Cambodia // Phnom Penh and around //

Drinking and nightlife

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Drinking for foreign visitors and expats in Phnom Penh falls loosely into three categories: the seedy, smoky girly bars that proliferate off the Sisowath Quay and along Street 51; the sophisticated, trendy cocktail bars, either with a river view or in a prime location in downtown Boeng Keng Kang (BKK); and the lively, more low-key hangouts that often have live music and may double up as pick-up joints, but with an easygoing attitude. The rest of Phnom Penh’s nightlife is geared to Khmer men only and revolves around girlie bars, karaoke, dance halls and local discos. Under the strobe lights, you’ll hear a deafening mix of Thai, Filipino and Western popas well as traditional Khmer music and songs – such as those by Cambodia’s pop idol, Sin Sisamouth. Ask locals for the most popular spots of the moment; it makes for a fun night especially if, after a few drinks, you want to have a go at the elegantly flowing rhom vong, in which the men and women dance side by side, couples one behind the other, a bit like a double conga; the chain slowly progresses around the floor, hands gracefully weaving in and out. These venues are at their best after 10pm; entrance is usually free. Beer girls will be on hand to pour the drinks and for pay-as-you-go dances. These places are usually OK for foreigners, as long as you don’t get too drunk or obnoxious. Bear in mind too that there is sometimes a thuggish element in places frequented by the rich, bored sons of the Cambodian nouveaux riches. Step on their feet while dancing or stare at their female companions and you may have a real incident on your hands. Phnom Penh has an emerging and increasingly blooming gay scene, with a few great venues and more appearing.

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