CAMBODIA: What it's Like Now (2/97 trip report) [VERY LONG] Information about Cambodia on the www.paranoia.com site proved very valuable on a recent trip I took there. The very-long "Southeast Asia diary" of 9/29/96 was especially helpful. I thought I'd give something back by adding to the canon, updating where possible and hopefully making the trip a little easier for the next person. I'll do it in Q&A format (hopefully anticipating the "real" questions.) Don't pay for this information (especially since I don't get a cut!) WHY SHOULD I EVEN BE THINKING OF GOING TO CAMBODIA? In probable order of priority: 1] Rock-bottom low costs in every category; 2] Better-than-average looking girls (always arguable), 3] a real feeling of adventure, and 4] some really great stuff to see outside the nightlife, like Angkor Wat. Believe some of the hype. The most I paid for short-time sex was $5 and the least was $3. Stay long enough and you'll never look at paying Thailand prices the same way again! WHAT ABOUT SAFETY? I can't begin to say it's totally safe. But it seemed safer than I had been led to believe from posts from 1995 and earlier. I pushed my luck far enough to do the brothels in the early evening (until 10 p.m. or so), being careful to not walk any dark stretches. Streets will be very poorly lit, and brothel areas (like 63rd) may have dark stretches nearby, so it's important to know where you want to go. The "police blotter" section of the Phnom Penh Post will report an armed robbery incident or two every two weeks, and moto drivers will avoid certain areas and want more money for trips after 10 p.m. or so. Riding a motorbike alone late at night is not a good idea. Police will set up checkpoints (to check for weapons) after 8 p.m. or so. Most motos will be waved through, but cars will likely be searched. Often they'll also want a little donation (1000 riel, or 40 cents, as police pay is terrible there). Compared to an American city of 800,000, though, Phnom Penh's crime rate is low. Roads are a mess, though. There are no traffic signals, people go through intersections as they please (with frequent close swipes) and there are lots of potholes and unpaved sections. You'll see some accidents. WHAT ARE THE OTHER DRAWBACKS TO CAMBODIA? Other catches? Try this: * Horribly hot and humid a good part of the year, even during the Dec.-Feb. "cool/dry" season. * Grinding poverty. Unpaved streets that can become rivers of mud. Trash everywhere. Can be depressing. * Market and outdoor-restaurant areas infested with amputee beggars (disabled from landmines). Amazing how fast they can move when pouncing on anyone who looks like a foreigner, though. * Access. It costs at least $220 round trip to fly a lousy 320 miles from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, and more from other cities. The only overland route is from Saigon, but then you have to get to Vietnam first, which is even more expensive. Flights to Phnom Penh (the only international airport) are heavily booked. Royal Air Cambodge was a much better airline than I had expected, though. * TRANSPORTATION. A big drawback. Car taxis are rare in Phnom Penh and don't cruise the streets. The city bus system exists in name only. During the day you can rent a car & driver ($30/day or so) or try to get a car taxi at one or two spots downtown, but in all likelihood you'll either have to rent your own 100cc motorbike or ride one of the motos (i.e. on the back of someone else's 100 cc motorbike). No joke.
Rent your own and it's $5 a day but they'll insist on holding your passport, and theft is a major problem (you WON'T want to leave it outside at the brothel villages). Ride on a moto and you'll play the game of what's a fair fare (they're not set and they assume you know them, but a few will try to fleece you). Also, you'd better be good with maps and navigation. Few moto drivers speak English and they'll take you on wild goose chases rather than admit they don't know and "lose face." I'M NOT YET DETERRED. WHAT ARE THE BROTHELS LIKE? Good! No guts, no glory. As for the whorehouses, this is the "real" Southeast Asian sex outlet -- where the local males go while society looks the other way. For $3 they might get a beer and a quickie in a fan-cooled, partitioned boarding house room just barely bigger than the bed that's in it. That money, though, is 3 or 4 days' salary to many of the Khmer customers -- this is their "treat" for the whole month. The establishments probably seem very dingy and run down to you - - a place the fire marshal would have condemned in your own town. Expect to see either a pull-down storefront at ground level on a long 2- or 3-story concrete building, or a wooden house on stilts. Girls hang around outside or just inside under the telltale pink fluorescent lights. Guys pull in, get something to drink, talk to a girl or two (not buying the girl a drink) and go upstairs. The act is usually performed very quickly, without foreplay. Asian guys seem to have a bent toward that. As an earlier post aptly put it, the whole experience is about as base as it gets. Condom usage and insistence is excellent, probably much to the credit of an NGO or two doing educating in that area. BRING YOUR OWN, though; Cambodian rubbers are the penile equivalent of wearing thick galoshes that are three sizes too small. They're really awful, and you'll be very hard pressed to find anything decent ANYWHERE if you run out. HOW CAN I TALK TO THE GIRL IF I CAN'T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE? No problem, really. They don't really expect you to make much conversation. The Vietnamese ones will be pretty aggressive anyway. Most Vietnamese girls will happily volunteer if they "yum-yum" or "smoke" (do oral), since most of them do. Ask using those terms if they don't volunteer it. I noticed that a number of Khmer girls who DIDN'T do oral would lie and say they do (because of competition?) or the mamasan or pappasan would say they do when they don't. The mamasan or pappasan should speak some English -- enough to haggle a price. ALWAYS FIX IT BEFOREHAND. The girl will be eager to lead you back to the room (often trying to drag you there). Locals can do it this way, but forigners should always fix the price first. HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? It should be $2-5 for an on-premises short time, depending on the girl's looks, how long she's been there, etc. I got two girls for $7 once. DON'T PAY IN ADVANCE and don't be bashful about sending her back if she doesn't do as advertised or there's some major attitude shift or other problem. I see that a lot less often in Cambodia than Thailand, though. WHY NOT TAKE HER BACK TO THE HOTEL INSTEAD? Eminently do-able, though it's best to test-drive first with a short-time, since there are so many places and girls to choose from. You'll be quoted $20-25 in the early evening, and it's very hard to get the pappasan below $20 before 10 p.m. on most girls. The pappasan is thinking of the money from short-times he might lose from letting the girl go for the night. You'll probably be sucked into that way of thinking, too, figuring you could save money by doing 2 or 3 short-times until you're completely spent, rather than spending twice the dough on one girl. As the witching hour approaches, it's easier to get prices in the $10-20 range (though safety could be a concern if you go too late into the night). The hotel shouldn't hassle you and if they do, move. Places like the Hong Kong Hotel, Tokyo Hotel, etc., and most in the $20 range will be fine. They'll probably rent you a double room anyway if you're a single male (if not, ask). As in Thailand, avoid the few swanky places and international chains (the prices should be deterrent enough).
WHAT ARE THE GIRLS LIKE? Very pleasant overall, with some quirks. Your great advantage is that there's a lot of really good ones in there -- it's not like Bangkok or the Philippines where all the knockouts can flock to pricier bars and leave other places weighted down with the rest. Most speak only a very limited amount of English, at best. Almost all are either Vietnamese or Khmer. Vietnamese are much more lively and outgoing, sometimes in a pushy way. There are some real cuties amongst them, though, and most do oral in addition to the standard "boom-boom." Khmers (the native race) have a bushier, slightly more negroid complexion and are known for being a lot more reserved and wary of foreigners. They'll be sitting down or standing and watching while the Viets are doing all the grabbing. You'll probably have to approach the Khmer ones or show some interest, though they usually won't give you the ice treatment. Mamasans and pappasans know these girls are more reserved, too, so they try harder to ease the process. Two of the best I got, and the two prettiest, were Khmer. Vietnamese seem to have the big advantage in self-marketing, though. Some are very cute. Some of the older or less attractive girls can really hook you with how they perform, though. I had one that would lick balls and glide her tongue slowly down, licking the asshole and then plunging her pointed tongue in and out. Unforgettable. Thankfully, you don't see any "lady boys." WHAT ABOUT THEIR AGES? DIDN'T ED BRADLEY NAIL THAT GUY ON "60 MINUTES" FOR PROMOTING A BOOK THAT SAYS CAMBODIA IS A HANG-OUT FOR UNDERAGE PROSTITUTES? I really can't say. Didn't learn the "How old are you?" Khmer phrase and, if Thailand's a clue, they won't give a true number anyway. Asian girls always seem younger to me than they are because of how they develop. Some may have been borderline. WHAT'S THE LEGALITY OF BROTHELS, ANYWAY? Probably illegal, but that's beside the point. Same deal as Thailand -- the places stay in business by paying off the police. Police are grossly underpaid and use the bribes as income supplements. If a bar owner gets behind on payments or something else goes sour, the boom lands on him rather than the customers. TELL ME ABOUT THE TOOL COCK BROTHEL VILLAGE Tuol Kauk is a real sight to behold. It's about a one-mile strip solidly lined with brothels on a 2-lane road on the northern edge of Boeng Kak lake, just north of downtown Phnom Penh. It's pronounced "Two-oh kaah," and be sure to get that right. I got taken on a 20-mile wild goose chase by a moto driver to a restaurant well south of Phnom Penh whose name apparently sounded to him more like "Tool cock." It's vital to carry a good map, know where the places are and either point them on the map (if the map is bilingual), or be able to point out the turns to the moto driver (or find it yourself). Time and again I had problems if I just tried to say where I wanted to go. With Tuol Kauk, you want the stretch of Vithei 70 that skirts the northern edge of the Boeng Kak Lake. (From downtown, go north on Monivong until you hit the traffic circle just north of the French embassy. To the east will be a road leading over a big bridge. However, you want the road that goes off to the west (3/4ths of the way around the circle, counterclockwise. Brothels start appearing about a quarter-mile off the circle) Tuol Kauk is a full-blown cultural kaleidoscope just about any night of the week. Khmer guys in their late teens, three to a motorbike, will cruise the places. Girls, standing in a line right on the road, will try to grab the guys or otherwise try to get them to come in, in a kind of cat and mouse game. It's a pain if you're walking it or cruising it too slowly, because you'll get manhandled, but will be run over by traffic if you go very far into the street. This is all tomcatting, Khmer style. To a westerner it's amazing how openly it's practiced and how the society seems to accept that males have to have a sexual outlet to release tensions every once in a while. Tuol Kauk must have about 40 or 50 places averaging 5 to 14 girls each during the evenings. HOW ABOUT SVAY PAK? Pronounced "Svay pah", it's another brothel village, inside long, multistory concrete buildings rather than stilted wooden shacks. It's 12 km north of town and a bit of a pain to get to. Make sure your moto driver knows where it is. It's well north of Phnom Penh (about 12 km), right along the road that runs parallel to the Tonle Sap River (and starts out in Phnom Penh as Sisowath Quay). If you're not heading north and running near to the Tonle Sap river (Phnom Penh side), something's probably wrong. Svay Pak will be on the left -- look for a slender 3-story building. It looks a little newer and neater than Tuol Kauk, and it's much easier to walk around, but there are only about a third the number of places (though with more girls each) and the basic deal is the same. The moto driver, though, will want $5 or so because of distance and waiting time, and the ride along the potholed road to get there can be dangerous if the driver isn't careful. ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS? Yes; just look around town for any places with the pink fluorescent lights outside. Some areas to try include 63rd Street between 178th and 184th, and 154th street around Norodom Blvd. If others have found other areas of interest, please post them. WHAT ABOUT OUTSIDE THE BROTHELS? Martini's, in the Southwest section of town near Mao Tse Tung Blvd., is the premier freelance pick-up spot. It's also one of few places that all moto drivers seem to know by name. Girls are too dolled up for my liking, but plentiful after about 10 p.m.. Right next to Martini's is the Chinatown complex, where a massage place offers oiled full body massages quoting $35 (talk them down), and a girlie bar has $5 drinks and really hot nude lap dances. This place, like the karaoke and certain other spots, caters to Taiwanese, Korean and -- worst of all -- Japanese visitors. I have nothing against these nationalities, but they can sure ruin the market and make prices go up if too many of them come to visit. Shoo! BOTTOM LINE? It takes a lot of adapting, and it's not for first-timers to Southeast Asia. But for value for the money, it can't be beat.
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