Phnom Penh Gay Travel
Phnom Penh gay travel advice for where to stay, things to do, safety and nightlife in this gritty city with a dark past.
The Gay Travel Experience: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh is a common stop for backpackers making their way between Thailand and Vietnam, usually passing through Siem Reap as well. An important piece of advice for the gay traveler is that Phnom Penh is not a city for those seeking luxury.
Definitely worth a visit, Phnom Penh will be an eye opener to local Cambodian society.
Phnom Penh is one of the poorest cities I have visited in my life. This doesn’t make it a bad place at all though. In fact, I think it’s crucial for gay travelers to see the way different societies live their lives around the world.
As you will read at the end of this article, the gay community is well tolerated in Cambodia. Phnom Penh has hosted pride events in years past, and LGBT citizens are not widely discriminated against, as in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
Gay Phnom Penh: Hotels & Where to Stay
This area was fantastic because there were plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and convenience stores nearby.
In general, any four or five star hotels in the Khan Daun Penh area will be suitable. This is the center of the city, which is mostly walkable.
Airbnb users should beware of misleading advertisements or listings for luxury apartments with rooftop pools, especially for higher-end accommodations. I have heard that these listings (usually with no reviews) can be different from what is posted online.
Especially if you plan to be in Phnom Penh for an extended period of time, I recommend seeking a quality hotel that has a backup generator.
City-wide blackouts are common if there is not enough rainfall to produce electricity at hydroelectric plants. I experienced several blackouts that lasted about 4 hours during the 5 days I was there. 2019 has been a very dry year for Cambodia.
Make sure to read the travel tips section of this page regarding safety in Phnom Penh. These precautions may influence your choice of accommodation.
Phnom Penh Experiences for the Gay Traveler
Take a walk along Tonle Sap River in Riverside Park during sunset. I loved observing the local life in this area, and it’s one of the most developed parts of the city. There are dozens of nice restaurants along the road that follows the river’s edge.
Wat Ounalom was a great temple to see for about an hour. The area surrounding the temple is full of local monks and tourists in this area are sparse. I must admit, I found some adorable cats and I befriended one.
Make sure to take a look inside the temple. There is a beautifully colored offering table that glows incredibly. Also, take a walk to check out the Royal Palace nearby!
E-Mart Coffee was my go-to spot for a nice air-conditioned café with good food. I did a fair amount of work (on this wolfyy website) while in Phnom Penh, and so I visited E-Mart almost daily. Everything is very cheap, staff are friendly and the space is cozy.
Tuol Sleng S21 Genocide Museum
The famous Tuol Sleng Cambodian Genocide Museum is an absolute must while visiting Phnom Penh. I must warn you, this place is terrifying.
I’m a guy who isn’t fazed by much. However, the combination of the intense audio guide and the gruesome and raw remnants of the torture shook me quite a bit.
If you are sensitive or highly affected when it comes to stories about death, you may either want to skip the museum, or perhaps go along without the audio guide (to spare you the most gruesome details).
All in all, I recommend going and purchasing the audio guide if you are up for it. I think it is important to learn about the history of Cambodia and genocide in general.
Where to Eat in Phnom Penh
For the best local food, head to P.P. Pub Street. This complex may look a little run down, especially on Google Maps, but the food is incredible! I ate at both of the main restaurants and had some insanely flavorful food. Plus, beer is only $1!
Prices of food in Phnom Penh can range quite a bit. A dish of local street food can cost $2 USD while a meal at a restaurant along the Tonle Sap River can cost over $30.
I had a delicious dinner at La Croisette Italian Bistro, located along the Tonle Sap River. I had been drinking so much Southeast Asian beer, that I switched it up for an Aperol Spritz. The fried squid here was perfect.
Phnom Penh Nightlife
Phnom Penh doesn’t have the biggest nightlife scene, let alone a gay scene. However, there are dozens of street-front bars where you can grab yourself some cheap drinks.
There are a few bars that generic gay travel websites mention and promote, however I chose not to try them and would not go for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, pickpocketing is very common. Since there wasn’t much of a straight nightlife scene, I couldn’t imagine I would have enjoyed myself in a Phnom Penh gay bar.
Better to save your energy for the museums and such. After all, Phnom Penh is not a nightlife destination. For nightlife, wait until you get to Siem Reap!
Nonetheless, if you’re determined to explore nightlife in Phnom Penh, check out these 17 nightlife venues recommended by Hotels.com.
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Phnom Penh Gay Travel Tips
Upon arrival to the border, I was shocked at the fact that Cambodia operates using the U.S. Dollar! The country actually uses a mix of both United States Dollars and the local Cambodian Riel.
The Riel is such a small denomination compared to the Dollar, so Riel bills are used as change. Hence, no U.S. coins are used. Only bills are exchanged, which in my opinion is quite convenient!
As mentioned earlier in the article, be conscious of the fact that city-wide blackouts are common if there is insufficient electricity to meet demand.
Locals are forced accept these inconveniences as part of life. One way or another, you should plan around or anticipate this reality.
Visas to Cambodia cost about $40 USD. Make sure to bring enough cash if you are crossing the border by bus, as there are no ATM machines anywhere near the border crossings.
If tuk-tuks are not your thing, download the Grab Taxi application. This app is used widely in many cities throughout Southeast Asia. It’s very cheap, and best if you’re traveling around the city late at night.
In my opinion, you should avoid giving money to beggars. 99% of the time, I do not give money. One time though, after seeing the extreme poverty of this city, I gave some extra change to an old woman. Even after I was kind enough to give her all of my Cambodian bills, she continually asked for more.
I did not appreciate that, and I bet you’d be annoyed as well. Giving strangers money is just asking for trouble.
Is Phnom Penh Safe?
Cambodia is a bit different from the rest of Southeast Asia in terms of safety. In Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore etc., crime is relatively low and so there’s not much to worry about.
Contrarily, there is a high crime rate in Phnom Penh, so in addition to following your general travel safety precautions, heed these next few words of caution.
Do not walk along the streets with your cell phone in your hand, not paying attention. It is very possible for someone on a motorbike to fly by and grab it. If you are going to check your phone, stop over onto the sidewalk away from traffic.
Similarly, wear your backpack with both straps or simply secure whatever bag you have to your body so it cannot be swiped. Only carry an amount cash that is necessary, and don’t flash large-value bills.
Interestingly, when paying with a twenty-dollar bill, locals tend to chuckle. Your best bet is to get change from a local coffee shop or convenience store.
I did not encounter anything too suspicious while in Phnom Penh, but I personally may not have been a target since I’m a tall and rather large man.
Travel smart and protect your belongings. Don’t trust just anyone off the street and always take precautions. If anyone is overly friendly or follows you, just walk away.
Gay Life in Cambodia
The gay rights situation in Cambodia is very similar to Vietnam, in that same-sex sexual activity is legal as well as the fact that there aren’t any protections for the gay community.
Overall, there isn’t much opposition to same-sex marriage or the LGBT community in general, according to 2015 polls by TNS Cambodia.
The international community has pressured Cambodia to move forward with enacting legislation that explicitly grants rights and protections to LGBT citizens. So far, no laws have been passed. We therefore must remain hopeful and continue to hold Cambodia accountable for protecting their citizens.