had a few bars down by the riverside. Now it has several bars spread over blocks. The misnamed yet popular 136 Bar is located on Street 130 along with Honey Pot, Caramel, Blue Bird, Lotus, Fire Bar, Jacks, and Bar Bados which has long been a magnet for attractive women. The street also has a string of foreign owned bars that seem to be at least tenuously connected including the previously reviewed Angry Birds, Splash, Loco Bar and Honey Pot. These bars are very popular but the dozens of women who work in them usually seem uninterested in leaving with customers. This street was once home to a Tina Turner themed bar called Simply the Best but for some reason it just didn’t catch on, so “what you get is what you see.”
Street 136 is probably the biggest bar center in the city right now. There have always been many bars in the block next to the riverside but there are now bars spread over the next two blocks too. On one side there is the slum-like Cozy, Helicopter, Corner 136, Candy, Glamorous, and Hello Sweetie and Spider Man which staffs several real beauties.
The quiet Night Flight used to sit around the corner but it shut down from lack of customers and the location is now for rent. On the other side of the street there is the well-staffed Moon Rise, the well-run Xanadu, Mister Butterfly, VIP, Best 136, 69 Bar, Calvary, Sizzler, Sweet Lemon, Oasis, Red Fox, Dream Bar 2, Pussy Cat, and the wretched Why Not. Well over a hundred women can be found in this short strip every night of the week. Some places like 69 often have women dancing on the bar but they never wear less than shorts and a shirt.
Street 144 and Street 148
Street 144 is home to the lonely Sugar Bar and Street 148 is home to the DV8 which at times can be surprisingly lively. At recently as a few weeks ago DV8 staffed a gal with a petite body but absolutely enormous breasts.
Street 172 is a sort of a backpacker haven but it is increasingly a place for bars to open shop even if none of them every really seem to catch on. This street is home to Black Pearl which is probably one of the nicest bars in town. It also holds Apple, Night Moves, Black Shade and 172.
Street 51 and Sorya Mall
Street 51 is home to the notorious Golden Sorya Mall and was until recently home to the even more notorious Walkabout, dubbed “Phnom Penh’s Sleaziest Bar“. There are only a few hostess bars on this road but some of the women inside of them are among the most amorous and hands on in the city. Plan B, Lucky One and Black Cat call this street home as does the age old Shanghai Bar.
Shanghai is the last of the classic hostess bar. It has several floors including a roof top, serves food, and has lots of ladies on staff. The bar closes early and doesn’t have any bar fines but a lot of guys still love the place. Around the corner from Shanghai, a quiet bar called Utopia sits on Street 172. One block down and around the corner on Street 174 there is a bar called Skirts that gets very little attention.
Finally there is Mao’s Club on the riverside near the Night Market. The bar changed several times and was even a nightclub at one point but it never left the immediate area. In its current incarnation it takes up the upper floor of a large building. It has a pool table, several electronic darts machines, and lots of ladies on staff. This bar attracts a lot of Asian customers as well as some westerners. While Mao’s does have a bar fine system in place, a lot of the women who work there are reticent to go out with customers. Others are more eager but they are in the minority and typically ask for double the amount that gals in other bars request.