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A Guide To Phnom Penh's Red Light Districts

Sex tourism is alive and kicking in Cambodia. “Sexpats” flock to the country to take up retirement and tours away often include evenings exploring the capital’s girly bars. Love it or hate it, one of the world’s oldest professions looks set to stay in Cambodia. Some night spots offer a fun night out, for men or women, and without any sex involved. Here’s the lowdown on Phnom Penh’s red-light districts.

Cambodia’s sex industry operates on a domestic and tourist level. While many of the country’s smaller massage parlours and KTVs may purport to be just that, “extra services” are often offered, but the majority of these joints are reserved for local clientele.

The industry has capitalized on the tourist flow, and there are certain areas in Phnom Penh that are home to stretches of neon-signed bars with huddles of scantily-clad women waiting outside. These are the places you’ll find full of expats and holiday-makers, all looking for a good time.

Is it legal?

Let’s be clear. Prostitution in Cambodia is 100 percent illegal. However, like with many other laws that exist in the country, enforcement is lacking and the authorities turn a blind eye, often in exchange for hefty sums of cash.

During the Khmer Rouge reign of 1975 to 1979, prostitution was banned and punishable by death, meaning the age-old trade was almost completely obliterated.

In the wake of the Pol Pot-led regime, the industry started to rise to cater to the needs of the increasing number of foreign soldiers flooding into the country. About 20,000 troops served in the country under the United Nationals Transition Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) between 1992 and 1993, with hundreds of NGOs and international businesses landing.

It is estimated the number of prostitutes rose from about 6,000 during the Paris Peace Agreement, in 1991, to more than 20,000 after UNTAC arrived in 1992.

While demand dropped with UNTAC’s withdrawal, a new industry had been created in a country that was struggling to survive in the wake of a genocidal war.

Where to go

The main clusters of hostess bars can be found on the streets that feed off riverside, or Sisowath Quay. Street 136 is a hot spot and home to several lively establishments, including long-running Candy Bar, which is open 24/7, has a pool table, music and screens sport. The Red Fox is a tamer spot, and also has a poker room upstairs.

Also in the area, Street 104 is another popular haunt, and the corner of Street 51 and Street 108 is also home to several popular spots.

The stretch of Street 51, near Street 172, is also lively after hours, with Shanghai Bar proving popular. This is also close to Golden Sorya Mall, which is packed full of ladies of the night and can get pretty grimy in the early hours of the morning.

Show some respect

Many a man has found himself in deep trouble by sinking a few too many beers and grabbing girls like they are his own.

These girls are well protected, be it from the madam watching carefully from behind the bar, the tuk tuk drivers outside or the men hiding out of sight. These workers are people so treat them as such.

Also, not all the girls may be there for sex. They may simply want to flirt and make you feel good while enjoying you buying them (overpriced) drinks for the night.

It also pays well to remember to use protection. While huge efforts have been carried out to eradicate HIV and AIDS from Cambodia in recent decades, it still remains a problem in the country. Condoms are widely available across the country — any mart will sell them at the counter — so you have no excuse not to stack up.

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