Skip to Content

Don't miss our latest posts. Subscribe now to our gay travel newsletter

Gay Phnom Penh: local boy Aaron tells us about being gay in Cambodia

Stefan Arestis
Gay Phnom Penh: local boy Aaron tells us about being gay in Cambodia

Cambodia is surprisingly gay friendly by Asia standards – and we loved it! We easily rate it as one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia.

Traveling in Cambodia as a gay couple is a joy. We never felt discriminated against anywhere we stayed, and also discovered a pretty big gay scene in the main cities, particularly in Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap.

Culturally, the LGBTQ community of Cambodia has a lot of visibility in society, with a small gay pride taking place in Phnom Penh every year since 2003, the Cambodian film Who Am I? in 2009 was the first to depict a lesbian couple and became a huge hit. More recently, in 2015 Cambodia got its first LGBT magazine called Q Cambodia and in June 2017, the Cambodian government announced it will introduce a new gay course in schools to teach students about LGBTI issues, sexuality, and gender – an amazing feat!

However, that's from our perspective as foreign gay tourists. What's the true reality like? In Phnom Penh, we connected with local gay boy, Aaron, who spent his childhood living on the streets of Phnom Penh for 8 years until he managed to develop a better life for himself and his family. In this interview with Aaron, he tells us about gay life in Cambodia and what it's really like:

DON'T MISS OUT!

Be the first to read the next one…

Get our latest interviews with gay locals, in-depth gay travel guides, inspiring stories, savvy planning tips, and exclusive discounts on gay tours. No spam. Never. Not ever. Just fun and interesting blog posts delivered straight to your inbox.

Hi Aaron, please introduce yourself:

Hi boys. My name is Darun Un, nickname, Aaron. I'm 36 years old, originally from Sihanoukville. I moved to Phnom Penh with my family from a young age and grew up there, which is where I am based today. There was a period in my life when I lived on the streets because of a breakdown in family relations since my father died but with the help of the Tree Alliance (see below) I have picked up my life to become a successful businessman.

I have had several jobs throughout my life, but what I am most proud of is owning some of the most prominent bars in Phnom Penh as well as doing performing the occasional drag show for my guests.

Gay tour of Cambodia and Laos

Every November, our friends at Out Adventures organise a fabulous gay tour through Laos and Cambodia. Channel your inner Lara Croft as you sashay your way through the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, explore the vibrant nightlife of Phnom Penh with a group of fabulous like-minded men, immerse yourself in the serenity of Luang Prabang and try a few exotic culinary discoveries…barbecued spider anyone?

Find out more

Does your family know you’re gay?

Yes I am out to all my friends and family and they are all ok with it. It took a long time for everyone to come to terms with it, of course, but over time, everyone has accepted it and become extremely accepting of me.

When I came out to my mother, at first she could not bring herself to accept it and even refused to speak to me for 2 years. But as I said, over time, she grew to accept me and love me for who I am. Today she is my #1 fan and even helps me prepare for my shows by brushing my wigs, cleaning my clothes, and giving me makeup tips!

Aaron dressed as Madame Clara
Aaron dolled up as the sassy Madame Clara

What's it like growing up gay in Cambodia?

Growing up in the 1990s, Cambodian society wasn't as accepting and tolerant as it is today. Being gay was seen as a taboo, not helped by the fact that there was no positive representation of homosexuality in the press or media. For example, there were no gay celebs, singers, actors, or other role models to show that being gay is something “normal”. Instead, everything was very heteronormative and homosexuality perceived more as an illness. For this reason, I didn’t accept I was gay until I was 20 years old, largely helped by the onset of the Internet when I could connect with like-minded individuals from all around the world who showed me that being gay is actually not a disease, but something very normal!

Coming out in my 20s was not a problem. I am proud that Cambodian society has become more accepting of homosexuality over the years. I never faced any problems from anyone and never experienced any homophobia, although I was never outwardly flamboyant or feminine acting in public.

Aaron at the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom
Aaron posing at the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap

How did you go from being a street kid to successful businessman in Phnom Penh?

When I was 12 years old, our house in Sihanoukville was completely destroyed by a fire and we lost everything. My parents got divorced and my mother and siblings moved to Phnom Penh. My father did not earn enough money to support us so as we had nothing and had to live on the streets of Phnom Penh.

When I was 13 years old, I met the guys from the NGO charity called the Tree Alliance for street kids to give them an education and basic skills to build a life and career for themselves. They have a really good restaurant called Friends where the children work and make excellent food (Nomadic Boys: we second this!)

Through the schooling offered at the Tree Alliance NGO, I was able to learn to read, write and obtain the basic skills to get a job and earn money to support my family.

After 8 years living on the streets, I had saved up enough to rent a modest flat in the suburbs of Phnom Penh. Eventually, my brother and I saved enough money to buy and open a gay bar.

If the Tree Alliance and Friends NGO didn’t exist, I would not have anything. I wouldn’t know where my life would have ended up.

DON'T MISS OUT!

Be the first to read the next one…

Get our latest interviews with gay locals, in-depth gay travel guides, inspiring stories, savvy planning tips, and exclusive discounts on gay tours. No spam. Never. Not ever. Just fun and interesting blog posts delivered straight to your inbox.

Did you ever encounter any discrimination when setting up your gay bar in Phnom Penh?

I have managed and at one stage owned several bars in Phnom Penh, both straight and gay, and at no stage did we ever experience any discrimination or homophobia. We were always polite to the authorities, abiding by every requirement, and cautious never to breach any licensing laws. For this reason, we developed a very respectful reputation.

The only sorts of problems we ever faced were the usual day-to-day practical problems all bars face, such as a customer that has had too much to drink and causes noise complaints from the neighbours.

Sadly, my gay bar didn't survive the Covid recession that hit most businesses in Cambodia in 2020 and we had to close down. I therefore now focus on my drag performances, which is what I love doing the most.

Aaron performing at 2 Colours
Aaron performing at 2 Colours as the sassy Madame Clara

Which are the best gay bars in Phnom Penh?

We have several gay bars in Phnom Penh, most are walking distance from each other:

  • Toolbox: very stylish bar owned by the very friendly Doug from Canada. They also have drag show nights and delicious Expresso Martini cocktails. Rainbow bar is open everyday from 6pm and is located at #46E on Street 174.
  • Space Hair Salon and Bar: a very popular bar with extremely pretty staff. They also have super cute puppies who live there! Space is open everyday from 10pm and is located at #66 on Street 136 (Oknha In).
  • The Pride of Phnom Penh (POPP): POPP is a small but stylish new gay bar in Phnom Penh, located in the Riverside neighbourhood.  The best times to come are after 10pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays when they have really funny drag shows. POPP is located at St.15, #60 Psar Kandal Market, Daun Penh.
Posing with the owners and staff at Space Hair Salon & Bar
Posing with Javi the owner and also the staff at Space Hair Salon & Bar

Which are your favorite gay clubs in Phnom Penh?

We have a handful of gay clubs in Phnom Penh, which changes very frequently. These are the most recent ones:

  • Valentino's Bistro & Nightclub: a new gay club in Phnom Penh and as a bonus they offer delicious food with outside seating! Valentino's is open everyday from around 11pm and is located at #31, Street 174.
  • Blue Chilli: this is my favourite gay club in Phnom Penh and also one of the oldest. It attracts foreigners and locals, but look out for the money boys! They do really fun drag shows on weekends. Blue Chilli is open everyday from 5pm till late and is located at #36Eo, Street 178.
  • Heart of Darkness: this is actually a straight club but because it's open till 5am, this is where most of the gay boys come for after party. It's open daily and located at #38 on Street 51 Pasteur.
  • Shameless at Pontoon club: Pontoon is a straight club, but on Wednesday nights it has the famous Shameless party, which attracts a mix of locals and foreigners. For the location of Pontoon Club, check out the Venue section on their website.
Stefan and Aaron posing at Pontoon
Stefan and Aaron posing at Pontoon club in Siem Reap

Any gay hotels in Phnom Penh you recommend?

Absolutely! Most places are ok with LGBTQ travellers, but we have two well known gay hotels in Phnom Penh:

ARTHUR AND PAUL HOTEL   Book online

  • Men only hotel, it has a sauna, a steam room and a spa pool.
  • Prices start from $105 / £70 a night.

RAMBUTAN   Book online

  • Popular gay resort with a nice swimming pool and spa.
  • Very private in a quiet street, located a 5 minutes ride away from most attractions.
  • Prices start from $76 / £50 for a double bed.

These are a few gay friendly hotels which I know gay traveller friends of mine have stayed at and highly recommend:

WHITE MANSION BOUTIQUE HOTEL   Book online

  • A romantic oasis in Phnom Penh, with very large room and a great swimming pool.
  • Close to all attractions and the best restaurants in town.
  • Prices start from $149 / £100 for a double room with breakfast included.

THE ARTIST GUESTHOUSE   Book online

  • Well located near the Royal Palace, the national museum and the riverside.
  • Walking distance to the gay bars and clubs like 2 Colours.
  • Prices start from $35 / £23 a standard double room, with breakfast included.

Which are some of the top places to visit for gay travelers to Cambodia?

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap is our #1 tourist attraction, a UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological Park – one of the most important in all Southeast Asia. It's incredible and I am so proud that we have this in my country. There is also a fun gay scene in Siem Reap to check out.

The capital, Phnom Penh, where I live, is also an amazing city. We have a large LGBTQ community of locals and ex-pats, which has helped create a large and exciting gay scene here. Phnom Penh is also the place to visit the Killing Fields, where the Khmer Rouge regime tortured, killed, and buried over a million people during their awful rule from 1975-1979. It's a very somber, but important visit that I think everyone must experience.

For beaches, the best are around Sihanoukville in the southwest of Cambodia. You can find lots of exotic tropical islands off the coast here, like Koh Rong, mangrove jungles in the Ream National Park, and a beautiful Buddhist temple called Wat Leu, perched on top of a hill, overlooking the city below. There is plenty to see and do for LGBTQ travelers in Cambodia, as you boys show in your beautiful vlog:

 
DON'T MISS OUT!

Need More Gay Travel Inspiration?

Get in-depth gay travel guides, inspiring stories, savvy planning tips, and exclusive discounts on gay tours. No spam. Never. Not ever. Just fun and interesting blog posts delivered straight to your inbox.

Happy travels are safe travels

We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.


For more inspiration:

Like this post? Pin it

Find out what it's like to grow up gay in Cambodia in our interview with Aaron
This post may contain affiliate links which means if you make a purchase through one of these links, we will receive a small commission. Read our disclosure for more info.
Gay Puerto Madryn: travel guide to the gay friendliest city in Chubut
← Read Last Post
5 tips to spot killer whales in Patagonia
A complete guide for spotting orcas at Peninsula Valdes in Patagonia
Read Next Post →
Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor, and author of the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about traveling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends, and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gaycation Magazine, Gaycities, Gay Times, Pink News, and Attitude Magazine. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay-specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practiced as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

Tian Kun

Thursday 30th of April 2020

Aww that’s so cute, I live in Cambodia my whole life and I’ve never knew. Thanks for the info ^ω^

Stefan Arestis

Thursday 30th of April 2020

Our pleasure :)

Dennis

Saturday 14th of September 2019

I visit phnom phen shortly and will stay there months any suggestions for me go meet ladyboys the info I have read in this blog ito has been helpfully regards gay bars in phnom phen

Stefan Arestis

Sunday 15th of September 2019

Thanks Dennis. Definitely check out the LGBTQ places recommended by Aaron :)

Steve

Saturday 9th of September 2017

This sharing was very helpful to me. I believe I will be moving to a small town outside of Phnom Penh within weeks, to work as a teacher at a specialized school. I hope to meet and befriend Cambodian men…. who knows, perhaps I will fall in love…. connect with a "man of my dreams."

thibaud S

Saturday 8th of December 2018

WHITE MANSION is the best darlings luv Thibaud S. (Cambodia long term resident) xxxx

Nomadic boys

Saturday 9th of September 2017

Ooooh hope you do :)

Nomadic boys

Monday 16th of May 2016

Awww thanks so much Thibaud.

Don’t miss our latest posts. Subscribe now to our gay travel newsletter!