Phnom Penh has a happening gay scene that’s very inclusive. No matter how you identify, a night out at one of Phnom Penh’s gay and queer bars is a recipe for fun. Drag and cabaret shows are all the rage in Cambodia, and you’ll find them at many of the gay bars on the weekends. Some of the acts may leave you scratching your head in confusion, but others feature accomplished performers in outrageous gear. There are also a few gay-oriented clubs in town as well. Our favorites are below.
Space Hair Salon and Bar is more than just the sum of its parts, it’s a unique combination of cool Cambodian hair salon and gay bar that attracts a mixed crowd of gays, straights, women, and adorable dogs (seriously). Owned by a Spanish-Cambodian couple, Space Bar is known for their relaxed vibe, handsome waiters, themed parties, and strict policy of no money-boys. You can also get your hair done while enjoying a drink and the tunes, which are a mix of fun dance tunes, Cambodian pop, and gay standards.
Blue Chilli is practically a Phnom Penh institution at this point, having opened in 2006, which is an eternity in Cambodia years. Popular with foreign expats, tourists and local talent, Blue Chili is a popular spot for the gay crowd to meet new friends and make merry. It’s also popular with the local money-boys who come from far and wide to hang out here. Blue Chilli is open every night of the week, but they’re best known for their excellent and outlandish weekend drag shows. Not to be missed, the shows are at 11 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Get there early for the best views.
Taking over the spot that 2 Colors used to be located in, AV Bar 225 has taken it up a notch or two, and in addition to friendly staff, we’ve heard they have the best drag show in town. Shows are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:30 p.m. During happy hour cocktails are half off, mixed drinks are $2, and draft beers are just $0.75. Luckily, happy hour is nine hours long, from noon until 9 p.m., giving you enough time to get nicely lubricated for the show.
In a scene that is almost entirely dominated by bars that have drag shows several times a week, Vapor’s laid back, drag-free vibe is a refreshing change. The tastefully decorated restaurant and bar has indoor and outdoor seating, friendly staff, and a nice selection of drinks and cocktails. Perhaps best of all, they know how to make a martini.
The Pride of Phnom Penh, or POPP, is a cozy gay bar in the Riverside neighborhood with an almost entirely Cambodian clientele. They have drag shows three times a week, on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays from 10 p.m. until midnight (sometimes later) that are adorably unpolished, featuring a large cast of enthusiastic performers lip-synching Western pop songs and even a few traditional Cambodian tunes, which garner rave reviews from the Khmer crowd.
In the club world, “Shameless” every Thursday nights at Pontoon promise a live drag show and wild entertainment, and attract a quirky mix of locals, sexpats, and backpackers who stay and dance all night to the tech house soundtrack. Run by indomitable expat Marcus Marvels, the night is always a guaranteed good time. Doors open at 9 p.m. but the place doesn’t kick off until much later. It’s worth staying late, though — there’s a gender-bending cabaret show and dance performance starts at 1 a.m.
Owned by the same people behind Valentino’s club across the street, Generations offers a more intimate experience. Although it’s relatively small, the place has been decked out with lights, a sound system, and a glowing bar, from which one can order a range of cocktails, wines, or beer. Happy hour from 5 until 9 p.m. and drag shows Thursday through Saturday at 9 p.m.
On Street 174 in the heart of Phnom Penh’s new gay district, Valentino’s bistro and nightclub is located in the former Saint Tropez, and is the city’s only proper gay disco. They’ve got a outside seating for those looking to eat a meal before clubbing — the restaurant serves Western and Asian fusion — and an outdoor bar where they often have live music. Inside it’s very much a nightclub and has a large capacity, but doesn’t get going until fairly late night on weekends. The club stays open until 4 a.m. and there’s a gay revue at midnight every day except Sunday.
Toolbox, a stylish new gay bar owned by the same people behind the former Rainbow Bar, has a few things that set it apart. First, they have a pool table (and the staff are happy to play if you don’t have a partner). Second, when we visited, the crowd wasn’t just men and had queer folks of all stripes. Tuesdays through Saturday they have an all-male dance show at 10 p.m., and every day there’s a two-for-one cocktail hour from 6 to 9 p.m. The cocktails are a bit strange, but good value. If you’re looking to bar hop, Toolbox is next to Valentino’s and across the street from Generations.
Long-time Phnom Penh club heavyweight, Heart of Darkness, is not technically a gay bar, but in recent years has start to swing that way and most nights are an unofficially gay night. So if you’re looking for a place to go late nights, this is the one.
Space Hair Salon and Bar
Open daily, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
66 Street 136, Daun Penh, Riverside
T: 089 963 066
Open daily from 7 p.m. until late (1 to 3 a.m. usually)
26Eo Street 178, Phnom Penh
T: 012 566 353
AV Bar 225
Open daily, 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.
225 Street 13, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 071 445 0044
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
21 Street 262, near 51, Phnom Penh
T: 011 840 712
60 Street 15, near 144, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 010 535 745
Open daily, 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.
80 Street 172 (at Street 51), Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 016 779 966; 010 300 400
Valentino’s Bistro and Nightclub
Bistro open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., restaurant until 4 a.m.
31 Street 174 (between 51 and Norodom), Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 077 856 842
Open daily, 5 p.m. until 2 .a.m.
24m Street 174 (between 51 and Norodom), Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 090 303 336; 076 888 6 69
Open 6 p.m. until 2 a.m.
46E Street 174 (between 51 and Norodom), Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 077 211 537
Heart of Darkness
38 Street 51, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Open daily, 9 p.m. until 5 a.m.
T: 077 304 077; 077 837 777