Many Cambodian girls looks for jobs working as servers or hostesses in beer gardens, karaoke clubs, and at Khmer discos that cater to local Khmer men. To understand their work better, it will help to understand the roles of men, women, and marriage in urban Cambodian culture. The Cambodian social system is patriarchal and men enjoy many more privileges than Cambodian girls because they have authority over women, children and property. A patriarchal social system is dependent on female subordination and divorce is relatively rare because, unfortunately for Cambodian girls, a divorce would ruin a woman’s reputation and it is very unlikely that she will be able to marry again. As a result, many Khmer women spend most of their time at home watching children and running the house. As one might imagine, the husbands take full advantage of the status quo and many Khmer men have girlfriends who work in beer gardens, karaoke clubs, and discos who they can meet any evening they like before they go home to their wives. Cambodian men with a moderate income get to have their cake and eat it too.
Typically, men select the hostess they wish to sit with as they are greeted at the entrance by a dozen or so smiling Cambodian girls who line the entrance to the venue with their hands pressed together in a traditional greeting. Each male customer usually selects his own girl. The whole party will be seated at a table or in a room together, and for the remainder of the evening guys will share their food and drinks with the hostesses. Sometimes, depending on the establishment, there may be an added charge to enjoy the company of a hostess. A friend once got a bill that read: beer $8, food $4, girl $3. The job of the hostess is to eat, drink and make conversation with customers. At first glance, a group of customers and hostesses might look and act like good friends chatting a joking with one another. And they may well have known each other for some time, but the Cambodian girls are employees doing their jobs, and the guys likely have wives back home.
Beer gardens are an authentic Cambodian experience. These open air restaurants range in price and quality from moderately priced and well kept to cheap and disgusting. The common elements are authentic Cambodian food, the beer, which is often served in five litre chilled towers with a spout, and two rows of Cambodian girls, easily visible from the street, sitting in two rows under ominous red light. While you drink, people will wander in and out of the bar selling all sorts of local snacks. Some bizarre things are popular snacks in Cambodia!
Karaoke in Phnom Penh
Karaoke bars are indoors and have private rooms rented by the hour. They often have KTV on the front of the building, which stands for Karaoke Television, meaning you can watch video images, usually scenes from villages in the provinces, while the words to your song flash across the screen (in Khmer language). Some have English songs but you’ll need to ask. As for the Cambodian girls that are part and parcel with the whole karaoke experience, you can ask to see them all and pick the one(s) you want from a parade of ladies that is brought to you once you are seated in your private karaoke room. Depending on the quality of the place, the room will likely be $5 an hour or more and the girls may or may not be free. Beer and food is generally more expensive than in beer gardens. Be prepared for some interesting musical tastes!
Khmer discos may have girls sitting outside under a red light as well, or else there may be a room full of beautiful, dressed up Cambodian girls inside. If you arrive too late, there may be none left! Khmers generally start their evening early and go home early. Try going around ten pm. You may or may not pay for the girls at a disco. You can have you fun in a Khmer disco and still have time to hit a foreigner style disco later on. The discos are very different though. In the Khmer disco, Cambodian girls are modest and often do not touch while dancing, so it is best to be respectful. If a slow song comes on, the management may turn down the lights while everyone slow dances with their arms around one another. In contrast, couples in the foreigner discos may be groping each other as they dance.
Meeting Cambodian Girls at These Places
One thing these places all have in common is that the girls are employees and usually will stay until the bar closes around eleven o’clock or midnight. After that, anything is the negotiable; however, unlike girls who work in hostess bars, these girls are not inclined to go out of the bar with a customer they have just met, so guys must usually return a few times to make friends with a girl if he wishes to pursue anything, so don’t be surprised if your first invitation is declined. If a girl does go with a man, it is customary for him to pay her. Generally speaking, Khmer guys have less money that foreigners and they will usually give $5 or $10 before parting ways later that night. Foreign guys are a rarity at beer gardens, karaoke clubs, and Khmer discos, so these inexperienced Cambodian girls are not sure what to expect from them. Remember, these girls are usually very reserved and polite. It is expected that customers will treat them gently and respectfully. It may very well be that a foreigner who invites her to sit together may well be the very first foreigner she has spent any time with, so try to make a good impression. Whether you invite her out of the establishment or not, it is customary to tip your hostess, just make sure you hand it to her. If a tip is left in the server book along with the bill, the money will likely not go to your hostess, so take the money out and hand it to her directly to make sure it goes to her. Local guys will typically tip a Cambodian girl $2 – $5 in addition to whatever she eats and drinks before leaving the establishment.
It would be difficult, but not impossible, for most foreigners to sit with any Cambodian girls and have an enjoyable evening unless your Khmer is relatively good or you are there with a male Cambodian friend who can translate. Any tuk-tuk driver would likely happily oblige, especially if you offer to pay. Make sure he has relatively good English though. A night out at any of these places instead of hitting some of Phnom Penh’s hostess bars and discos will allow you to enjoy the company of some charming Cambodian girls the same way most Cambodian men do.
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